Posts tagged Therapeutic Riding

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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What Makes A Good Riding Instructor?

Heels down!!!   Head up!!!  Soft hands!!!!   Toes forward!!!   No, no, NO — MAKE him do what you want, don’t just ASK!!!

This is what you’re hearing and trying to make sense of . . . but meanwhile you’re just going in circles on some horse you don’t know and trying to hang on for dear life!

If you’re a horse lover and a rider, I’m sure this sounds all too familiar. And frankly, it’s the reason I’ve stayed away from formal riding training most of  my life. The militant approach so many instructors seem to take has always felt out of sync with the human-horse bond to me.

Hopefully this technique is a thing of the past. Like those old-school piano teachers who would rap you on the knuckles if you held your hands wrong (my poor mom had to endure this when she was a child …….).

But I digress.

If you’ve read my blog for long, you know I’ve been struggling to come back from a fall two years ago and so have been unable to ride consistently or comfortably during that time.

About three months ago I heard about a therapeutic riding instructor in my area and decided to try her out. I already had a great physical therapist, massage therapist, and other good healers on my team, so why not add a good riding instructor to the mix? I really had nothing to lose, and I knew if I didn’t like her . . . well .  . .that would be that.

Imagine my surprise when a young, tall, wisp o’the willow blonde who looked about 15 arrived at my place one Sunday in September, a toddler in tow, and announced that she was my new riding instructor! And did I mention beautiful? (I hope she didn’t notice that my jaw was on the ground.)

Here's Christina & daughter Mesa, so . . . well, you get the picture.

Christina immediately impressed me with her winning smile, her soft spoken demeanor, and her matter-of-fact but loving management of her 16-month-old daughter, who was obviously an appendage no matter what the activity. Her credentials are stunning: not only a related college degree and certification as a therapeutic riding instructor, but 10 years of experience including managing a therapeutic riding program for the disabled, along with years and years of her own horsemanship experience before that. And she’s so young she could be my daughter . . . well maybe even my granddaughter! Egads!

But the proof is in the pudding, right? After thoroughly reviewing my “case” and taking a careful look at my off-kilter back, up I went. Once again, for the first time in months. Maybe this time would be a charm.

Christina & Mesa, carefully and lovingly directing my re-entry into riding.

Christina immediately identified a few things I could do with my posture in the saddle that would ease my back and help me slowly re-accommodate myself to regular riding.  One of these was to shorten my stirrups so much that I looked like an old woman in a rocking chair — but wow, does that take pressure off the lower back. (And now, two months later, I’m proud to say, my stirrups are back down where they should be.)

Me, in that first lesson, feeling mighty awkward and stiff!

There was no yelling. No “correcting.” Just gentle suggesting, praising, encouraging, laughing . . . and above all, cautioning — not to do more than “felt good” on any given day, which at first would turn out to be only five to ten minutes at a time in the saddle.

Two years ago, before my fall, my mare Bella and I went to a group clinic given by a recognized dressage instructor in our area. Bella was the only horse there who was not from the woman’s own stable — all fairly highly trained dressage horses. And Bella could not do straight lateral (sideways) work down the fenceline. The clinician said Bella was just “putting me on,” slapped her hard on the shoulder, and the next day Bella was so lame on that leg she couldn’t put weight on it for days. Bella knew her limits, I knew she wasn’t spoofing me, and the teacher was an idiot. Enough of that! I’m sticking with Christina.

I am making great progress and feel so blessed!


Check out Christina’s website, Buckaroo Balance. And if you live anywhere nearby, I’d encourage you to attend one of her clinics or indulge yourself in some private lessons. Whether you’re “disabled” or not!

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