It was cold this week while traveling to ride. The snow was showering gently with temperatures hovering around freezing. This week would mark the fourth-time riding on horseback. We missed our second week of riding as snow blanketed the area. But, we have gotten back on track with cooperation from Mother Nature. The lightly falling snow this week didn’t seem enough to bother our riding. The streets simply remained wet traveling to Little Bit. Loki has been hanging in there with me through the learning process. There was beginning to be an excitement around spending time with him each week. Our lessons have been slowly getting more complex. The two of us taking on greater challenges with the weeks passing. One of the exciting aspect of this journey we’re on has been the unexpected. Each week arriving, getting the helmet assigned to me during the assessment, and walking to the arena. Loki has been there each week, walking the rail of the arena, as he gets warm for our class. He walks up next to the platform for me to load onto his back. We walk out into the middle of the arena, with someone leading us by holding his rope. Two others accompany us, one on each side of Loki, there to help me remain stable. We make sure everything has remained in place and ready for class. Then, we walk the rail again, getting reacquainted from the week away.
While walking along the outside of the arena, my body begins to adjust. Getting used to the movement of Loki. There becomes a rhythm to riding, feeling his feet moving below. We have been taught to feel for the four steps he continues to take. Allowing my body to move with the timing of his steps. Our bodies are required to remain relaxed, while holding steady. The core engagement comes in with helping to hold balance. The shoulders are to be held back and down, with the back straight. Posture has been one of the most challenging aspects of learning to ride. Holding my body in the corrects position and continuing to remain relaxed. Loading onto Loki and moving away from the platform always beings a startled emotion. The week away from riding still has me losing the feeling. So, we spend a few laps around the rail getting the feeling back in my bones. Our walk around the outside rail also provides time for looking around the middle. During the last few weeks there have been objects for us to use in learning. Usually a few cones, but this week we had much more resting on the arena floor. In addition to different colored traffic cones, we had poles, both pointing toward the ceiling, and laying in the dirt. It didn’t seem obvious whether we would be using the objects during our class.
Our warming laps around the outside rail of the arena were good. Everyone sharing stories of their week, as the ladies working with me and Loki become consistent. We get to learn about each other through small chat. During these walks, I’m getting used to holding the reins. The style of turning Loki has been to pull on the reins. When we arrive at an end of the arena, it becomes time to turn. So, my role has been to gently pull on the right rein to move right. If we are circling back to the left, gently pulling on the left rein, reminds Loki to move left. This form of letting Loki know our direction has been used since we started classes. The instruction of turning also involves body movement, by turning the shoulders, and upper body in the direction intended. The most challenging part has been using the hands to relay direction, because the width of the turn depends on the pull of the rein. It has challenged the ability to be smooth and gentle with my arms. Holding and managing the reins becomes my focus as we circle the arena getting warm. This last week was different due to weather as well. It was cold out, right around freezing temperatures. While we circled the rail, the open-air nature of the building had us experiencing snow at times. The experience was pretty neat, as we rode through some snow flurries. When the class got going, we moved more toward the center, and away from the flurries fluttering inside. But, looking out at the white coming down around the arena was pretty.
Something we have been working on to challenge arm movement has been circles. There was a circle required during my assessment. The first time attempting to perform one had me almost falling off the horse. My challenge during that particular circle was pulling too forcefully on the rein. Telling the horse to make a shallow turn to his left. Without knowing, the side walkers at the time, balanced me against falling. As we circled again during the assessment, my lesson was learned to be gentler. While working in our class, we have continued the challenge of making those circles. They have been required at different depths, one a twenty-meter circle, and another a ten-meter circle. There have been cones set out for assisting in developing the skill. It has challenged my cerebral palsy the most of any task. Especially when making the circle to the left. Attempting to be gentle, while providing the correct amount of pull on the rein. There have been times when my turns to the left have been too shallow. The reason seeming to be holding my left arm in one steady position. The turns moving to my right have proven to work better, as the right hand pull on the rein has me working my dominant side. We get better with the turns through practice and Loki always hangs in there with me, I wonder his thoughts at times. They would probably make me chuckle.
The challenge to this point providing the most concentration has been weaving. We have been asked to weave through a row of traffic cones. They have spanned the length of the arena. Our goal has been to walk through each space of the cones as they are lined up in a row. Normally the spacing between the traffic cones has been relatively even. Allowing us to get into a pattern. We have also been using the turning method of pulling on the rein to guide Loki to the left or right. The work with the rein has remained tricky with the weave. Trying to pull at a gentle and steady pace with the left arm. Cerebral palsy tends to cause my left arm and hand to tremble at times. So, attempting to keep the left side steady, while pulling the left rein at the correct pressure always feels challenging. It has been another form of how much horseback riding can help CP. There are things constantly challenging actions cerebral palsy has hampered. The more we can attempt making movements with struggling limbs, the better those movements become in the world. With that in mind, there were traffic cones set up for us this week. They ran the length of the arena, but weren’t spaced evenly apart. As we neared one end of the arena, the cones became closer together, requiring Loki and I to make slightly sharper turns. We were able to accomplish the varied challenge, my left arm learning better control. But, then the form of turning was challenged in a new way.
As we got into our class this week, pulling on the reins was our method for making turns. The variation in the traffic comes was a good challenge. Each cone having a different color, I began learning to talk Loki around the cones, while also using the reins. The tight turns toward one end of the arena were surprising. But, we got through them by taking sharper angles. Toward the middle of the class we were pulled to the middle of the arena. A new form of turn was given to us, one where we hold the rein and rotate our forearm outward to direct our horse. Using the elbow as the pivot point, turning the left forearm outward like a door would swing, which would cause Loki to move left. The same would be true on the right side. The new tactic for making turns seemed easier than pulling on the reins. But, this form of turning didn’t turn out to be easier, as much as simply different. Hinging my left forearm outward was challenging for different reasons. With cerebral palsy wanting our arms to work inward toward the body. This movement was having the arm move outward. The right arm seemed to work pretty well with the movement, while the struggle of my left could be felt. We made our way through the traffic cones using the new motion of turning. It was a challenging movement for my left arm. Getting my left arm to move smoothly has always been tough. The positivity has been the opportunity to move the left arm with different motion. Learning to ride continues improving my cerebral palsy symptoms.
The adventures so far with Loki have been exciting. This week we learned a new form of communication. Using the reins in a different way to engage into a turn. It was cold inside the arena this week. As we felt the snow falling onto us at points. While also watching, the flakes flutter downward when our gaze moved outside. We were all bundled up tightly as we worked through the hour of class. At times, making me wonder how riding might be when the weather turns warm. The week also had me feeling the impact of time spent with Loki. For the first time attempting to communicate with him more with words. Coming around to understand the development of bonding with an animal. There has been something unique about working with Loki each week. It seems early to truly understand the bond developing. But, there seems to be a difference in my emotions since we began. The anxiety around riding each week slowly dissipates. As we seem to have begun developing some trust for one another. There becomes a form of confidence when we learn new things and accomplish new challenges together. The growth seems to continue both as rider and person through this journey.
For more information please contact:
Executive Director Paula J. Del Giudice at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center
425-882-1554 ext. 103
For more resources on cerebral palsy improvement please contact:
Peter R. Turner at CPWithUs