Fibromyalgia doesn’t stop this horsewoman
When I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia I was told I would probably never ride again. That was over 11 years ago and I am pleased to say that I am still riding.
Riding with fibromyalgia is never easy. I have gone from riding hunter-jumpers to strictly riding on the flat. I used to be a true-blue Thoroughbred equestrian, but now I ride my Morgan mare because of her smooth trot and rocking horse canter. I do a lot of walking exercises between trotting and cantering to give my legs and seat a chance to recuperate. With fibromyalgia, when you are done, you are done. It’s like putting your foot on the brake when driving a car and then all of sudden the brake pedal goes to the floor. You have nothing left. I rely a great deal on balance.
When I pick up a pitchfork each day, it’s as if I haven’t cleaned stalls in months, maybe years. You can build muscle if you have fibromyalgia, little by little, but it’s as if your body has taken leave of that in a sense. You actually feel as if you are starting over each day. I avoid hills. Even the slightest incline on the way to the barn, and I won’t be riding that day.
Grooming has its challenges. My favorite tools are a regular old hairbrush with a handle and a big plastic comb. Having the handle on the hairbrush allows me total control without having to grip too tight, and the horses actually like it. I use both hands with the comb and lean into the horse with my body for leverage. If all I did was use my hands and arms, I’d be so sore I wouldn’t be able to move. Using my body gently and with a little help from the horse, who leans right back into me, I’m okay. When I pick out a horse’s hooves, I pick all four from the left side. It’s the first thing I teach a new horse. By doing it this way I only have to bend down twice. I finish off grooming with a soft brush or towel. During shedding season, I use one of those big fold-over shedding blades, wide open and holding both handles. I take my time and do a little each day. I love grooming my own horses.
Long warm-ups are good for people with fibromyalgia and good for the horse. I walk the horse for a good 10 to 15 minutes then do a period of long, slow, loose-rein trotting before asking for collection. Again, good practice. I like a nice slow collected canter. My galloping days in two-point are over. I can live with that. I don’t do jumps. Jumps used to be my middle name. I’ve learned to accept that, too.
When I walk or hand-graze horses, I have a chain over their nose. Not because they are wild and crazy, but because I can’t afford to have them pulling me around. When I longe a horse, I use a longeing cavesson and surcingle and side reins. I think it’s good practice and it gives me more control. Again, I can’t afford to be yanked or pulled around. I don’t want those dreaded setbacks.
Is it still fun? You bet. I would gladly eliminate fibromyalgia from this world, but that’s not going to happen. What is going to happen is that I am going to continue to ride for as long as I can, then do my best to retire gracefully.
What I can’t do without is being around horses. If the day comes when all I can do is walk while riding, or can no longer ride at all, I’ll be okay with that, too. I may shed a tear or two, but in the grander scheme, looking back it will have been a “great ride.”
MaryAnn and John Myers own Sunrise Horse farm in Chesterland, Ohio. www.sunrisehorsefarm.com