POST TRAUMATIC FALL DISORDER Part 2
In the interim I arranged to have myself checked out physically. First came McTimoney, an area of medical expertise centred on the spine and central core. The falls had indeed provoked a distortion from the correct alignment of the skeleton in the back. I also visited the sports masseuse and she worked on the tight muscle groups. Luckily I had been involved for some time with a Pilates Club, which focuses on exercising the muscles of the lower back and the stomach - all important body zones for the horse rider.
Whilst my wife would exercise the horse, it was also appropriate to go back to the basics with the schooling of the animal. I devised a series of work programmes. We walked down into the village; we did lunging work in the arena; we started on desensitisation work - much of it ‘in hand‘. I had already had the horse checked out professionally for any health problems with her spine or with her teeth. The saddle provoked some questions but unless I was prepared to find a £1K for a new saddle there was not much to be done. In any case in the process of buying a new saddle I must, as a minimum, be able to ride the horse and to adopt the correct posture whilst seated on the horse.
The next job was to locate a suitable instructor - this time one who was capable of remedial work on an experienced long term rider who had developed over the years a lot of bad habits. The younger tutor is trained to teach the modern way of the BHS school of riding whereas I needed someone who could retune my way of riding to fit the expectations of a seven year old mare who had been schooled to respond to a recognised set of aids. My mare was not only young but she was also fit, agile and very sensitive. Ask her to do something in a way which she understood and she would instantly do it. Back in the 1970s, when I learned to ride, the rider was taught to stay on - elegance and style were not the key prerogatives of learning to ride - in those days one was taught by rote how not to fall off. Formal dressage was for poofters. Later in life I had been shown how to sit a Western saddle, a style which encourages straight legs, weight in the stirrups and long loose reins. Recently when asked to identify my style of riding I would reply: “Mid-Atlantic” “ie with a forward seat and the weight pushed down into the stirrup irons”. Until recently this “cross country” system worked for me and I had only rarely come off, despite having ridden about a hundred horses of varying temperaments. Eventually I was referred to Rosie - who came with impeccable references. However in trying to meet with Rosie’s instructions I needed to concentrate and at the same time I began to leave behind my new found nervousness when actually riding the horse. Once I had learned, with Rosie’s help how to get the horse down on to the bit - even for just a stride or two, I realised that this lady knew what she was talking about. Essentially she was/is a show judge but she has a very good eye for the movement of both horse and rider. Also she has/had a pleasant way of expressing herself. The important thing for me though was that I was back in the saddle in a controlled environment learning what it felt like to ride my new horse properly.
My wife had told me that the horse was basically kind and sympathetic to the rider - all she looked for was confidence. The little startlets were an indication of the horse’s own lack of confidence but she did not really intend to discard her rider. Strangely trying to learn to sit upright on a light responsive horse, distracted my mind away from the nervousness I had experienced before. I also became aware of just how sensitive the mare is - the slightest adjustment of my weight created a response from her.
Seemingly the cure for my “illness”, for that is what fear can become, lies within oneself. Get help. Confess one’s weakness. Go back to basics and relearn one’s riding skills by rote. Take time and give the brain a prolonged opportunity to heal itself. Plan the route to rehabilitation; set some little milestones to reach. Lose the terror; relive the joy of riding. Spend time in the arena going round and round in circles. Do lots of short, hopefully stress free, rides over known terrain. These actions appear to be the answer. One horsie author talks about every rider having a bucket of courage which over a lifetime we steadily consume. Maybe he is correct.
Obviously things will not be right for me until I can happily direct the horse (and me) up into the woods and come back to home via the pub down by the main road. I suspect it will take months before I can. Owning an agile, forward going, responsive but slightly skittish horse does not help me but we are now going round the lanes of the village in ever increasing circles - often with my wife walking along side. Soon we shall be taking longer jaunts in the company of other riders. It is all a question of taking things stage by stage, step by step. Luckily in the process of being exercised by my wife, the horse has been learning the routes and getting used to the main highway., so the lanes are not so strange to her as once they were.
There is a need for a new saddle. The dressage saddle is not fit for purpose especially on this new horse. We are shortly going to be trying a saddle with substantial knee rolls and a deep seat. How much of a difference the saddle will really make remains to be seen but a saddle one sits “in” as against “on” should give a better sense of security. No doubt the saddle will prove to be expensive but this factor should put a little pressure on me to get out on the horse and make use of it.
It was just over a year ago that I would still be eagerly charging about with gay abandon the local pathways and byways of hereabouts on a powerful but wilful cob. In those days I would regularly meander through spooky ancient woodland and boldly walk alongside busy trunk roads. In total contrast, at one dark stage early during my “illness”, I felt reluctant to mount even in the safety of the arena, that very same horse on whom I had enjoyed years of fun. Every sudden movement, however benign, by the horse would send alarm up through my nerves to my brain.
Nowadays adopting a positive but relaxed attitude is a must. My posture has been reset: I must sit up at 90 degrees with a natural curve in my spine; my legs must hang with my heels down and my toes lightly resting in the stirrup irons; the reins must be kept short and held correctly in both hands and my body weight must be carried equally in both sides of the saddle; my eyes should be looking to the front. After all these years I am learning to ride all over again. No more leaning forwards with my weight on the stirrup bars. I believe I am on the mend but the old habits die hard. In times of stress I instantly revert back to the old style. Making progress is all about conquering one’s inner demons. The alternative is to lose the companionship of the horse and that has become fundamentally the spur to success. What would we human horse lovers do without our equines? What would I do without my young, pretty, dapple grey mare?
To be continued: -