Horse riding with RA

Horse riding with RA

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!

13 Replies


    I am hoping to get back in the saddle very soon, looking for a horse to buy myself once we have moved house(very soon)

    I am desperate to ride again. I think once yoour determined to carry on - you will, keep posative and enjoy your lovely horses x

  • Good luck finding your perfect horsey partner. What Winston Churchill said ' there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man' is so true.


  • What a heartfelt blog..... it so raised my spirits to read of your relationships with each of your horses. Despite your condition you endeavour to thrive and conquer where others fear to tread.

    I admire your skill and determination. Well done you. You deserve to do well.:-) thankyou for such an inspirational blog


    Fantastic picture

  • What a beautiful blog you brought tears to my eyes! I adore animals but being brought up in a large city I dont get to see many horses. We do have a riding school not to far away actually and when i get some tiime off work and if the weather permits we always take some carrots for the horses. I am actually scared to let them eat out of my hand but i do think they are magnificent creatures. Well done you for finding ways around this challenging condition and long may it continue. Xxxx

  • Fabulous! RA can take so much from us, but it can in a roundabout way give something back, if we've a mind to view the positive experiences that we wouldnt have otherwise had as gifts. Your story is inspirational. Alice x

  • I'm so jealous.

    While I'm so glad you can continue your riding I do feel a little jealous, I love horses and riding but sadly I had to give up about 20 years ago due to A.S (Ankylosing Spondylitis) in my lower spine and hips. It's so painful sitting on a horse, I seize up while up there and need lifted/pulled down. In fact the last time I tried I had to slowly let myself fall to the side with someone catching me and another person pushing my leg over the horse's back. It was so funny and I'm glad my daughter didn't video it. lol

    Good luck and happy riding.

    Beth xx

  • I have to admit quite often my 'dismount' is fair from elegant and organised! One of the scariest things, for me, is the feeling of being on a horse that is mucking about and knowing that the only way down is when it all goes wrong and gravity takes over and that it is going to hurt, a lot!

    If you went to an RDA centre they might be able to find a way around your problems, I have seen riders getting on and off from mechanical platforms, with winches etc, so may be it would be possible? Or how about learning to drive a horse, that can be done at RDA centres even from a wheelchair in adapted vechicles?

    It would be wonderful if you could find a way to have horses in your life again

    Bert x

  • Thanks for this Bert, sadly riding is definitely out of the question due to the type of arthritis, I have A.S and it's affected my pelvis/spine, hips and shoulders even breathing hurts sometimes, sadly my hips won't stretch around a horse without severe pain so getting on and off isn't the only problem. Even simple procedures like a smear are very difficult and painful.

    However, driving is something I've never really thought about, I've always thought if I couldn't sit on a horse I didn't want to know. I do have a RDA centre near where I live so perhaps driving is something I might get into, at least I'll be around horses.

    Thanks again

    Beth xx

  • Fantastic!

  • After I retired I started riding again. I found I had some energy to spare at last. I go to a local riding school with an indoor arena and have found my soul mate horse named May. She does not pull my hands and shoulders and actually prefers leg aids. Luckily my hip joints are not too badly affected. I have to use a mounting block to get on and I would not too many people to see me dismount!!! I have to apologise for grinning so much and telling anyone who will listen how good riding again makes me feel. I think its better for me than antidepressants. Would be lovely to have my own horse but I am just happy to be on a horse again.

  • Please, please be assured that 'where there's a will there is a way' applies here! The RDA will have a centre near you and they are usually very good at thinking around a problem to make all things possible! Watching Hopalongrider get off is amusing, getting on is always from a high block and her horses are 'trained' to stand still until she is ready. In fact her horse pictured above is so good, he will refuse to move until he has had his treat for standing still! Polos are carried at all times for this purpose. If you live near a major competition centre which holds British Dressage competitions, phone them and see if they hold Para competitions - if they do- go along and watch, you will be inspired! Horses are amazing.

  • I would love to hack but havent since being ill I found it so relaxing before but im worried about the strength of grip in my wrists and hands ans I had to mount from a block before my illness

  • Maybe try some looped reins, there is a product called 'Reinbows' that can be added onto most reins or do what I do, put hairbands around the reins at stategic points? A panic strap goes across the d- rings on the front of your saddle, it may give you a feeling of confidence. Morgan Equine sell smart leather ones that many able-bodied dressage riders use. personally. I find hacking the most errifying experience but that maybe because I have mad dressage beasties!

    Good luck


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