First I Have to Recover my Strength

Last week the weather and my health did not cooperate at all as far as riding a horse was concerned.

When I saw Debbie on Wednesday for my lesson this week I told her that I wanted to get back into riding Bingo in the double bridle, and that I needed her opinion about how that horrible cold I had affected my body and nervous system. Now that I have found a snaffle bit that seems to work well with Bingo's mouth and my hands (the Fager Bianca double-jointed bar relief snaffle with a roller) I find myself day-dreaming about the higher level of communication I can achieve with the double bridle. I am pleased with the Bianca bit, Bingo uses his tongue to play with the roller some and by doing so seems to relax his tongue and his lower jaw, so his mouth feels a lot softer.

So Debbie started checking me out. My lower right leg has improved at least, and I no longer felt like one foot was 6 inches in front of the other foot when they were both in their proper places, so at least that nerve damage was not permanent. That was a big relief to me, I had felt so unbalanced the last few weeks keeping my feet in their proper position, just an example of how my MS can mess up what I “feel”.

Debbie (and Bingo) seemed to think my hands were fine, hurrah! Debbie told me Bingo did not open his mouth at all.

But when she had me do the two-point position I just did not have the strength to keep my butt out of the saddle. I tried doing the two-point at both the walk and the trot, and of course I was worse at the trot. No matter how hard I tried I just could not keep my crotch off of the saddle. Bingo was not upset with me, it just meant that I could not give his back as much relief when he needed me to GET OFF HIS BACK so he could carry me in comfort, though at least he was relieved of having my seat bones bearing down on his back.

This was when Debbie told me that I really needed to get strong enough again to do a full two-point gallop position before I went back to the double bridle. She said this would probably take me at least two weeks before I finally could get my body back enough to do so. Since then at home I have been getting into a two-point position and holding it for a count of ten once or twice a day. I have noticed that my front-to-back balance is worse, my body wavers from front-to-back and I just cannot seem to keep my body still with my feet on solid ground, and on a moving horse this just gets worse. Of course Debbie is right and I have to be able to keep my body steady to effectively use the double bridle.

On Friday morning it was not raining and my husband was home so I went out to the stable to ride. When I stepped out of my front door the wind was bitter, but since the wind was from the south I had some hope that it would warm up a little bit. We got to the stable and the wind seemed worse, but I thought I'd be able to stand it if I put one of Bingo's exercise sheets over my thighs.

I went into the office to get Bingo's boots out of the cupboard, successfully negotiating two dogs who were lying down in the office. I got the boots and stepped back into the barn and I was greeted by an even colder and stronger wind from the NORTH. By the time I got to the wash stall my body was telling me “NO, NO, NO!!! Sam had gone out to the paddock to get Bingo, and when she brought him up to the wash stall I regretfully told her that it might not be a good idea for me to ride. I also profusely apologized since she had gone out to get Bingo. Sam said it was OK, and I must have looked sicker than usual because she told me that I probably had no business going out in that wind since I was still recovering from my cold. Sam is a mother of school-age children, and I figured mothers are well able to see if a person is truly sickly. I thanked her, apologized again, my husband and I carried all my tack and gear back to the car, and I went home and collapsed. This winter the cold winds just seem to suck every erg of energy out of my body even if I am standing still.

So it may take two weeks or two longer before Debbie considers me fit enough to ride in the double. I do not think Debbie is worried about me using the double bridle at a walk, but even placid horses sometimes move faster than their riders want and it is best to be able to ride it without distressing the horse. The last thing I want to do is to accidentally yank on the curb bit, I do not think Bingo would enjoy that at all. I hope she will let me use it before spring-time, but it is her horse, her barn, her riding ring and her stable so I follow her rules.

Besides Debbie is right about my weak thighs. Until I get my leg muscles stronger and more enduring there is no way I can canter without it absolutely exhausting me in six strides. I want to canter again but I have just been too weak and tired, and my front-to-back balance needs to get better. Maybe this year I can get my thighs strong enough to canter, if not I will settle for getting my seat strong enough so that it is safe for the horse for me to use the double bridle.

The one bright point about Friday is that Bingo had no problems with being caught, brought into the barn, and then just standing around for a few minutes. He did not give me any dirty looks and he did not act like he thought I was insane for wanting to ride in that cold wind. I have noticed since we earned Bingo's trust that he is acting more and more like a QH and less like a wild Mustang when being handled. Bingo was perfectly happy to stand around, hanging out with me, Sam and my husband. When Sam asked me to hold him while she did something I lightly touched his muzzle with the back of my hand a few times to say “Hi!” and I scratched his neck under his mane, the itchiest part of his body. Bingo got a peppermint for being so cooperative and good, and plenty of sweet loving words.

Horses like that.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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