Archive for August, 2011

Riding With a Bad Back


My riding boots. Can you guess which leg I ride with? Can you imagine how much attention and care it must take for a horse to adapt to a one-sided rider? Poor Bella!

I was cleaning house today and as I was moving these riding boots (pictured left) in order to sweep under them, I was shocked to notice the difference in “dirt pattern” on them. Notice the right boot has dirt and horse sweat  ground into the calf whereas the left boot shows none in this area.

I just stood there staring, This really brought home for me what I have been living with for at least the last 5 or 6 years, probably longer, and got me to wondering how it must have affected Bella, my main steady mount for all those years. As recently as 3-1/2 years ago I realized something must be wrong, because the back of my saddle always slipped to the right plus I had a lot of body pain while riding. Then I had a bad slip and fall not quite 3 years ago (not horse related) that took things over the edge.

What I learned from x-rays, due to complications from that fall, was that I not only had damaged nerves and discs, but a very marked curvature of the spine (scoliosis) which was no doubt at the seat of the earlier problems I had been noticing way before the fall. Other x-rays showed my right leg is anatomically shorter than my left. Not much, but a bit . . . and every little bit counts in body balance.

Me and my steady mount, Bella, during one of our 10-minute rides after my fall.

It took me quite a while to get back in the saddle after my fall. Oh I would get on, but after 5 or 10 minutes I was hurting so bad I had to get off. But I really, really wanted to be able to ride again, both in the ring and out on the trail.

So a year ago, when I heard about a certain therapeutic riding instructor in my area, Christina Savitsky, I had one of those magical ‘aha’ moments where you just “know” something is right — that she was the person who could help me ride again.

I called Christina, and the story gets better from that point on. She arrived on that first day with a big smile on her face, a huge cowboy hat on her head to shade her lovely face from our intense New Mexico sun, and an adorable 15-month-old hanging onto her back like a baby monkey. Before mounting up we started talking, and I told her what had happened: the fall, the scoliosis, etc., and before I could even get half of it out she said, “I can see it.” I said, “What?” She said, “I already saw it, when you had your back to me.” I was impressed.

Christina, schooling me in the ring in one our first sessions together, with little Mesa Ray hanging off her back.

Christina already had years under her belt of helping people like me, many with much worse conditions, so as far as she was concerned I was “not a problem.” We got me up on the horse and she began instructing me, gently and positively, in how to reposition my pelvis and back so as to sit in a more comfortable position. She also raised my stirrups so far up that I felt like I was sitting in a rocking chair (and kinda silly . . . but that takes pressure off the lower back, my problem area). 

I can ride an hour and a half now (haven’t tested longer), and I give all the credit to Christina. And I hope to do much more in the coming year or two.

I guess the message here — if anyone else with body problems is reading this blog — is to seek help. Don’t be shy or self-conscious. There are millions of people like us who have such problems! Find a kind someone who has experience and understands your problems and can help you “adjust” your body in such a way as to be successful in the saddle once again. Though I still am not a heavy rider as compared with most, and I ride only for pleasure, I am so very thankful I found the one angel disguised as a therapeutic-riding-instructor-cowgirl who could help me, Leta, get back to what I love so much!

So to all of you with pain and body problems:    Find your own riding angel!  He or she is out there!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more about Christina and what makes a good riding instructor, go HERE!




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Native Grasses or Premium Horse Hay – Which is Best?

My sweet QH Corazon, taking her turn at liberty to chow down on some native grasses.

In my book, native grasses absolutely rule! If they are truly “native” and growing randomly and wildly, they present a smorgasborg of variety and nutrition for the ambling equine. In the wild, a horse may travel up to 20 miles a day, taking a bite or two here, moving a good distance, then sampling a few more bites there. He hardly ever stands still, and unlike us, is meant to “eat on the run” (or walk). Imagine not only the number of grasses that horse is getting, but also the varying nutrients the soil in each area provides!

Unfortunately, very few horses these days have access to a natural grazing pattern on native grasses. It’s sad, but it is true. We have some wonderful hay growers, thank goodness, but most hays are overfertilized to keep out weeds or add nutrients, so they are often overly rich or way off balance in terms of the minerals they contain.

If your horse has 10 different grasses and “weeds” to munch on, he will always know which ones he needs and will choose those first, until he’s had his fill of them. What better method for fulfilling your horse’s nutritional requirements? So for me? I’d always choose native grasses over hay, whenever possible.

In Texas my horses had access to about 500 acres 24/7 so had the great fortune to be able to pick and choose amongst the local fodder. I fed hay sometimes too, especially during drought or winter months, when grass was scant, but they always seemed to find some tempting, naturally growing morsel to complete their menu.

Here in the high desert of New Mexico things are radically different. My horses have eight acres of varied terrain but not one blade of grass therein. If one errant grass seed does dare to pop its little head up, they find it immediately and it’s toast!

I am fortunate, however, in that I do have some meadowy areas where several strains of grasses and weeds grow abundantly when we have even the slightest bit of moisture. We are in the monsoon season right now, so there’s grass galore. Whenever I can, every day or two, I turn the horses out for controlled grazing periods. Usually one at a time, since my 40 acres is not totally perimeter fenced and I don’t want to have to go chasing the herd over the hills. They love their “time in the sun” and gorge on the grasses as fast as they can, probably knowing their turn will be over in an hour or so. This rotated grazing during our grassy days really helps save on hay and really amps up everybody’s nutrition.

I know we don’t all have access to grass for our horses, or we don’t have that access all the time. But if you do, ever, try to make sure your equine gets some of it. It’s the healthiest thing you can do for him, plus it makes him just feel more like a real horse because he’s doing a real horse thing – grazing!

Corazon enjoying her grazing time with her two herd mates jealously looking on from the corral. Don't worry, they've both already had their turn to graze today. (And yes, she is wearing a halter, leather, and dragging a rope. All the better to retrieve her with if she goes on walkabout.)

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