Before the injury, I used to event and loved to jump
I laid on the gallop track in the sand with my foot on backwards for 45 minutes waiting for an ambulance. The pain was unbearable. I knew the break was bad because the vet who was vetting the horse I was planning to buy (the same one that decked me!) couldn't stomach it and had to leave! All I could think of is that if I have damaged the joint badly, my riding days are over.
The surgeon told me that, following the shattering and dislocation of my ankle and subsequent reconstruction, it would never fully recover and I would have arthritis, never run again and 'might' be able to ride. It would take 2 years to recover as well as it is going to, and in this time I would learn how much function I will get back into my right leg and foot. As the second anniversary of the injury approaches, it seems appropriate to reflect upon the life lessons I learned and how the injury has shaped me as a person. Hopefully some of these thoughts may resonate with some of you, and give anybody who is going through a similar situation some hope and comfort.
Six of the many lessons learned as a result of my injury
2 weeks after my operation I had the stitches out
1) Don't trust anyone, you can never be too careful - I injured myself riding a horse that was being vetted for me to buy. I had previously ridden it (after the yard staff had ridden it), but at the vetting, I got straight on because I assumed that the horse had been in normal work since i last saw it, given the horse was for sale and it would surely be in optimum condition and prepared for sale? Once on board, I lasted about 30 seconds before it napped and decked me, leaving me with my right foot hanging on backwards. The damage caused to my foot (and the secondary problems further up in my body), in those two seconds whilst I was hurtled into the air will be with me for the rest of my life.
8 day stay in hospital
As I was waiting for an ambulance, I heard the owner state his disappointment at losing the sale of the horse. He had kept the horse in a stable for 4 days so that it would pass the vetting, and was now gutted because this had happened. He was seemingly surprised to have to call an ambulance to scrape an unsuspecting, trusting and naive client off the floor. It has taken me 27 years to appreciate this, and I learned that day that not everybody treats other people in the way that they would like to be treated and that the only person that really cares about you is YOU. Looking after number one is essential, because you are the only person that has to live with the consequences, even if it is as a result of somebody else's negligence.
Some of my dear friends who kept me smiling
2) Never underestimate the value of friendships - during my recovery I learnt a lot about myself and my friends. There were some people I barely knew who bent over backwards to help me during my recovery, and others that I thought I was close to, who dropped me like a stone when I was no longer mobile. My true friends got me through some tough times, not just during my first round of surgery but then the next round too a year later. I rekindled a relationship with my oldest friend that I had lost touch with, when she brought me round a lemon drizzle cake and from that moment forward we were inseparable again, and I was lucky enough to be her bridesmaid when she married this year.
Fun times with glitter and a plaster cast and the lady who lights up my life
3) Life is short and you never know what's round the corner - accidents happen when we least expect them, and the way they happen often seems so futile! I remember wondering why I couldn't have done it out eventing, because at least it would have been worthwhile and made me less angry at the owner of the horse.
As a direct result of what happened, I take the view that if I want to do something with my horse, I seize the moment and go for it. I worry less about nerves and what other people think (having historically been a nervous wreck competing), and just feel truly lucky to be fit and well enough to be out there.
4) Horses are the best healers and dressage isn't so bad - When I used to event, the dressage was very much something to get out of the way before the fun stuff started. However, when I was first coming back to riding post-injury, I was lucky enough to be offered two beautiful dressage horses to ride, who 'brought me back into work' and made life enjoyable again. One of these horses I have been lucky enough to buy. He is my absolute pride and joy, and now I would probably choose dressage over jumping, which I never thought would happen! These two horses got me through a very tough time and I will forever be indebted to them.
5) Good comes out of difficult times - I was unhappy at work at the time of my injury. Having completed an equine degree, I decided to get a 'proper job' at one of the Big 4 accountancy firms and qualified as a Chartered Accountant, in order to pay to keep horses. I was desperately unhappy and struggled to sit still for hours on end. I would get home in the evening and have to go for a run just to get into the frame of mind where I could even speak to my family because I was so stressed and had so much pent up energy. My riding was never a relaxing experience either because I was always in a bad mood. Inevitably the horse will have sensed this, and probably not had the most fun either.
I had always taught riding and was an equine sports massage therapist at weekends, but as soon as I was off crutches, I decided to take the plunge and work with horses full time. Despite being less mobile and in pain, I realised that it was now or never. I did a lot of Pilates and strength work as part of my recovery, which really helped improve my balance and got me back riding as well (if not better) than before. I retrained to be an equipilates™teacher, set up my own business, Ride Fit Equestrian, and have never looked back!
