I am sometimes asked by well meaning people, how, if I am so crippled with RA, I can ride my horses. This is a very good question.
The first thing I want to clarify is that THERE IS NEVER A TIME I AM COMPLETELY WITHOUT PAIN. The most up to date advice on exersize with RA is not to use the joints that are actively inflammed and painful. Easier said than done, as many days all my joints hurt to some extent. The trick is deciding if it is active RA, in which case I should rest it, or 'normal' (for RA) stiffness and soreness. I don't want to do any more damage to those joints but on the other hand I can't stay in bed my whole life either. And exersizing the supprting muscles is very important, as is keeping my weight under control, to lessen the stress on the joints.
So my general attitude is: IT IS GOING TO HURT ANYWAY, I MIGHT AS WELL HAVE SOME FUN WHILE HURTING!
Once you have the mental attitude sorted out the rest is pretty easy. I have developed many little cheats that allow me to function while on a horse. It means that sometimes I don't ride as well as an able bodied person, and can't always get the finesse from my aids that is necessary to perform at a high level. But I can usually get the job done. For instance I make sure my stirrups are a little shorter than I used to ride. This helps me keep my knees stable. I also wrap the stirrups with vet wrap to assist with grip. I use very thin well oiled reins that are easy for my hands to hold. My mare, 37, is only 13.2 hands high so I am able to mount her easily, but with a larger horse I train them to stand still for a mounting block because I can not raise my leg very high or bend my knee enough to mount easily. My left hip has very little movement in it, so leg aids to the left are hit and miss. Once my horses are used to it I can usually keep them balanced to both sides, but it can be a challenge with a young horse.
I then concentrate on training my horses to tolerate my limitations. The first thing I teach them is voice control. This saved my life the other day when the pain in my ribs caused me to lose partial consciouseness. I was able to get my mare to slow down, then stop, by voice control alone. We have been working on this for 3 moths now and she has definitely got it! right now I am concentrating on learning to use my legs and seat more to guide my horses. My hands, once soft and supple while giving the aids, have become jerky and rough from the RA. I am concentrating on keeping them still while steering with my legs. We are making progress.
So how do I manage to ride with RA?
BECAUSE I WANT TO!
ANYTHING IN LIFE WORTH HAVING IS WORTH WORKING FOR!- Andrew Carnegie