I Miss Riding

The COVID-19 shut down now looks like it may last for months, not weeks. I want to get close up to a horse to groom, I want to get close up to a horse by riding, and I want to get close to a horse by taking care of it after riding, but, alas, fate is dictating otherwise.

This is a true bummer!

Earlier this year I got this wild idea, that it might be good for me to look into horseback riding simulators for a nebulous day in the future when I might not be able to ride, but I was thinking about years in the future, not the next month. I had started to save up for one but that is another plan I've needed to put on hold as my husband had to put his business on hold until the pandemic quiets down. At least we have some money coming in unlike a lot of people, but we need to put money by for emergencies. It also occurred to me that it might be somewhat dangerous for me to try a simulator since my balance is so bad, getting on and off of the simulator might not be very safe for me. I do wish that I had something, anything, that would mimic being up on a horse so I could keep some muscle tone in my riding muscles.

So I have devised an exercise program for myself, one that takes into account all the problems I have with my MS.

To help me keep my endurance up I started walking outside on our dead-end deserted gravel road three times a week. The first day I was TIRED after 17 minutes. I decided to aim for 30 minutes because that is the length of my lessons. Slowly, every other day, I walk on the road. I am very fortunate that around 200 feet away from my land a neighbor has 4 horses in paddocks around his barn, so I walk down until I can see his horses from the road, then walk back to the end of the road where I get to see some beef cattle cows and their calves. Seeing the horses is exciting, seeing the cows is somewhat boring (they are all black) and I have gotten up to 30 minutes with plenty of rest stops. I even have a little hill on the road so I can challenge myself for a minute or so. Gradually my rest stops have gotten shorter though I still need to stop and rest some. My long term aim is to walk for 30 minutes without having to stop to rest at all but that may take me several weeks.

On the days I do not walk I am doing a few exercises at home. I cannot exercise for very long before my whole body gets exhausted, and if I keep on pushing it my MS guarantees that I will go into a physical collapse for days or for weeks, you see I've tried exercising before and this was always the result. So I am trying to keep my minimal riding fitness by spacing out my exercises, I don't do very much at home but I get really tired after I do them.

First I pretend I am on horseback by spreading my feet at least 2 feet apart. Then I pretend that I am doing a “rider's push-up” from a two-point position, slowly, then I raise myself back into a two-point position slowly. I figure if I do this slowly that my muscles will get more work for the amount of effort I have to put in. I started off doing 3 of these once every other day and in the last 4 weeks I've gotten up to 5 repeats, twice a day, every other day. Then I pretend I am doing a posting trot, I started being able to do only 5 or 6 a day, now I can do it 10-12 times twice a day. While doing both these exercises I am concentrating on keeping my face vertical, my shoulders back, and my diaphragm pushed out to straighten my back so I won't get into any bad habits for when I finally get back to riding again.

After the first two weeks I started using my Equicube for both these exercises so my muscles have to work against some extra weight and to remind myself where my hands are. With the Equicube I also practice moving my hands and arms like I am keeping contact. Maybe in a week or two I might be able to add walking around the house holding the Equicube in both hands to get my core muscles stronger.

When I first realized that there would be shut-downs because of the pandemic I got really worried about my ability to walk and about my ability to feel where each part of my body was in space. Of course the best exercising I can do to achieve these goals is riding a horse, but with the pandemic I've had to improvise so I would keep on being strong enough to walk. Even so my balance is getting worse week by week, on horseback I could safely experiment with almost losing my balance front to back and regaining it several times a ride, but without a horse under me I dare not experiment with my balance at all. So while I seem to be able to keep some fitness in my riding muscles my balance is getting worse week by week.

However I am blessed, I can get out to walk without running into people and three times a week I actually get to see some living horses, much better than just looking at pictures! I am avoiding people and all their germs, the COVID-19 virus, flu viruses and cold viruses, which means that I am somewhat healthier than usual. So long as I remember to put on the mosquito repellent I am avoiding most of the viruses that really pull me down even if I actually don't get sick.

Seeing live horses is wonderful, but I keep a good distance from them since their owner is older than I am, so I am practicing social distancing from the horses too. One day I ran into this neighbor and I thanked him for still having horses since I could at least look at them from a distance. He definitely understood that seeing live horses was better than pictures or video!

Today is my youngest grandson's birthday but I could not see him, it is a 2 ½ hour drive and they are all crammed into a tiny apartment with no room to keep 6 feet apart. I did get to sing Happy Birthday to him over the phone which is better than nothing.

I hope all of you are keeping healthy. I have to keep reminding myself that if I get this virus that I won't be able to ride horses at all if I am dead. Someday this nightmare will be over and we will get to ride the horses again!

Take care of yourselves!

Jackie Cochran

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