Patience and Horse Training Pay Off for My Body’s Physical Challenges

Patience and Horse Training Pay Off for My Body’s Physical Challenges
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One of the great things about horseback riding is that when done correctly, it requires an enormous amount of body awareness.

While many people see a person riding and think the horse is doing all the work while the rider just sits there, it actually couldn’t be further from the truth. True riding requires a deep connection between horse and rider, as well as an understanding of how physical traits and habits influence both participants.

As I’ve written before, sometimes I have a hard time maintaining my position while remaining soft and relaxed. Despite their large size, horses are prey animals by nature, and they pick up on any kind of tension, because in the wild it can be a sign of potential danger. A tense rider causes the horse to be tense as well.

With my EDS, I’m always battling muscle tightness, especially now, because I’m unable to get to my two main therapies — bodywork and Pilates. A big challenge for me is teaching my body to remain in the proper position without “cementing” myself to keep it there.

It takes a balance between physically settling into the proper position and maintaining softness to allow the rider to “give” with the horse as it moves. If that sounds contradictory, in some ways it is. But with lots of practice, I’ve started to learn the space that exists between position and softness.

One thing I learned in my years of physical therapy is that it can take four to six times longer for my body to relearn movements as it would someone who doesn’t have EDS. For example, the usual time in physical therapy for someone with my original shoulder injury would be approximately eight to 12 weeks. I was in sessions for nearly 18 months.

While proper position is something taught at the beginning of learning how to ride, infinite levels of nuance allow for continued improvement.

Today, I had a lesson on a horse I know but had never ridden. She’s sweet but stubborn, and I knew she would test my new skills of finding balance between proper positioning and softness. She has a tendency to be very braced and tight with her body. When ridden softly, however, she begins to mirror her rider and relax.

While the first part of the lesson was difficult, I was surprised that I was able to maintain a softness in my body while remaining in the proper position. Sometimes it can take me much longer than I’d wish to reteach my body how to move properly. But in the end, I know that if I stick with it, I’ll eventually make the progress I need to reach my goals.

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Note: Ehlers-Danlos News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ehlers-Danlos News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Ehlers-Danlos.

An avid equestrian and educator, Karen has been a columnist at BioNews since 2019. She was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome in 2009 after a years-long search for a diagnosis that explained her symptoms. Karen enjoys working with her students, riding and caring for her two horses, Cherry and Spotty, and connecting with others in the rare disease community through her work with BioNews.
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An avid equestrian and educator, Karen has been a columnist at BioNews since 2019. She was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome in 2009 after a years-long search for a diagnosis that explained her symptoms. Karen enjoys working with her students, riding and caring for her two horses, Cherry and Spotty, and connecting with others in the rare disease community through her work with BioNews.
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