6) There is always somebody worse off than you - The first few months post accident, I became quite depressed. I lost a lot of friends, which devastated me, and the prognosis for my ankle was poor. It was unlikely I could ride properly again, walk long distances or run. Two years on, an MRI scan confirmed that I have an arthritic ankle, with ruptured ligaments and my right is leg shorter than my left (due to bone loss), which causes knee and back pain. Despite this, I am able to ride well on the flat, walk short distances pain-free, swim and cycle. I even managed to climb Kinder Scout! It was very painful, but I managed it and still thoroughly enjoyed the day out with friends. The simple difference now is that my perspective has changed completely, and my focus is on what I CAN DO, rather than what I CAN'T DO (ride X-C, run, walk long distances).
A few months after my injury, I read Claire Lomas' book 'Finding my Feet', which was a real turning point. Discovering the struggles she faced when she became paralysed, I was deeply ashamed of my own feelings over a mere ankle injury. It would be so incredibly insulting to anybody who is permanently disabled for me to be depressed over my ankle injury, when compared to the problems some people face on a daily basis, and what they can achieve. As a direct result of reading this book, I can honestly say I am a happier person now than I was before the injury. It is said that happiness is only 10% situational, and 90% based on a person's outlook. My ankle functions 90% less well than it did before, but my outlook and attitude to life is probably 90% better.
There are many things I can't do now that I used to do enjoy before, but every time I get on a horse I am grateful for the opportunity. I don't worry about what other people think and whether to go to a competition because I am not 110% ready. I just go, and enjoy every second, thanking God I have recovered as well as I have.
I hope that these ramblings may help anybody else who is injured and having a difficult time. Perhaps it may give you comfort that things always do come right in the end, even if plan A, B and C don't work. Keep trying and never give up hope.
Thanks for reading. If you are going through a difficult time and would like some support, feel free to comment below. There will be lots of people in the same boat.
Getting fit for riding can be a real challenge. Going to the
gym is hard work and often we lack time and motivation after we have been to
work, ridden and mucked out! Let us help you solve these problems with our
quick and simple solutions to get you to Ride Fit.
own jobs - Where feasible, keep your
horse on DIY livery, and do your own stable jobs. Mucking out, turning out,
carrying haynets and water buckets are all beneficial to your fitness, being strength
and conditioning training, without you even knowing it! Make sure when you muck out and sweep, you do
it on both sides of your body, to promote balanced muscles and straightness. Similarly,
carry a water bucket in each hand to balance out the weight and protect your
– Very few riders warm up before they ride and get on the horse cold and stiff.
This stiffness transmits to the horse and affects his way of going. Warming up
is extremely beneficial because it increases blood flow, gently opens the
joints and helps prevent injury. Contrary to popular belief, it is not onerous,
and can be done in the stable. Even grooming the horse vigorously will help to
open up the shoulder joints. The hips and knees can be warmed up with some
simple lunges or squats, and the chest can be opened with some shoulder rolls,
or by clasping the hands behind the back and stretching them behind you. All of
these exercises will be beneficial not only to your body, but will turn your
mental focus to riding, which will optimise your performance.
– In our last blog, we discussed the importance of flexibility in enhancing
riding. Everybody’s target areas are different (and a good coach or Pilates
teacher can help you identify yours), but common areas of tightness in riders
are: hip flexors, hamstrings, gluteals and pectorals. Stretching these muscles
daily will take only ten minutes, and can be done in front of the telly (even
with a glass of wine as an incentive), but will improve your riding tenfold.
Ask your Pilates teacher how to complete these stretches safely and to give you
the best effect.
class –Equestrian specific exercise classes are fantastic motivators, because
you can have fun and make friends with like-minded people. The exercises will
be specifically targeted at riders and the instructor will understand the
challenges riders face, and help solve them. Often the classes are paid for a few
weeks in advance, encouraging you to go each week (even when you don’t feel
like it!), gaining the most benefit.
exercise – Exercise such as brisk walking, running, swimming or cycling are
good for weight control, stamina and all round well-being. All of these factors
result in better riders. Try and commit to an achievable amount of
cardiovascular exercise each week. This may be half an hour once a week, or
five times a week, depending on how much time you have, and how much you enjoy
it. You don’t have to be a marathon runner; even the smallest amount will pay dividends
for your riding.
Try these tips and let us know how you get on or if you have
any questions in the comments below!
