Thursday, February 5, 2015


I thin one of the biggest strides I've made in the past couple of months is being able to ride without using my back brace. This is a huge step for me and one I wasn't sure I would ever accomplish.

 Not me, but the brace I've been using

See, you have to understand that I was told I should NEVER ride a horse again. Ever. That if I rode I risked hurting my back badly enough I would have to have surgery. I was also told not to exercise. All of those things were dangerous and could result in surgery. I was in so much pain the first two years after the disc slipped (my chiro could not administer drugs so I managed the pain with advil) I didn't want to do anything. But as the inflammation receded, I began to be frustrated with my weight and lack of energy. These two things were directly related to my lack of movement due to back pain.

Then, one day, I had an epiphany. I asked J if I could get a horse when we were out of debt. She said yes, in part because she had been saddened by the idea I would never ride again, and in part, because it gave me a goal to focus on. Then Ashke happened. (Let's not talk about what that meant for our debt). One of the things I was most worried about when I brought him home was the potential damage to my back. It took a couple of months to be able to ride at the walk comfortably and any sudden shift in balance (like a startle or spook on his part) caused sharp and immediate pain.

Then I learned about Back on Track. I realized after riding with a hydration pack that the support against my lower back reduced the amount of pain I was experiencing and that led me to looking into the BOT back brace. It was a life saver. Literally. it gave me the support I needed to be able to ride, which in turn, allowed me the time and exercise to develop my core muscle group again. I am still very limited in what I can do. No running. No bending at the waist. No pushing forward or pulling back motion - like when vacuuming. All of those things still aggravate the disc. No skiing. No snowshoeing. No backpacking. I can ride though and camp. So, we are making progress.

So, that brings us back to the point of this post.

I got to the barn and got Ashke groomed. He has been scratching his tail again, so I treated it some with MTG, then brushed it vigorously with the stiff brush, which he seemed to enjoy. The hair is definitely growing in and his tail dock does not seem so ratty, but I can't for the life of me figure out why he's itching it so bad. He's on a high fat supplement, plus he's getting the Omega Max, and the itching has decreased (not itching his mane any more) but he still loves to rub his tail dock. His mane, however, has gotten long enough it is now falling completely to the side. We might actually have a flowing mane and tail by summer.

I received the second pair (hinds) of BOT exercise boots and tried them on him for the first time last night. The last time I tried to put exercise boots on his back legs was a couple of months after I brought him home and his freak out was epic. I was a little concerned about how he was going to react, so I put my helmet on first. I started on the left and picked his feet then putting the boots on him. After I had the back left one on I stepped back to see how he was going to react, half expecting an explosion from him. He lifted his hind leg out and turned his head to look at his leg, then turned back to me with this look of worry, confusion and WTF mom. I had to laugh. I unhooked him from the crossties and led him out of the stall. By the time he had taken three steps he was no longer worried and was striding out nicely, while trying to touch noses with the other horses in the barn, We went back in the stall and I put the right boot on, which he still wasn't happy about, but tolerated because he loves me. We did the walk up and down the aisle, letting him get used to the feel, before I took him back in and got him saddled up.

I must tell you that feeding Ashke a half flake of alfalfa before saddling him has made a world of difference in his attitude. I no longer have a hump backed, pissed off horse as I am tightening the girth. He still reacts a little bit when I lift the girth up, but that reaction is less and less every time. Once saddled, we headed for the indoor.

We were the only ones there, so I pulled out two barrels before getting on. We started with 10 mins of free walk, where he really settled in and moved out. Then we started our trot work. I am focusing on a comfortable trot where he isn't moving out too fast and is flicking his toes (as Saiph says). We did that in both directions. He wants to rush that gait to the right, so we worked on slowing, without stopping, his trot. We did several stopping, backing and then moving out at the trot again, until he was moving comfortably at a slower trot. Then we moved into the canter.

The canter is still a work in progress, but we are both getting so much better. Ashke does have a tendency to be more  spooky at the canter, which meant we stopped a couple of times to mess with the green wall of death at the back of the arena, but for the most part he was very good. He was able to maintain a correct lead in both directions for the duration of the canter. Once he realized we were cantering circles, instead of doing the stop and walk the corners square exercise, he stopped trying to bounce and just relaxed into the gait. We would canter, then stop quickly, back, then canter forward again. To the right, he got really anxious about the second canter, so we went back to the trot until he stopped anticipating the request.

To finish up, we worked the two barrels. He kept peeking at them during the earlier part of our ride (he knows what they are for) and when I finally turned him to work on them, he was very excited. We started at the walk, then the trot and finally at the canter with a simple lead change in between. he did really well. We are exiting the barrels on a straight line (I used to do figure eights around them, but the actual obstacle exits on the straight away) and then asking him to walk in between sets. He is so focused and eager that there is no fighting or bouncing when approaching the obstacle. I definitely need to work on getting him set up to make the simple change better, maybe coming down to the walk and then back up to the canter. That seems easier for him then doing it at the trot. That will be our exercise next time we are riding in the arena.

We finished by walking until he was cool and dry. I picked up poop and put the barrels away. Then untacked him and picked his stall while he half-hooded his eyes and ate his mash.

I rode for an hour, most of it at the canter. My body is sore today, but I can already feel the muscles getting stronger. My lower back pain is muscle pain, not nerve pain, and I have discovered an abdominal muscle. Maybe two.

Progress, people. Definite progress.


  1. This is so very outstandingly awesome. =)

  2. I broke every bone but 4 in my back 18 months ago and had a torn disk for 2.5 years ago as well.
    My doctor advised me to not use a back brace and force my core muscles to develop to create a natural support that's always with me. I still get really pained though with sideways movement. The worst is when my twh refuses to stand still and walks off while mounting. That stretch and jarring really does bad things to my back. I wish you luck without the brace and hope you can keep going and getting better.

    1. I think my doctor said the same thing, but I needed the support to get to the point where I could stop using the brace.

      Ashke is really good at standing still while I mount and dismount. He knows where I hurt, and I think he is trying to help me get better.

      Good luck with your rehab as well. And the sideways movement is the worse.

  3. Thats Great Karen.. I have had 2 bcd surgeries and do really well .. When my back went out the first time I lost the use of my right foot and most of my right leg.. Worked on it with every modality i could conger up for 4 1/2 months.. My mother had to come live with us to take care of my 2 boys and horses. finally i said lets cut.. I have rods in my spine now from my sacrum up threw my lumbar spine. But I am doing awesome. Not with out soreness have you. But i can do everything… 1st surgery was in 96 2nd in 2010. But I may have to take a look at the BOT brace… Bring it to EXPO so i can look at it… Core strength is key...

    1. I think the biggest difference it made was in keeping my muscles loose and warm. Not only did that help with tension, but it allowed my hips and lower back to move better with the horse. Once I was able to move without pain, the muscles were able to strengthen and develop in a way that kept me from developing pain.

      And I will definitely bring it with me.