Horse riding as therapy

You know, I had a couple of non-horsey, food-related posts lined up, but couldn’t get excited enough.  Sure, finally finding The Secret to the most amazing, never-fail, heavenly fried rice [with char siew aka Chinese BBQ Pork mmm] is quite exciting, but my head is full of horseyhorseyhorseyhorsey and nothing aint gonna get done nohow until I clear some space in my brain.

On a side note, the last week has been positively beastly my dears, health-wise; last Thursday my neck [particularly around the occipital nerve areas, as per usual] went totally ballistic and despite MASSIVE doses of morphine and handfuls of muscle relaxants no impression was made and things were escalating to the point where I was fucking frightened … the point where I usually end up hospitalised but I loathe hospitals because all that happens is they give you MORE drugs [which isn’t anywhere near as fun as it sounds, damn it] and you never get any fucking SLEEP.  Argh. 

Friday I asked Tuxedo to please please please stay home with me, which doesn’t happen often – there are many times I’d love some nursing but hey, gotta tough it out … Anyway he stayed home and in between feeding me drugs and heading up to the chemist for more stuff and The Most Amazing Heat Pack [it’s gel so no wheat-stench, microwavable, and retains heat for hours] I believe he even got two more Citrix servers built via remote.  How cool is he?

The weekend plus Monday through Wednesday were gradual recovery days, and come Thursday [my new riding lesson day] I woke up whimpering at 0400, reaching for the pills before I’d even opened my eyes … which didn’t look good for the horsin’ around, to be honest.  But I knew if I didn’t go I’d just stay home and cry and get into Deeply Depressed Mode, so I hauled the jodhs onto the old carcase – apologies if I’m repeating myself but did I tell you I finally lost all that excess weight and actually have a WAIST-LINE again, probably lost about 10 kg? so back to 55 kg or thereabouts – and off I went.  Anyway the point, the point, the POINT of this endless tangent is …

Horse riding is bloody amazing therapy.  Not only did I have a really great lesson, but afterward I felt far more confident and happy, for crying out loud.  Yes I still hurt like buggery but it didn’t seem to matter quite so much.

. . . . . . . . . .

Riding as therapy has far, far out-weighed my greatest expectations.  When I started back in Feb / March I hoped it would be good for me, fit in nicely with my current PT [physical therapy] goals, but to be honest it was all about being with horses again, getting me out of bed / the house, and having a little social contact.  Because I don’t get a lot of that; probably wise old bearded [smelly] hermits sitting on the top of mountains get more social interaction than me … I’ve become very reclusive and socially-challenged.  Shut UP, Dave, even more so than before, yes.

Certainly my general state of mental / emotional health has improved mightily.  I’ve been off my SSRIs since January and while there may have been the occasional glitch I’m still off them.  So big ticks against general well-being, social contact, and above all, FUN.  It is so much goddamn FUN.

In terms of EDS and my issues blah blah, I can say there have been huge improvements in stability and mobility, proprioception and balance.

Stability and mobility

While this may come as a surprise I’m referring to PHYSICAL, joint stability, not mental.  Nhyer.  I’m much more stable throughout the entire musculoskeletal system, legs are doing what they’re told and staying that way; my bum is firmly in the saddle and I’m not slipping all over the place as one might expect, and cervical / thoracic / lumbar spine are doing just dandy.  Not stiff, but held straight and relaxed and going with the movement of the horse.  Again, not floppelly-doppelly-ing all over the place.

My general mobility has also improved, and sure I’m a bit stiff and sore after lessons but it’s the “good” kind of stiff and sore, as a result of a good work-out, not due to muscles and nerves and connective tissue being stupid.  Stretching and flexibility have never been an issue for me, I’m hyper-flexible and can do all sorts of interesting party tricks [legs behind head; thumb bent to wrist etc etc] but controlled pain-free movement is much trickier. 

Re stability;  I can’t walk in a straight line nor can I walk up and down stairs without hanging on, white knuckled, to the hand rail but I can now!  Well I can manage the stairs pretty well anyway.   To you healthy “normal” people that sounds kinda ‘well, duuuuh” but to me it’s a Big Thing.

