I can manage to do most of what I want to, despite my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Sometimes, though, I have to get creative to pull it off. Because my joints are too loose, my muscles overcompensate by tightening up — that’s one of the reasons why massage is so helpful. If my muscles get too tight, it can feel like they’re pulling my joints out of alignment, which is not a comfortable sensation.
Horses are incredibly perceptive, and they can feel tightness and asymmetry in their riders. While every rider has to work on balance and softness, I have to work exceptionally hard to keep myself as balanced as possible. Unfortunately, it often feels as though my body is fighting against me.
During my lesson last week I was reminded of how much my tightness can affect my horse Cherry. She’s sweet and willing, but we’re still getting to know each other as I’ve only had her for about a month. As we were cantering, my trainer talked me through letting go of the tightness in my back and allowing myself to follow the motion of the gait. It was incredibly difficult for me as my body wants to compensate for my looseness by tightening and movement tends to trigger my muscles to clamp down.
When I finally had a few steps where I could soften, Cherry relaxed and took on a much softer and easier gait — she relaxed because I did. Now that I was highly tuned to my tightness, I noticed that when I asked her to come down to the trot, I immediately became tight and stiff, and Cherry reacted right away. The few steps that I got when I relaxed showed me what we could do if I can learn to be more relaxed — and that’s enough motivation for me. As a bonus, it’s better physically for both Cherry and me to be softer, too.
I’ve missed two weeks of Pilates recently and as I wrote in my previous column I had a pain flare-up, so I’m working on getting everything back together. Riding provides me with terrific motivation as well as a strategy for improvement. I can’t beat my favorite hobby for being a fantastic form of physical therapy.
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