Our Therapy

I was trying to think of a good lesson I’d done recently to blog about. Well, I like to think that they’re all good, but I was thinking more along the lines of an exercise or concept that I taught which might be of interest to readers.

Unfortunately for you lot I can’t think of a particularly special session. However, this afternoon I had one of those moments which makes me realise the therapeutic effects of horse riding and how we take it for granted.

One of my clients snapped her Achilles’ tendon in the summer and is having a slow rehab due to other complications, so while her mare has been kept ticking over by me and some friends, this lady is obviously getting out of the swing of things.

Being on crutches, for those of you lucky enough never to have used them, can cause all sorts of problems in other areas of your body. Your shoulders and arms stiffen up, you load your good leg leading to pelvic asymmetry and aches, your good knee takes the brunt of the hopping, and your balance goes. Add into it some muscles atrophy, shortened and uneven stride and a lack of confidence in your newly recovered limb, and you can end up feeling really sorry for yourself.

Which is why physio is so important afterwards; to get you using your body correctly again, and also to check the rest of you out for any niggles.

I won’t go into it, but this client has developed a problem in her foot which is likely to be long term and very painful. When I saw her last week she was very down about the prognosis and I’d say probably a bit depressed about the whole situation.

Anyway, she went off to a friend of a friend who specialises in this area (it’s definitely a case of who you know here) last week and came away feeling very positive. This physiotherapist suggested she rode her horse in walk because it was the best way of mobilising the pelvis and was non weight bearing. The physio was also very positive about the outcome.

After I’d lunged the mare today, we put the saddle on, crossed the stirrups over the withers, and using a very high mounting block, my client slid on.

Honestly, just walking around put the biggest smile on her face. Today was her third ride and already she’s feeling the difference. She feels more balanced, sat more centrally, has more movement in her injured leg, and can feel muscles waking up and starting to work correctly. On the ground you can see a difference in her walking (or limping) too, as well as having the more positive and can-do attitude.

We were talking about the RDA, half in jest about being led around and not really “riding”, but also about the freedom and independence it gives disabled people. On another note, have you seen the inspiring video of Angelika Trabert which was doing the rounds on social media last weekend? If she can ride with no legs, there’s no excuse for us mere mortals!

I talked last week about the exercise ball being really useful to find your balance, core and centre of gravity. It’s very similar to sitting astride a horse, but my client couldn’t use an exercise ball because it requires her to have her injured foot to help balance. Which means that horse riding is actually a better form of exercise for her. From on top of her horse she can stretch her legs forwards and back, bring the knees away from the saddle, and do other balancing exercises.

We also talked about the physical therapy benefits, particularly the ones my client was beginning to feel. I can remember hearing a story about a woman who had debilitating MS but after a few sessions of riding she could walk again. It seemed like magic at the time, but I’m sure it was the mobilising effect of the horse’s movement and the desire to get better to feel this independence again.

Of course, there’s the psychological versus physiological debate, but surely if you’re happier with life – e.g. being able to enjoy your horse, or experiencing pain free independence – then you will feel more able to try prescribed physical exercises so will notice more of an improvement in your mobility.

Either way, I thought it was great to see the positive effects on someone in rehab, both psychologically and physically, and it’s a really good advert for horses being used for therapy. After all, we know how much better we feel after a ride or cuddle with our horse.

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