In 1993, after years of puzzling symptoms, I finally got diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Finally I had the answer to why I could never ride as well as I wanted to. I tried to get back to riding my horses, but the exhaustion, muscle pain, and lack of emotional control when exhausted that come from MS defeated my first attempt to get back riding. Due to owning 4 horses at the time I did not have the money for lessons, or the endurance to take them.
Several years later I got to audition to ride at a handicapped program, but I did not get in (was I not handicapped enough?). Big disappointment. However I got to ride this wonderful Morgan gelding that I felt I would be able to ride without the leaders and spotters. I managed then to find first one stable and then a few others that helped me get back riding.
My MS brings severe limitations to my ability to ride horses. My lack of balance, great muscular weakness, muscle tremors in my arms and legs, inability to keep my emotional cool when tired, inability to accurately feel the position of my arms, legs and seat, and total inability to feel secure standing convinced me that I would never again be able to effectively train horses. It just was not fair to the horses to expect them to cheerfully put up with my severe MS symptoms. After much thought I finally came up with a game plan that would enable me to ride safely and that would not hurt the horses I ride.
First, I would have to ride in controlled conditions, in a safe ring with the horse's boss in the middle (so I could steer the horse to his boss if I lost control), in a private lesson. This, I figured would help me keep my emotional cool. Then I had to find someone that was willing to also catch, groom and tack up the horse, as when I tried to do these things myself I would get too exhausted to even get up on the horse. Thirdly I needed to ride horses who were ridden regularly and who were decently trained, but at the same time used to less than perfect riders.
Then I had to face the fact that while I had been a decent rider before, I would have to improve greatly with the application of my aids. I am no longer strong enough to get into a tug of war with a horse. I no longer have enough endurance to ask a horse three times to do something, as every time I use a muscle I get even more tired. I also no longer have the fine muscle strength, endurance or the deep patience needed to overcome the resistances that my faulty riding would cause. I also realized that I cannot even hope to ride dressage, I tried, but riding decent dressage requires such good balance, fine muscular control, and the ability to move several major muscle groups all at the same time--I just can't do it for longer than 10 minutes before a deep and total exhaustion spreads through my body.
I finally found two stables that help me ride over the long term, thank you Debbie and Shannon! During the past three years my riding ability has improved and I realized the great irony of my life.

I always wanted to be an advanced rider.

It took having active MS to get me there.

I will never be able to compete in any horse sport, or go hunting or endurance riding, since I cannot ride effectively longer that 30 minutes at a time. Right now I cannot ride safely in a field or on a trail. However I can finally stop a horse with two twitches of my little fingers, turn the horse from a relaxing outer hand, and have horses willingly take contact with my hands in spite of my imperfections. My main riding teacher is quite content to let me help her reclaim horses that have been dumped at her barn (two Arabs so far), so in a limited way I am still training, but ALWAYS under supervision. I have gradually regained some of my strength, and hope to get my seat stronger this year. Maybe someday I will be able to ride safely outside the ring, as I get strong enough to be able to stay on a shying horse.

Have a great ride.

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Comment by Ottilie on June 28, 2009 at 4:32pm
Jackie, I feel humbled by your strength and tenacity.
Comment by Josephine Brouwer on June 10, 2009 at 5:12pm
It is not the destination its THE CLIMB ! Kudos to you and to all of us who have had to struggle back, believe me its' worth every effort just to be on God's greatest gift to mankind THE HORSE!
Comment by Barbara F. on June 7, 2009 at 8:51am
This is such an inspiring and insightful post. I hope you will continue to update us on your progress.:)

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