Hi all! Thank you very much for all your support. I thought I would write about my experiences of riding and being around horses while affected by RA.
Obviously, being around large unpredictable animals like horses has risks so I have to be aware of the potential for myself to get hurt. For me, the pleasure I get from looking after and riding my horses completely outweights the risks.Horses add so much to my life, they give me a reason to get up every morning and keep going.
As I compete in Para Equestrian shows, my horses are quite big and have to be energetic and athletic. I train them myself with the help of my coaches. I have to have very good technique to make up for my lack of physical strength, especially when handling them on the ground. Natural horsemanship training is really helpful as it teaches the horses to think rather than just react instinctively. My top horse Whoop is not the sweetest horse to handle, he bit my hand before Christmas last year and crushed a bone in it but I can forgive him just about anything as long as he pulls all the stops out for me when we are competing. Sometimes I think I am in a kind of abusive relationship with him (he abuses me!) but I love his amazing strength of character. He is the most generous horse I have known even with his quirks.
When I am riding, I find that it is really liberating as the horse and saddle support my joints. A dressage saddle is probably the most supportive as long as you have enough flexibility in your hips to allow your legs to hang comfortably down the horse's sides. If your hips are playing up a GP saddle with fairly big knee blocks might be more comfortable as you can ride with shorter stirrups. I have little passive control of my lower legs so my stirrups are attached to the girth with thin leather spur straps. If I got into real difficulties they would probably snap, for safety. I don't use them with my young horse in case she takes fright and rears, as I would have to be able to slide my legs back to keep our balance.
I have found riding in long fitted riding boots supports my ankles and makes me more comfortable than short boots and chaps. If my ankles are painful, and I need to ride, I drop my stirrups once I am on board and ride without them. On those days, I put a panic strap on the frint of the saddle, across the D-rings so that I feel more secure and have something to grab. I sometimes also have a neckstrap on Darcy in case she does something silly.
I have hairbands wrapped around my rubber grip reins to give my fingers more help holding the reins. I have also used reins with loops but for me they transfer too much 'pull' onto my shoulders. Whoop does most of his work in a snaffle bridle with one rein as I find it really difficult to hold and organise the two sets of reins on a double bridle.
Getting on and off can be awkward, I use a fairly high mounting block to get on and I train my horses to stand very still while I faff around. I give them a sweet when I am ready to start riding so they wait for their Polo before moving. I get off with my left foot in the stirrup and then slide down the saddle and the horse's side- not very Pony Club approved but less painful!
I hope to be able to keep riding and looking after my horses for as long as possible as they really do give me a reason to keep living. The feeling of moving and dancing with my horse lights up my life!