Summer has now truly begun here in the South. Days in the high 80's and low 90's with extremely high humidity. I go outside and it is like stepping into a sauna. Next month I face temperatures in the high 90's and possibly up to the 100's.

High temperatures and high humidity make all MS symptoms worse. Within a matter of minutes, on a bad day, I can lose up to a third of my IQ, become almost totally unable to coordinate my body, greatly increase my tremor, and lose almost all ability to keep control of my emotions, especially fear. My mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Therefore for the sake of the horses I ride and for my own safety I have to make big adjustments in my riding. Thank goodness for my ice vest and cool cap, they really help.

As my symptoms become worse, the horses become reluctant to take contact with the bit. I never force a horse to take contact, and when they stop reaching for contact with my hand I know that I will have to ride without a bit for 3 to 4 months. Luckily I started riding bitless over 30 years ago when I got my English Jumping Cavesson, the one with the divided cheek pieces. In the last few years I have also started to use cross-under bridles (Nurtural and Dr. Cook's), and the Light Rider bitless bridle ( a modified Scawbrig from Tasmania.) This summer I will also be playing with the bitless options of my Micklem Multi-bridles.

I find riding bitless to be interesting, although I have found nothing that replicates the subtlety of the conversation I can have with a horse when riding with a bit. I also find that I must make adjustments to the strength of my contact. Since I will do anything to avoid having my horse travel behind the bit, I find that most of the time I have to LIGHTEN my contact, in fact most of the time I cannot keep satisfactory contact with the cross-under bridles and the scawbrig. I can keep contact with my English jumping cavesson, but I have to watch that I do not make my contact too strong. If my contact is too strong with the jumping cavesson I can unintentionally invoke spectacular extended trots and bounding gallops!

I think that it is a shame that riding teachers do not use bitless bridles (cross-under and scawbrig) to teach their students how to have light hands. The horses HAVE to be ridden with light hands in these bridles or they will loose their impulsion. If my hands are too strong the horse will end up "behind the bit" just as much in a bitless bridle as a bitted one. I find that there is a gap in the contact with the cross-under and scawbrig, I can keep light contact with the horse's head when his nose is stuck out (the way I ride all the time), or my contact gets too strong and the horse starts evading my hands, threatening to go behind the bit. There is not as much middle ground between the two extremes as there is with a bit, where I can keep an even, light contact from extreme extension to a vertical face.

With the scawbrig and cross-under bridles I find that the horse is even more sensitive to the twitching of my fingers than they are in the bit, even if the horse is not paying attention. This increased sensitivity to my fingers also occurs with my jumping cavesson. On the other hand, when the horse resists my hands and I have to get into a deep protracted discussion about "Horse, we are going THERE and doing THAT, I can get the horse to listen to me without hurting his mouth. It may take a little longer, but we end up going where I want at the speed I want. Of course my arms get a workout. With all of the bitless options I feel pretty safe riding in the ring in any gait. If I was going outside the ring I would probably use the cross-under bridle.

All summer I will be looking forward to the fall when I can start riding in a bit again. In the meanwhile I am so grateful that I have a variety of bitless options that can protect the horses' mouths from my worsening hands while still giving me effective control. And then, when fall comes I will have to make my contact stronger (not by much) to get the horse to notice his bit!

Enjoy your ride.

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Comment by RhondaL on June 19, 2009 at 10:22am
Just thought I'd update you ... I ordered a vest from CoolMedics. I like that you can "re-charge" it with water, that it's light and that it's "only" about a hundred dollars. I'll let you know how it works out once it arrives. Thanks again.
Comment by RhondaL on June 17, 2009 at 10:37am
Thank you so much, Jackie. I'll look into them. As you can imagine, I'm sick of being a shut-in when everyone else is outside playing and the world looks so glorious.
Comment by Jackie Cochran on June 17, 2009 at 10:30am
There are several types of cooling vests. One uses just the evaporation of water-Cool Medics USA. They have a web-site. Then there are the ice vests, I could not find the company that made mine over a decade ago, but advertised in the MS magazine are-Polar Body Cooling at or 1-800-763-8423, and SteeleVest body core cooling system at 1-888-783-3538. I use my ice vest (has to be cooled in a freezer or by ice) and a Cool cap which just needs the water. They do help me deal with the heat, and I can really tell when I don't use them and it is hot, or just warm and humid. In the summer they let me ride, and they also let me deal with being out of the AC.
I hope this helps you.
Comment by RhondaL on June 16, 2009 at 5:54pm
Please tell me more about your ice vest. I've never heard of this. Although my vasculitis is in remission, I'm still extremely sensitive to the heat. I'm a shut-in under AC in the summer (good thing I don't have a horse.) I would like to have a somewhat normal life of not hiding during the hot months.

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