Giddy Up! Horseback Riding with Relapsing MS By Rachel, Wife, Mother, Domestic Engineer • July 25, 2017
Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” I think he was onto something in more ways than one!
Who doesn’t know a little girl who has an obsession with all things horse? Well, that was me. I dreamed of riding horses day and night. I’m pretty sure that every holiday that came around I was always hoping for that pony I had begged and prayed for year after year! But my parents couldn’t afford a horse, so I made it my mission to get involved in any way that I could. It was my pleasure to volunteer at any local horse farm and muck stalls. I did chores for long hours at a time just to be around these creatures I saw as magnificent.
Being able to spend time watching, grooming, cleaning up after, and riding horses sure did prove to be good for my soul. No matter how bad my day was, being around horses always made me feel better. That is a truth of mine even to this very day.
My horse, or my “other man,” as my husband likes to call him, is named Ben. He is totally tall, dark, and handsome too. Both Ben and my loving husband have been a part of my support system. Ben is always a willing listener and always happy to see me whether I’m there to just spoil him with some carrots or to go on our next adventure together. There’s nothing like the feeling of galloping up a lush, green meadow hill and reaching the top! But sometimes I simply take him out to some grass, lie myself on top of him and let him graze. He may not know it, but no matter what we’re doing, he helps me in so many ways.
I’ve been an avid horseback rider for over 30 years and when I was diagnosed with relapsing MS I was concerned, but my desire to get on the back of my horse is actually a huge motivator for me, even though it certainly hasn’t always been easy.
Horseback riding, for me, has also had its rewards when it comes to dealing with relapsing MS. It has been therapeutic for me. Over the years, I have found that the more often I ride, the better my balance, coordination, strength, and mobility is. What’s so cool about horseback riding is that a horse’s stride actually helps to mimic our walk. As the horse moves the rider is also moving—and ready for this? Forward and back, up and down, and side to side all at once! Crazy right?
Now, I have a lot of invisible sensory issues from my relapsing MS. Riding forces me to be spatially aware of my entire body—but I do like challenges. And it’s challenging riding a horse, let alone riding a horse when dealing with some of my relapsing MS symptoms. I also like to ride at the indoor arena at our stable, which has several mirrors on its walls. Just like working out at the gym, I can watch myself as I ride to make sure that I am maintaining good posture and form!
And horseback riding is not just a hobby of mine. There is actual science behind all of it too. Horses are used for therapy called hippotherapy. It has nothing really to do with hippos—although I do remember a song about a hippopotamus for Christmas... hmm? “Hippos” is actually the Greek term for horse. In fact, along with proper treatment, hippotherapy is used to treat a wide variety of conditions, and there are locations all over the country that offer this type of therapy.
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