Oh My Aching Back

MJ is happier with me. Last week he nuzzled me once when I groomed, this week he nuzzled me at least three times. Two weeks ago he gave a derisive snort when I made a comment about badly behaved dogs in the ring, this week he gave contented little quiet snorts when he obeyed my aids.

It has taken me over two years to finally get to this point in our relationship. It was simple, first I had to prove myself as a compassionate rider, then I had to make him more comfortable, and finally I had to make sure to make space for his comments and keep on making space for his comments for over two years. It worked, finally.

The final improvement that worked and induced MJ to this new level of relationship was the ThinLine Contour Pad, the one the ThinLine said that veterinarians recommend for horse with sore backs, even kissing spines. Now I don't think that MJ has kissing spines, or if he does if they are not horribly painful (no bucking) but at 28 years old I guarantee that this horse who did 8 hours of lessons a day at his old barn has back pain. His stiff as a bar of concrete back is proof, he is defending himself from more back pain.

MJ APPROVES this pad. He APPRECIATES this pad. His back is starting to soften up more than it did with just the Fenwick Western pad, the BOT exercise sheet, and me riding Forward seat and getting off his back when he asked me to get my darn butt out of the saddle. He is even softening his back a tiny bit now at the sitting trot.

With my Q30 neck collar helping to protect my brain and the new pad making his back feel a tiny bit softer I dared the sitting trot, twice, for about 6 strides each time. I felt supremely jostled but Debbie praised the way my sitting bones kept glued to the saddle. Yeah, it was not a very comfortable trot to sit to, but otherwise I didn't think badly about it.

Until Thursday morning. When I woke up my back was screaming at me, especially between my shoulder blades, worse toward my right shoulder blade. My warm bath was not enough to help the pain, and I ended up putting around 6 items of the BOT and Fenwick stuff around the neck, shoulders and upper back to help deal with the pain. I even put on my BOT T-shirt which I rarely wear because it increases my core body temperature too much. It is cooler here now, and nothing else worked as well, so I wore it for several hours before the pain abated.

Then Ian came over us yesterday, super low pressure with wind and rain (we came out fine.) My joints screamed even louder, I wore more BOT and Fenwick stuff layering over the most painful parts of my back, and I moved rather gingerly. Before modern meteorology coming storms could be predicted by the aching of old men's joints. Yesterday I finally completely understood why this could be an accurate predictor of a coming storm.

This morning was better and I am wearing less BOT/Fenwick stuff, but I still hurt.

All this from sitting 12 strides of MJ's slow trot. HIS back felt better, mine felt worse. At least, because of the Q30 collar my brain and neck did not feel worse so I am thankful for that. But I am going to wait for his back to soften up some more before I try to sit his trot six strides again. Specific sitting trot work will have to wait.

MJ's part leaser bought a saddle like mine, the Pegasus Butterfly jumping saddle. This is the most difficult saddle I've had to learn to ride because it can shift so much on the horse's back because the top of the horses' shoulders can come an inch or two further back which moves the saddle to the other side. There have been so many times that I've had to recenter this saddle because of how much it can move. I've spent the last six years learning how to ride in this saddle and in discovering gear that can make this saddle more stable on the horse's back.

And my solution for the best ride in this particular saddle is my Fenwick Western “non-slip” pad and the ThinLine Contour pad. With this get up the saddle feels almost as stable as a regular treed jumping saddle, with a lot less shifting around (sort of at the level of a girth being 1 or 2 holes too loose on a treed jumping saddle.) Since MJ's leaser has the same saddle I bought her a Fenwick Western Pad and a ThinLine Contour pad and I am giving them to her. Hopefully this will help MJ, and hopefully this will help his leaser be more stable with this sort of challenging saddle. If MJ gets in the habit of relaxing his back more under her I hope it will carry over to him having a more relaxed back under me when I ride him.

Now for some excitement! On the COTH Forums someone asked if anybody had any experience with the Home Horse ( http://homehorse.com). I went to the web site, looked at the model, read all the page, and I may have finally found a horseback riding simulator that I can both use with relative safety and, even more important, I can sort of afford (saving my money right now.) I called the site, left a message, and Chris called me back and we talked for 47 minutes, about my handicaps, my MS, my riding experience, horses we have ridden, our opinions of modern riding (he is just a few years younger than me) and how the Home Horse could help me between my rides on a real horse.

Chris told me that he made more types of the Home Horse than the one pictured on his site, including one for his mother who is older than I am. He is experienced with riders with MS in his own family, and has made several different styles for different riders with different needs. Since there is absolutely no way I will ever be able to afford to buy a mechanical horse (last time I looked they were over $47,000) and none of the other non-mechanical simulators looked like they could give me what I needed to improve my riding and my ability to walk on my own two feet, the Home Horse has me excited!!!!! Once I order and get mine I will be able to get time in the saddle on a simulator that does pretty good at imitating the movement of a horse when I cannot get to ride a real horse because of weather, illness and pandemics.

When I go riding I have already spent several hours getting ready, being driven to my ride, standing around and/or helping groom and tack the horse, walking to the riding ring, and after my ride walking back to the barn and helping untacking. With the home horse I can just get up, walk a few feet, mount up and “ride”! I won't start my “ride” in a state of exhaustion, and I can use my energy to fine tune my seat so I ride better. I have already told my riding teacher that I may be asking for a riding lesson on my Home Horse so I get aligned correctly, and she seems very interested in the whole idea.

I may be able to become a better rider without leaving my house! Of course nothing will replace a real live horse, riding simulators do not nuzzle or nicker or point out interesting things outside the riding ring.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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