Trying to Get Riding Fit with MS at the Speed of a Snail

Since quick onsets of exhaustion are one of the worst symptoms of my MS (rivaling lack of balance and inability to coordinate) I have big problems getting my muscles fitter for riding horses. By day three of any exercise program I get exhausted, all progress stops, and my general fitness starts to deteriorate–as in it gets much harder for me to walk on my own two feet.

Lately this wonderful Forum has brought my attention to 2 non-mechanical riding simulators that I can use in my house. When I got my Home Horse (HH) I got pretty ambitious. It was definitely working for improving my balance, the strength of my legs (especially my thighs), strengthening my core and coordinating my movements. All this without irritating a horse!

But after 2 weeks of 20 minutes a day on the HH 6-7 days a week exhaustion made its dread appearance, my balance worsened and the “comments” from my lesson horse were not complimentary. Oh well, back to 1-5 minutes sporadically throughout the month. There was one positive from this, my riding teacher said my heels were not as stiff (they went down further.)

Then I read about the “Anywhere Saddle Chair” (ASC) from Wendy Murdoch’s web site. It is nowhere as expensive as the HH, does not take up as much space in my house, and I can get on and off it without anybody helping me. The ASC mainly seems to be working on my core muscles, back, above my hips and my gut muscles, as well as giving me a chance to work on my balance.

Since it is easy to get on and off the ASC I can just sit on it for a minute or two several times a day. To feel like I am not going to face plant I have to sit upright (no slouching), and I concentrate on my teres major muscles right below my scapulae and my quadratus lumborum muscles in my lower back, pushing my waist forward, keeping my face vertical, and I work at keeping breathing while I try to find center on a sperical surface (the bottom of the ASC is half a sphere) for maybe a minute or two.

This tiny bit of extra movement has resulted in me needing to sleep and hour or more every day right now. I really hope this improves but by now I know I cannot push myself further or I will end up in exhaustion, yet again.

People with systemic diseases that increase exhaustion cannot do exercise classes, they are too physically intense and, at least for me, last for way longer than my limited energy, so just doing more every day will make me worse instead of improving me.

So I feel like I am trying to sneak up on getting my riding muscles fitter. I hope that by doing tiny bits of the ASC during the day and resigning myself to needing more sleep, that eventually this will make me a better rider for the lesson horses I ride.

It takes SO MUCH TIME to get stronger this way. I get discouraged and I dream that if I could just cram in more exercise a day I would make progress, but with my MS I have to go slow.

Like I am climbing Mt. Everest a millimeter a day.

At least my gut muscles are starting to feel stronger, and also my other gut muscles.

But it is so slow!

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https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EVu-eZ0XYAIt5EI.jpg:large

I just wanted to leave a note of encouragement. You sound very brave to me! You are trying to do what many of us don’t succeed at with a much more difficult obstacle that you can only do so much about. If you can only do X amount per day, that’s ok. That’s what your body has in it right now. Just because the progress is slow doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. And you’re always welcome to come chat with us if you need a boost. Hope this helps :smile: :smile: :wave:

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I’m always so impressed with the effort you make to ride, and to generally optimize your condition as much as possible with MS. Know that I’m always cheering for you, and understand how amazingly hard it is to stay dedicated to this goal.

Hugs, Rebecca

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Thank you for posting about these devices. I’m in a similar situation myself and will check them both out!
Keep going!!!

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Yesterday I did not feel as tired and did not need to take a nap, and I did not want to take a nap.

I’ll see what today brings, I got so involved with the posture of my torso sitting in the ASC, while trying to remember to keep some weight in my heels (it seems that this involves my rectus femoris muscle on the front of my thigh) and just sitting still that I did it 4 minutes.

I had meant to just do 2 minutes, and when I do it again I will try to keep it at 2 minutes.

I am beginning to feel increased muscle tone in my muscles around my waist and 2-3 inches above and below my waist. I am also finding it easier to sit up when I sit in a chair, usually I quickly end up in a slouch.

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The lady whose mare I ride on Sundays, Shannon, came over to my place this morning. It was in the mid-20sF last night and neither of us wanted to freeze in the cold wind (and neither did the mare.)

I sat on my ASC for maybe 5 minutes while Shannon “rode” the HH “bareback”. She has lost a lot of weight recently and had lost all her padding over her seat bones so next time she will use a saddle.

She was telling me that the dressage saddle that I long-term lent to her was the saddle that fit her best out of all the saddles she had ever ridden in (and it fits her other mare). I suggested that next time she bring it with her because it sure sounds like the angels sing when she rides in it.

Then she spotted me while I got up on and rode the HH bareback with my feet flat on the platform mostly under my seat. She told me that the platform was tilted to my left, and when I got the platform level by putting more weight on my right foot I felt like the HH was leaning to the right. She also told me that I was putting more weight to the rear of the seat and the platform leveled off front-to-back when I got my seat bones in the center of the HH seat. Since my sense of balance is horrible I really appreciated her telling me this because I just cannot tell when I am off balance (the horses I ride are patient with me and forgive me my riding sins so they just adjust to my horrible balance.)