Commonly we talk about ‘working’ our horses and getting them
fit for our discipline, whatever that may be. We spend hours and invest lots of
money in training our horses to use their muscles correctly and perform at
their best. Having said that, not all riders consider their own physical
fitness and how it can enhance their riding performance. Many people assume that
because riding itself is physical exercise, keeps us fit and burns around 300
calories a session, we don’t need to do other forms of exercise. Fortunately,
equine scientists have found a link between rider fitness and improved riding,
raising awareness of the issue. Rider fitness is paramount when taking to the
saddle, and we owe it to our horses to stay in the best shape we reasonably
can. So, why is it so important?
Let’s see it from the horse’s perspective. An eleven stone
(70kg) rider, on a 550kg horse
represents 13% of that horse’s bodyweight. If that same rider were to go for a
run with a rucksack weighing 13% of their bodyweight, they would be carrying
1.4 stone (9kg). It wouldn’t take very long for the individual to tire. If the
weight in the rucksack were slightly off-centre (as most riders’ weight is),
the individual’s back could become quite sore very quickly. Using this analogy
to empathise with the horse, we can see that to benefit the horse and improve
performance, riders should control their weight and improve their straightness
by a mixture of cardiovascular activities (eg running, swimming), and Pilates.
These exercises will also increase endurance and stamina.
Horse riding works a number of muscles including abdominal
muscles, hip flexors, adductors (thigh) and calves. These muscles are not necessarily
used in every-day life and therefore need to be trained separately, to keep
strong and effective throughout a riding session. Riding is a very demanding sport,
and as the rider becomes tired, their aids are less clear because it is more
difficult to move the arms and legs independently of the seat. A rider with
good stamina will be able to bring out the best in their horses, either in the
dressage arena or cross country. Stamina is especially important in the cross
country phase to ensure safety of the horse and rider, because the rider needs
to be fit enough to remain focused on the horse and the fences, rather than working
hard to simply remain up out of the saddle.
A good rider is a well-balanced rider. The rider’s centre of
gravity should be directly over the horse’s to allow the aids (seat, leg, hand)
to be independent of each other. Apart from the effect on performance, good
balance is important, so that if the horse spooks, or misses a stride at a
jump, the rider can maintain their balance with the horse, and avoid an
accident. Balance exercises used in both yoga and Pilates can help improve the
balance, as well as mounted exercises on the horse.
Whilst strength and stamina are very important to keep the
rider upright and effective in the saddle, flexibility is of equal importance
to maintain balanced and effective. The musculature in the hips and pelvis
needs to be supple to absorb the horse’s movement. In order for the lower legs
to be long, loose and wrapped around the horse’s sides, the muscles of the
hips, inner thighs and calves need to be loose and flexible. Again, these
muscles don’t naturally get worked this way in everyday life and so need some
help outside of riding.
How do you keep fit for riding? What are the best exercises
you have found? Please share with others in the comments.
Desperate to go skiing but struggling to justify such an expense so soon after Christmas? Here's several reasons skiing can help with your riding, and ensure a guilt free holiday!
Active Family Holiday
Many horse riders are accustomed to an
active lifestyle and dislike sitting still (or sunbathing!) Skiing offers an
active, exhilarating and sociable holiday. You can enjoy skiing guilt-free
because you will be having a holiday, keeping fit and improving your riding simultaneously.
Sounds too good to be true, but (apart from the price tag) it's not!
Skiing involves moving all 4 limbs separately, whilst keeping your torso strong and centred, exactly as riding does. Practising skiing helps you to develop an independent seat because you learn to separate the limb movements from each other and from your core.
To stay centred over your skis, you have to be in perfect balance. If you lean too far back you will go too fast on your skis; too far forward and you will fall on your face! When we ride, minute imbalances in the rider don’t always cause a significant or immediate change in the horse’s way of going (particularly on a less reactive horse), which makes it difficult for the rider to learn when they are in perfect balance and when they are not. In skiing, if you aren’t in perfect balance you will fall over, so you have no choice but to perfect your balance very quickly!
Good skiers turn in an even rhythm, constantly shifting their weight from one leg to the other. This closely mimics riding lots of changes of rein, or doing lateral work on both reins. Riders that ride only one horse tend to find that they and their horses become accustomed to each other’s crookedness, and compensate for one another. With skiing, the live element of the horse is eliminated so if lateral imbalances exist you will fall over. Skiing forces you to learn new movement patterns that are equal on both sides.
If you haven’t skied before, it can be very daunting at first. Whilst you are finding it difficult to turn, keeping in rhythm and balance, experienced people are flying past you at speed, often far too close by! Sounds a bit like a showjumping warm up?! This forces you to keep focused on your own performance and to stay ‘in the zone’, otherwise you will fall over. So, skiing is great practice at keeping your cool in intimidating situations, which can only benefit your competitive riding.
