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Chronic Illness, COVID, and Moving Forward with Horses

Hi all,

Long-time lurker here. What’s below is a bit of a vent - I’m posting because I’m dealing with some health and life changes that are disappointing at best and frightening at worst. Forgive me, it’s a little long -

About ten years ago, early in college, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I immediately went on a biologic, and things improved for a time - with the caveat that I was now immunocompromised. I finished college and decided to try dressage after graduating. I’d spent time in a local H/J circuit and then IHSA, and wanted a change. I was lucky enough to find an amazing trainer who clicks with me and I with her, who understands how much I care about learning and growing as a horseperson. I was able to find a good job after college, took a ton of lessons on lots of different horses, and finished my Bronze medal a few years ago. I’d been schooling 4th/PSG for a few years now and never felt happier or more confident in my riding. Despite my health, the absurd costs of my meds, and a few doctors (who are no longer my doctors) that made stupid decisions etc., my circumstances were a dream and a privilege. I’d hoped to work towards my Silver over the next few years.

COVID hit, and I’ve managed to avoid it with a combination of remote work and isolation, some serious PPE upgrades, plus the vaccines and current boosters (I’m planning on getting Novavax in a few weeks, hopefully pre-winter-surge). Through it all the barn was my reprieve and my safe haven, my break from isolation, my space to focus on my silly little dream of being an upper-level rider despite the world imploding around me. In retrospect I don’t know how I never got sick. I think I dodged several bullets there - very few boarders, riding after work when I was usually the only person there etc.

The most recent fall surge in my area was so bad, and so scary (new, seemingly more infectious variants; our town’s COVID wastewater levels were at least 3x the national average), that my trainer and I decided that the barn was no longer safe for me at that time. The barn is now more highly-trafficked this fall, all the other boarders are unmasked, they and my trainer (who has several jobs) have contact with tons of people every day…It’s just not safe for an immunocompromised person right now, and my heart is broken.

On top of this, my chronic illness is no longer responding to the biologic I started ten years ago - not an uncommon thing for folks with UC / Crohn’s. I’m losing weight and muscle tone, and I’m scared. I know I need a treatment change, I know my doctors agree, and this is likely what will happen over the next few months - appointments, tests, infusions, etc. Some encounters can be online, but not all, and facing any in-person interaction in the healthcare system, while COVID surges and masking is non-existent, is so frightening and risky. This is on top of the side effects of a new (for me) drug, the possibility that it may not work, dealing with the cost, etc.

I’m very lucky to have a therapist who is helping me find ways to cope, and a UC-specific support group that I’m going to start going to this week - but none of them are horse people. And I miss riding so, so much. I know our COVID levels will likely go down in spring / summer, and it will hopefully be safer for me to go ride again - though never truly safe. But until then, part of me - the part of me that identified as a horseperson, I guess - feels…dead. The ongoing pandemic and my health issues make things so, SO unpredictable and make my life so narrow. I’m trying to stay connected online with friends, with non-horsey-hobbies that make me happy. And I’m trying to stay engaged in my horsey education via USDF’s online courses and certificates, which has helped. I know I need the external validation lol, and there is SO much I don’t know, so I’m almost glad for the opportunity to hunker down and be a little academic. But still - I’m just afraid for my dwindling future with horses, afraid of losing my identity as a horseperson.

If you got this far, thank you for reading. I’ve lurked on these forums for years and always loved seeing the community, and I’m glad I finally took the plunge and joined. I hope I can join the Maclay livestream thread this weekend. <3


No suggestions, but big hugs! I’m sorry you have so much to deal with and I hope your dressage plans get back on track sooner rather than later.


That’s really scary and you have every reason to be worried. I hope they can figure things out for you and get you feeling better quickly.

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I am so sorry you are going through all of this.

I have MS. Chronic illnesses are a true bummer for people who ride horses.

One thing I bought so I would be able to so something, anything, to keep my riding muscles up was a Home Horse Home Horse. I am lucky in that one of the ladies whose barn I ride at when the Universe is better comes out once a week to help me ride my Home Horse.

I have found my Home Horse useful, I can use it when the weather is bad (my lesson barns only have outside riding rings), when my riding teacher calls me up to warn me that human sickness has spread through the barn, or when I am just too weak and tired to get myself ready to ride and get out to the stable.

I love my Home Horse. Without it my riding muscles would turn to jelly, my balance would get worse, and with my riding friend coming out to help me and ride it herself I get to talk horses.

Forty years ago I had a drunk driver plow head on into the car I was driving. Several years later of riding one to three times a year I learned I had MS. My horses were at home, but by the time I was able to groom, deal with trimming their hooves, and tacking up I was just too tired to ride. I got really depressed, then I was fortunate enough to find my lesson stable which is relatively nearby. Even though I had horses living on my land and I was involved with feeding and watering them something was dying inside of me.

So I was lucky and found a good lesson barn pretty near to me. That has been good for years but when Covid-19 appeared (I had it January 2020) and everything started closing down I spent a few months not riding.

