Establishing a Base for Movement

I got my lesson this week. I even trotted twice. Of course MJ was rather stiff at the beginning so we meandered around in 2-point for a minute or two while he warmed up with the help of all the far infra-red gear I put on him for my rides. He did OK during the ride but he most definitely did not feel like extending his walking stride so I contented myself with a decent walk, worked on loosening his back with gradual curves, and I concentrated on keeping good contact with his mouth. I did my now usual thing of using the different leg, thigh and posture aids for the turns, the different aids work on slightly different muscles of his back and it brings variety to our rather boring rides.

Debbie was amazed by one thing, I was sitting ERECT on MJ's back instead of my usual slouch (little old lady here.) The only thing I had been doing that previous week was sitting on my Anywhere Saddle Chair (ASC) four times a day, for two minutes each time. I did this seven days in a row and it transformed my back, at least for now. From how my body feels after my 2 minute sessions of just sitting upright keeping my face vertical and the bottoms of my shoulder blades against my rib cage the ASC works on my core muscles. I did not realize how effective this little bit of exercise on the ASC had been toning my posture muscles, but the only other time Debbie exclaimed like that about my back was back when I occasionally carried the Equicube. The problem back then was when I was not carrying the Equicube by position deteriorated. From how this little use of the ASC transformed my back on horseback it was well worth the money I spent on it, NOTHING else has worked so well to get me out of my slouch.

At home I continue to use my riding simulators though I am no longer ambitious on my Home Horse (HH). I had exercised myself into deep exhaustion and realized that if I wanted to use these simulators to improve my body I was going to have to stop being ambitious and resign myself to starting off again with just one minute a day and maybe adding one minute a day each week. So far this seems to be working, right now I do not NEED a nap everyday and I am sleeping my normal 8 hours a night. I still get tired somewhat at this greatly reduced schedule but nowhere as bad as when I was exercising myself into exhaustion.

Last Sunday Shannon came by to help me with riding the HH. She noticed that the platform of the HH was slanting to the left. As I put more weight on my right foot I remembered that a while ago I had my husband measure the length of my legs and that my left leg was 1/2” longer than my right leg. So I got myself some insoles and put one in my right boot. A major complication arose, I could not get my paddock boot zipped up. Since I had Covid three years ago with the complication of Covid toes, my right foot has swollen some from top to bottom and I was already having some difficulty in zipping up my right boot, adding the insole just made my foot too big from top to bottom for zipping up my boot at all. When I tried to ride the HH in regular shoes my right ankle started hurting, going up my Achilles tendon so I NEED to wear the paddock boots to support my ankle when I ride the HH. So the last few times on the HH my right boot has not been zipped up, this is fine at home but I am not too sure how it would work when I ride a horse. At least it was easier for me to keep the platform a bit more level but when I was centered I felt like my whole body was leaning right.

I told my husband about the platform slanting left and he said that he had noticed it all the other times he spotted me on the HH but he had not said anything. He started paying attention but I could tell that he was not completely sure when the platform was level and my body did not feel confident that he was telling me right about the tilting of the platform. So I had him buy me a 2' long bubble level, with bubbles for side-to-side, front-to-back and diagonally. We put this on the HH platform and my husband sounded a LOT more confident when he told me that I was too far to one side. He can now guide me so that I hit center on the HH, and now I can get a true feel for when my balance is right.

With the insole in my right boot I improved with finding center in my one minute sessions on the HH. I still feel like the HH is slanting to the right but the bubble balance does not lie and my body seems willing to accept it when my husband looks at it and tells me confidently that I am off to one side. When I get it right I feel like I have so much more weight in my right foot than I have in my left foot. My body will have to adjust to this. With the help of the HH and whoever is spotting me, using the HH will hopefully train my body what it feels like to be balanced. Since my sense of balance is truly horrible this may take some time but at least now I have a chance of learning the right feel in my feet and seat when I am balanced from side-to-side.

When I put the bubble balance on the platform of the HH with the double bridle extension and two pairs of reins I saw that the HH was on its “forehand”, and this time it was not a nebulous “I think it is on its forehand”, I KNEW it was on its “forehand.” Once I get my side-to-side balance better I will take off the bridle extension and work on finding center from front-to-back.

Today on my HH I spent two minutes and I moved my seat bones like I was on the back of a horse that is walking. I will need a spotter's help when I do this so they can tell me when I come back to center after this exercise because I sure cannot tell in on my own.

Between the ASC strengthening my core enough so I can hold my torso erect and the HH training my body as to how it feels when I am balanced on it I should be a much better rider for those patient lesson horses I ride now. With a toned core and balance I should become even more effective with my aids and I will stop holding the horse back with my body. Since my nervous system is messed up I cannot do this just by targeted exercises because I HAVE TO get the feel of when my body is correct, and I have not been getting this just by riding the lesson horses, those patient horses who kindly ignore the faults of their riders. IF I go slow enough I have a hope of avoiding that total exhaustion that makes my riding worse. IF I am patient enough I have a hope of growing new nerve connections and a possibility of growing new nerves to take over from the ones damaged by my MS.

I could have spent an equivalent amount of money on lessons on a live horse and not gotten what I truly NEED to become a much better rider. Part of the reason for this is that taking that many lessons would lead me to utter exhaustion which would end all progress, and I would have to shoehorn in many more private lessons at my very busy lesson stable. I do not have enough endurance to take an hour long group lesson, so it is private ½ hour lessons or nothing.

When I look at lesson prices at other stables the money I spent on the ASC (around $200.00 US) and the Home Horse (around $1,000.00 US with the bridle extension) is a true bargain. If I can only ride one minute there is no problem. I can increase my ride time gradually, taking as long as I need to for progress that lasts. Plus the weather and the state of the outside riding rings does not matter, when polar vortexes come through, when it snows, when it rains, when ice coats everything, and when there are violent winds I can safely ride my riding simulators in the comfort of my living room. I was slowly devolving into a blob of protoplasm in the saddle, now with the riding simulators my muscles will tone up and get stronger, and my balance will improve greatly. These riding simulators are giving me a chance at my big ambition in life, to become a really good rider even though I am severely disabled by MS. These tools help me establish a basis for better riding.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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