Do you find that skiing helps your riding? Do
you have other ways of keeping active on holiday?
Many people find it impossible to keep fit and healthy over
Christmas. Everywhere you turn, you are bombarded by food and drink: countless Christmas
parties, delectable adverts on the telly, mince pies (home-made by your gran,
so it would be rude to refuse!), and of course Prosecco by the bucket load. The
most exercise many of us manage over Christmas is the walk to the fridge and
back from the sofa. With all that food and drink in your tummy, it’s impossible
to even contemplate exercise. Isn’t it?
As a realist, I am not suggesting anybody sticks rigidly to
a diet throughout December. It is a month of celebration and joy and we should
relax and relish every moment of the festive period. However, the nagging
realist in me at the same time, knows how many people feel in January after all
of the excesses of the festive period… sluggish, overweight, unfit, depressed,
with steely renewed willpower and New Year’s resolutions to change all of the
‘damage’ that we did over Christmas. Often, people put too much pressure on
themselves in January with unsustainable New Year’s Resolutions, which
consequently fail by week 3, and nobody likes to fail. Failure is accompanied
by feelings of worthlessness and reduced self-esteem.
What if somebody had a suggestion that would break this
cycle of negativity for you RIGHT NOW? Starting in December? As it happens, I
can help you there. Start exercising. Today. Simples. Little and often, keeping
it to a level that you are comfortable. This could be a brisk walk, swimming,
running, or class work. Assuming you have at least a few days off work, the
asset you have over the festive period that you don’t have in January is the
benefit of time. Time off away from the day-to-day stresses and distractions of
life, that take your focus away from what is most important. YOU. Start to
focus on your new fitness regime in December, and you will compensate for the excesses of the parties and meals. You will feel happier, healthier and
glowing by January. You may even weigh yourself on January 2nd and
find your weight hasn’t crept up like normal and you don’t need to punish
yourself for a month.
Do more of the fun part that keeps you fit too! Ride as much as you can over Christmas, then you can spend
January ramping up your preparations for the coming season, rather than
bringing your horse steadily back into work again. Use the extra time you have for doing
raised pole work, and long hacks to help your horse’s fitness as well as your
own balance and stamina. Don’t just take my word for it. Go on, give it a go.
You won’t regret it!
The health benefits of walking are well documented, and in
my previous office-based career I used to look forward to a walk at lunchtime.
It was a great opportunity to alleviate the stresses of the corporate world and
develop great relationships with colleagues. Some of my most effective meetings
were held on the move, outside of the formal office environment! Recently I considered
walking in the context of horse riders who have sedentary jobs and how
fantastic a daily walk can be, for not only our wellbeing, but also for our
What’s the hype?
hassle - Walking is a great way to pass your lunch hour, because (debilitating
injury aside) it is accessible to everybody, you will not require any equipment
and, unlike jogging in a lunchbreak, you will not get sweaty and need a shower
before heading back to the office!
control – Gentle aerobic exercise such as walking is great for fat burning.
A 30 minute walk will burn around 150 calories (approximate – actuals depend
upon age, gender, weight etc), which over a month is equivalent to a pound of
weight loss. Rider weight is a very contentious issue in terms of the maximum
percentage of bodyweight a rider should be. More recent thinking suggests rider
weight should be a maximum of 10% of our horse’s bodyweight, though some
consider the closer to 5% the better, and others suggest up to 15% does not
cause the horse any harm. Whatever your opinion on the exact percentage,
anybody who has ever worn a heavy rucksack can appreciate that the lighter we
are, the easier it is for our horses to carry us effectively and perform at
in stress – High pressure occupations cause stress, which is harmful to our
health over the long term, if not managed correctly. Simply going for a stroll
at lunchtime can help you appreciate the beauty of the great outdoors, get the
world back into perspective and alleviate stress. If you are in a positive
frame of mind at work, you are more likely to enjoy riding your horse in the
evening, and reduce the risk of taking your frustrations out on your noble
steed. From a personal perspective, in my past career, I did not realise how
effective taking a lunchtime walk was for relaxation, until the day when I was
too busy to get out the office, and I felt like a caged animal all afternoon.
This inevitably impacted upon my riding performance in the evening. No horse
wants a stressed and irate owner turning up to ride at 7pm!
Improvement – Occupations that involve spending prolonged periods at a desk
can lead to poor posture from slouching over a screen, particularly if combined
with stress-related hunched shoulders. Extended periods of sitting down, tightens
the hip flexors which makes it very difficult to achieve a correct posture on a
horse. Walking at lunchtime can help alleviate these problems by stretching and
improving circulation, ensuring you return to your desk feeling tall and free
in your movement, which your horse will definitely appreciate! Postural improvements will also
alleviate aches and pains associated with sub-optimal movement because it will
reduce the strain on your back.