I got my Home Horse then. It is not the same as riding a horse but it does keep my riding muscles in use. When I use a saddle on it I can 2-point and I can post, and there are exercises one can use to keep the core riding muscles fit.

Not an ideal solution by any means, but it is much better than NEVER getting into a saddle.

I have a thread in this section “Trying to Get Riding Fit at the Speed of a Snail” where I post about my usually weekly rides on my Home Horse.


I have Long Covid and have not been able to ride for more than three years. I miss it, badly. But I’m also accepting that circumstances do change so I wait patiently and hope for the future. It’s tough.

It occurs to me that with your experience and background, training to become a Dressage Judge would be a way to remain involved, to grow your knowledge and give something back to a sport you clearly love.


Consider talking with a psychologist? Stress is might be affecting your auto-immune disease as well. Finding a way to get back into riding might be worth a mild risk of Covid if it reduces your stress, but you might need to make some compromises, such as be at a less competitive barn. What about just leasing a pleasure horse for now?


Is there any way you could find a local person with a farmette and horses you could ride there? And arrange things so you never had to interact with someone else?


Possibly! I forgot to mention that a big piece of the local COVID risk is that I live near several colleges (so the high influx of students was likely a big reason why our fall surge was so big). During the school semesters, I think most barns in the area are pretty heavily-trafficked by students (we have a pretty active IHSA / IEA / IDA region). Historically our COVID levels have decreased drastically in the spring, when the students leave, so that is what I’m holding out for (and hopefully my health has improved by then).

Thank you all for your responses - I will try to respond more when I’m not working!


Do you own a horse or are you just taking lessons and leasing? When Covid was bad and I really needed to reduce exposure I setup a way to groom and tack up outside away from everyone without ever entering the barn or touching and using anything that anyone else had touched. In my case I used my trailer but you could store everything in your car or a little stand up shed outside and have a post or fence to tie your horse to get ready. Being outside on the horse around other riders should really be low risk. I know this is just a hard situation for you I’m just trying to suggest some possible other options.


You have my sympathy. My riding teacher is the coach for the local state University’s riders.

I try to wear a mask in the barn, and I am the only person wearing a mask at the stable. When I get outside I feel free to move my mask down, but I am in a private lesson, as early in the morning as I can, and the ring is big enough so I can handle riding with one or two other rider’s in the ring while they warm up before going to the other ring for their lesson. If I had to ride in the afternoon there can be swarms of little kids, teenagers, college students and adults in the barn grooming and tacking up and the rings get sort of crowded too.

At least in the winter it is more comfortable for me to wear a mask. It can get hard in the summer.

I am SO GLAD I bought my Home Horse. Riding it enables my riding muscles to get targeted exercise so I am not just a blob of protoplasm in the saddle when I get back to riding real horses. In the past I got so tired of having to start all over again with my riding fitness when real life interfered with my riding.

Are you interested in trail riding at all? I would post on Facebook and look for private owners looking for someone to ride their spare horse. That way you aren’t exposed like you would be at a big barn. You can still ride and have a good time.

I was super sick at one point with GI issues. So weak it was difficult to saddle up and ride… I would hop on the old mare and ride bareback for 15 minutes at a walk and get off. I posted online on a horse forum and met someone who has now been a good friend for over 15 years. She would bring her horses to the park, saddle up for me, and all I had to do was get on and ride.

She is always willing to take in riders if they want to ride, all at no charge. Even I’m looking for an extra rider at this point, so there are definitely riding opportunities if you look for them.

The odds of catching covid on a trail ride are pretty low.

I think your weight loss would be more of a concern then riding and catching covid.

You will at some point go back into remission and feel better. It will take time to get there. I’ve been through that… Do be careful about malnutrition effecting your bone density. Watch your potassium levels. They don’t add potassium to multivitamins (at least not enough). I once had a seizure because I went outside and over did things and my blood potassium dropped so low I had a seizure. I didn’t feel any sicker than usual. I went to bed and woke up with police and paramedics in my bedroom. Thank goodness a family member walked in at just the right time… Get frequent blood work and be careful about exercise on warmer days as that is when malnutrition and electrolyte imbalance can cause issues.

You will get through this and feel better and be back to riding before you know it. It just takes time.


{{{{HUGS}}}} to you. I’m in a similar situation and it truly sucks.
The suggestion to enroll in the learner judges program is great.


Depending on what your barn is like, you might be able to have someone tack/untack your horse and bring it out for you so that you could still do lessons without ever going in the barn. A teenager or college student would probably happily do it for a small fee, or a groom might if there is time.


No suggestions, just suppory. My sister has UC and unfortunately was misdiagnosed for many years and had exceptional damage as a result. She had a large part of her intestine and colon removed. She wears an ostonomy bag. She amazes me. She ran her first half marathon a few years ago and was training for a full when they received the news that she conceived :slight_smile: now her life pretty much revolves around my nephew, but she still boxes regularly and is overall very active. I give her so much credit, and you too!


Just here to say I’m sorry you are dealing with all of this, your feelings are valid. Chronic illness is hard…it stands in the way of so much. Hope you find some answers, relief, and peace.