Proprioception* and balance

Normal proprioception and balance are other tricky matters that “normals” take for granted [check the definition from Wikipedia below for starters].  A good example of how proprioception works is if you stand with your feet close together, or even heel-to-toe.  These positions place a lot of stress on the body’s ability to balance etc [bipedalism is really pretty fucking stupid when you think about it] but the brain and nerves / musculoskeletal system all have a bit of a chat and decide to compensate for the odd position, making infinitesimal changes, strengthening the core muscles, stiffening the sinews, summoning up the blood, closing up the walls with the English dead whoops sorry there …

While if I was asked to stand with me feet close together, or heel-to-toe, I would lose my balance and fall over immediately.  [I have been asked – often – and I do fall over.  Neurologists think it’s a great laugh.]  Ditto standing on one leg.  While I’ve worked hard at developing a stronger pelvic core and muscles to compensate for my pathetic showing in this category, success has been limited given the effort put in during months of PT sessions.  As soon as I stop or reduce my “work-outs”, I slide [or rather, topple] back to square one.

Horse riding has definitely helped, in just these few months at one session a week.  Nothing miraculous but the feedback / compensation loop between brain and core muscles has developed noticeably, which is really pretty cool, at least *I* think so.

. . . . . . . . . .

Sure, personal motivation is a huge factor in all this; I’m way more enthusiastic about horsey time, it’s far more fun and rewarding than all the usual business with fit-balls [*adolescent snigger*], yoga mats and Pilates yokes, which are, to be frank, fucking boring.  But it also works both ways; as my horsey lessons become more difficult – and the coach far more demanding – I am much more likely to approach the ball and mat with a more positive outlook.

Horsey work requires a lot of pelvic core strength anyway; there are books and DVDs on yoga and Pilates specifically for equestrians.  So along with all usual my pelvic core work – tilts, bridging and exercises on the fit-ball [I’ll give details and do stick-figure drawings if anyone’s really interested] I’ve added in loads of squats with hand-weights, various types of sit-up, and additional exercises on the ball that are more specific to the positions, movements and strength required whilst riding a horse.

So as far as EDS and other stability / proprioception conditions are concerned, horse-riding is an incredibly successful form of PT.  Rheumatologists et al should recommend it far more than they do, especially given the existence of organisations like Riding For The Disabled [and the RDA’s need for funds and volunteers].  I think they are uninformed for starters, and far too worried about the basic unpredictability of horses.   More likely, the possibility of legal action from someone’s kid falling off.  All I can say to that is a] all those coaches, volunteers, leader-of-horses and side-walkers are there for a reason; b] most if not all of the horses at the RDA are Kosovo-bomb-strike proof; and c] a rider with a good coach and horse learns the skills and develops the strength and ability to stay the fuck on.  Even me!

. . . . . . . . . .

So yes, for me it’s been a great experience and I don’t know how I managed to stay horsey-free for so many years.  Actually, yes I do know; it was intense negative pressure and destruction of confidence from both my parents, and stupid fucking medicos terrified of law suits.  Wankers.

Right now, all I want is MORE.  If one lesson a week for just a few months can have such unexpected and amazing benefits to the way I feel, mentally and emotionally, and my physical strength, fitness and health, just think what MORE could do?  I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and although the RDA has rules about only one class per individual per week  – it is a charity organisation after all, and they have a lot of people of varying abilities to cater for, on limited funds –  it looks as though something good may happpen in this respect …

So stay tuned; also for a short [ha ha ha ha ha] update on the progress of the “advanced” riding lessons.

. . . . . . . . . .

 *From Wikipedia:

Proprioception (pronounced PRO-pree-o-SEP-shun); from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own” and perception) is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body. Unlike the six exteroceptive senses (sight, taste, smell, touch, hearing, and balance) by which we perceive the outside world, and interoceptive senses, by which we perceive the pain and the stretching of internal organs, proprioception is a third distinct sensory modality that provides feedback solely on the status of the body internally. It is the sense that indicates whether the body is moving with required effort, as well as where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other.

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Comments

  • Tux  On Friday 27 June 2008 at 10:19 pm

    Whip that ass!! I mean horse…. well maybe both…. 😉

  • otterkat  On Sunday 29 June 2008 at 11:10 am

    Hey since when did I need to crack the whip? … on a horse …

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