– Vitamin D is important for keeping bones and teeth healthy, and supports
good mental health. The majority of people
in the UK do not get enough Vitamin D during the winter months, as it is
sourced from sunlight and many occupations involve leaving the house when it is
dark to sit indoors all day, and returning when it is dark. No amount of
mucking out or riding in the dark will be able to help you! A 30 minute walk during the day will expose your skin to the
sunlight and help you to absorb as much Vitamin D as possible during the long
There are two key ways to maximise the benefits of walking. Research
has shown that people who wear a pedometer are more aware of their movement and
walk more as a result, than if they are not wearing a pedometer. From a weight
control perspective, this is fantastic news and something that is easy to
achieve. In addition, wearing weights round your ankles will increase the work
your body has to do, and therefore burn more calories and can help with toning.
Still reading? What are you waiting for? Grab your trainers –
What form of non-riding exercise do you prefer? Post in the comments
Now that the nights are drawing in and our clippers are
being serviced in readiness for the first clip of the winter, let’s consider
why we are clipping our horses, and the type of clip that they need.
Chaser clips are great for horses in light work
Horses grow their coat at this time of year, as a natural
instinct in the wild, to protect them from the elements, keeping them warm and
dry during the winter. Needless to say that when we exercise horses in a
domestic environment that have a big thick coat, they will sweat heavily and
become uncomfortable, in the same way that we would if we exercised in a big
down jacket! Of course we will need to
clip them to ensure that told they stay sweat-free and comfortable whilst they
are working. However, we also need to consider is how hard they are working
before we decide how much of a clip they will need.
Blanket clips are great for horses in light - medium work (eg dressage horses)
So often in my work as a trainer and massage therapist, I
see horses in light work that are fully clipped out, ears and face included,
simply because it looks smart and avoids having to worry about lines. These
horses will be snugly wrapped up in rugs in the stable, but will probably spend
every ridden moment during the winter feeling cold, because they are not
exercising hard enough to keep them warm. It is a bit like when girls go for a
night out in winter wearing a tiny dress and no jacket – but at least for them
it is a choice, and quite often they have their beer jackets on! We all know
how it feels to be cold…our shoulders hunch, our muscles tighten and it is
thoroughly unpleasant. A few weeks into winter, many horses that are clipped
out and don’t get their heart rates up during exercise develop a sore back,
which is often a result of bracing themselves for such long periods. This results in hefty bills from back specialists,
which can be avoided. Most horses in light to medium work will suffice with
just a trace, chaser or blanket clip. Horses that hack and do light schooling
would benefit the most from a trace or chase clip, and dressage horses probably
a blanket clip. There is a reason a hunter clip is called a hunter clip! If you
have a horse in medium or hard work that needs to be clipped out, exercise sheets
are a great way of keeping your horse warm on a cold day until they are
properly warmed up.
Hunter clips suit hunters, eventers and horses in hard work
So… let’s consider how much coat we take off our horses this
winter, and always use an exercise sheet until the horse is thoroughly warmed
up. A warm horse will be a happy horse, and a happy horse will perform far better
for you, which will be reflected in your results!
As the nights are drawing in and the rugs are being dusted off from last
year, there is a definite autumnal feel to the air. Apart from autumn's crisp
mornings, and beautiful golden brown scenery, one other thing is inevitable:
Even the word makes us feel cold.
Immediately, we imagine long days in the office coming home to dark nights with
soggy, muddy horses. The frustration of not being able to ride due to flooded
or frozen arenas, when all our hard training over the summer goes to waste.
Or does it?
We can't change the inevitability that is winter. However, what we can
change is the connotations that it brings. It's all semantics really if we just
look at two words:
There is one letter that
differentiates the two words. The letter 't'.
T is for 'training'.
Another inevitability...Unless you are lucky enough to have an indoor
school, there will be days when you can't ride during the winter. It sucks, I
agree. Whilst you can't control the weather, there is something you can
control. Your riding ability. Your fitness.
Use these cold dark days to work on you. Work on your strength, your balance, your
co-ordination - all of the things that differentiate elite riders from the
rest. It isn't just your horse that needs to be fit for the job; you do too.
From the comfort of your own home, or through group exercise classes, you
can still improve as a rider through the winter, without getting cold and wet.
Whilst your competitors are lacking motivation and finding it easier to stay at
home, use the winter to train, train, train and emerge as a winner in spring.
Are you lucky enough to be able to motivate yourself easily during the winter? If so, share your tips below!
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