A few years ago I got back in the saddle again.
At age 63, more than 30 years after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and about 50 years since I’d last ridden a horse, I found my feet in the stirrups, butt in the saddle and riding a gentle, friendly horse that was led around the ring at the Great and Small therapeutic riding center in Boyds, MD outside Washington, DC.
Laurie Dove, a fabulous instructor who is certified in equine therapy by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), gave me a boost onto the horse after he was led into the slot of a boarding “platform,” sort of like a subway train slides into a station at the platform. She then led my horse around the ring as I tried my best to keep my balance and remember what little I could from when I rode as a kid.
Laurie assessed my riding skills, and my physical needs, and then she began to work me through activities that would help my balance, leg strength and core muscles. This included stretching to place rings over posts, guiding the horse using leg pressure and, on a trail outside, riding up and down hills and over rough surfaces.
After just 3 or 4 thirty minute sessions my balance, and my leg and core strength, improved enough for me to try riding without using the stirrups. At first, I could only do it for only about 30 seconds. Later, I was good for several minutes. After about 9 months of weekly sessions the horse and I were trotting and I was riding on my own…no leader line being held by Laurie anymore! Therapeutic riding was really therapeutic…not to mention being an amazing stress reliever. There’s no doubt in my mind that it improved my mobility. And it was fun!
I’m fairly mobile, so therapeutic riding might not be the right thing for someone whose disability is more severe than mine. However, hippotherapy might be. Hippotherapy is very similar to therapeutic riding but the riding instructor is a physical or occupational therapist. There was a great article about hippotherapy recently in the New York Times.
When I retired I moved three hours away from the Great and Small stables and, unfortunately, the distance made it impossible to continue riding there. It’s been a couple of years now since I’ve ridden but I’m hoping that I can find a way to get back in the saddle again, soon.