A Time for Ice Vests

It has been HOT down here in the southern central part of NC. Weeks of highs in the 90s F, with some days getting over 100 F, and it is humid. Thunderstorms roll through some afternoons and I hear thunder all around me, the lights flicker (and stay on, I am fortunate) and the air conditioning feels pretty good compared to outside.

Wednesday was predicted to be HOT for my lesson. It isn't so bad for me because I am lucky that my riding teacher is willing to give me a lesson at 8:30 AM, it is a bit more humid then but the ground is cooler and we get some breezes. I looked at the long range forecast for the next ten days and realized that Debbie would face some challenges with the heat during her afternoon lessons the next two weeks. Then I remembered that I still had the FlexiFreeze ice vest, the one with the insulating neoprene shell that I am so allergic to and uses ice water packs, sitting in my freezer. I had my husband get it out of the freezer with the extra ice packs, put it in its insulated carrier, and we took it out to lend to Debbie all summer. My husband kindly put it together for me so I would not break out into hives, and I told Debbie I was lending it to her for the heat of the summer. Debbie used it during my lesson, and Debbie has a freezer where she can freeze the ice packs at the barn so she is good to go for the hot season. I told her she could cut up the extra sheet of the ice cubes to fit the vest so she could have extras for the brutally hot days. Summer has not been this hot or hot this early in the year for many, many years.

While digging through the freezer for my Kool Max Ice Vest (made by Polar Products) which is not as good as the FlexiFreeze for riding but whose shell does not make me break out in hives, we discovered another ice vest I had completely forgotten about, a light stretchy vest made by Thermapparel, which has ice just down the back unlike the Kool Max or FlexiFreeze ice vests that have ice packs in the front too. I don't remember ever riding in this one, I think I bought it near the end of the last really hot summer we had a few years ago, put it in the freezer, and forgot about it when it got cooler. I think I will try it out tomorrow, it is supposed to be cooler and I won't need as much ice on me to keep riding. Since my main heat problem is in my central nervous system it is important to keep my spinal area cooler, cooling my chest is for the really hot days when it is very hard on me when my core body temperature soars.

I was really glad on Wednesday to be wearing my ice vest for riding. I did not need it in the barn for grooming MJ, but when I got out into the sunlight the heat got a lot worse and I put it on. The cooling definitely helped me, Debbie did not correct my position as much as she has been. MJ did not seem bothered much by the extra few pounds on his back and I think he appreciated me being more coordinated. MJ had been ridden by his part-leaser in a few classes in Debbie's last schooling show and fortunately he had no ill effects from the show.

In fact he went better for me. It took a lot less leg to get him going, and when I asked for a trot in his “bad” direction we did not have the usual extended argument about which diagonal I was going to use, a big change from the last few weeks. I had to use a lot less leg to keep him trotting too. MJ was responsive to my aids and we did not have any disagreements about what to do next. He was still sticky about extending his walking stride, his comment was “You want to go faster, lets trot!” No MJ, you just need to stretch out your legs some more. Then he was less responsive when I asked for a really slow walk, we never got down to the “counted walk” super slow crawl.

But otherwise MJ did well. We had the longest two-track at a walk ever without any discussions, and he was good at keeping contact and obeying my turning and halting/slowing down aids. All in all he seemed much more cheerful this lesson.

Maybe I should start wearing an ice vest much sooner in the year. During the winter I wear a protective vest but when the weather heats up I get really hot wearing it. Next spring I think I should take off my protective vest and put on my ice vest a lot earlier. Since the bitter cold left us I've felt like we were stagnating, but now I suspect that MJ was just reacting to my worsening nervous system, heat can cripple a person with MS very quickly. Right now I am wondering if I should wear an ice vest under my coat during the winter too, something I am not looking forward to but if it helps me ride a horse better I will just have to endure the cold. That would mean I could not wear my protective vest but I would be less likely to fall off since my balance would be better.

This summer an ice vest would be good for any rider. Your horse might appreciate the fact that you are not melting into a messy puddle of protoplasm on his back. MJ was so much better for me with the ice vest on than he had been when I was depending just on my technical fabric sun shirt to keep cool in the upper 60s F and lower 70s F. I guess with our humidity down here that the technical fabric riding shirts do not work as well as they could where there is less humidity.

So right now ice vests ROCK!

Have a great ride and try to stay cool!

Jackie Cochran

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