I did two stints on the HH, for a grand total of maybe 10 minutes (I really need a timer.) I “posted”, I moved my seat so the HH felt like I was on the back of a horse who was walking, and I also sat still feeling all the little movements as my body tried to find a balance point. I did not try to 2-point because my last lesson my riding teacher told me not to 2-point on the HH for a while, at least until I get my back muscles stronger so I do not end up leaning forward so darn much.

I also need to find a bubble level that I can put on the front of the HH, it will be a challenge to get it centered on the HH seat because the “pommel” is curved from side to side. Maybe I should also get a bigger bubble level to put on the front of the HH platform, one big enough so my husband can see it when he spots me riding the HH.

IF having the double bridle extension plus two reins did not put the HH on its “forehand” I’d also think about getting one for the side of the platform. I guess I could take the bridle extension off and use one on the side of the platform until I got a “feel” of being level front-to-back. Or maybe I could put something as a shim under the front of the platform until I got it showing level with the bridle extension on the HH. Either way I obviously need some help to get the HH balanced so my body can learn what it feels like when I am in balance.

All of this made me tired. My thighs in particular are tired from the “posting”, and I can feel the increased muscle tone in my belly. I feel like I got exercise this morning, not as much as from riding a horse but definitely better than nothing. Sitting up in bed gives me zero exercise.

Having someone who also rides horses spotting me on the HH gave me a lot more feedback than my husband can give me when he helps me with it. I guess a person could use a full length mirror if there is no one around who can tell if the HH is not perfectly balanced under the rider.

And “riding” my HH when the weather is too wet, too cold, too hot or too windy is much better than not riding at all.

Oh, I will try to update this thread but the Forums will not let me post more than 5 times in a row. If someone else does not comment or post I cannot update past 5 posts. Dear COTH Forum readers, please help me out with this if you want to read about my progress using these riding simulators to improve my ability to ride a horse correctly. Thank you.

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I think I’ve mentioned my neck problems from cervical dystonia. I had developed a pretty major problem w choking on my right side. I have not choked once since I started riding the HH. Who would have thought that would help? I suspect it’s strengthening my neck muscles.

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You are an inspiration! Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

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Well I rode my HH for 15 min. on Sunday and for 5 minutes on Monday (plus using my ASC for a few minutes on Sunday and four 2 minute sessions on Monday and this morning I had to go back to bed and sleep 45 more minutes.

Obviously I did too much, drat it!

Today I am resting from my riding simulators because I want to be rested up for my riding lesson tomorrow on a real horse. Riding real horses is better.

I am now thinking that for a good long while that maybe I should limit my time on my HH and ASC to a minute a day each. Not using the HH results in my balance getting worse when I walk around my house. I do not know if using my HH for just a minute will help my balance but if I want to build up my body it seems to me that I have to start off SLOW and easy.

I rode my HH on Monday (5 min.) with bare feet, and my ankle joints were not very happy afterwards. Yes, I need to put on my jodhpur boots to ride my HH even just for a few minutes to give my ankles support. Since I am riding the HH bareback I won’t need my half-chaps I hope.

Yes, I will be in the process of climbing Mt. Everest a millimeter a day.

I get impatient and frustrated. I can see how using the HH for much longer each day would really improve my riding, but getting exhausted makes my riding worse according to the horses and my riding teacher.

Patience, Jackie, patience.

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It is good you know your body and will make adjustments accordingly. Have fun at your lesson!

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Getting fit for riding, I mean really fit for riding, is a challenge if you’re over 20. Doing it with MS is definitely Everest, but you’ve been doing it!

I don’t have anything useful to say other than I’m with you on the riding fitness journey, but for slightly different reasons (dodgy joints and a few surgeries over here) - this is HARD! Really really hard.

Sending love and light your way!

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I had my riding lesson today. I even trotted twice, and believe me it is a LOT easier to post the trot on a real horse than on the HH.

Debbie noticed a big difference in my back. She said my back was erect, straighter and that I was no longer slumped over. I told her it was probably from sitting on my ASC, 2 minutes a time, four times a day. I think that the only other thing that really helped straighten my back was carrying the Equicube when I rode. I have not been carrying the Equicube for a long while because Debbie was worried I could not handle the double bridle reins, my crop and holding on the my RS-tor without causing her wonderful lesson horse confusion and possible jolts to his mouth because my brain could be overwhelmed by everything in my hands. Since I was not going to give up riding in a double bridle so I could carry the Equicube for a few minutes when I ride, I am very glad that the ASC is helping my back so much.

Since me using the ASC helped my posture on horseback so much I am thinking about not cutting my time on it as much. Maybe one minute four times a day would not get me as tired (as in needing a nap and ending up sleeping 10 hours a day instead of 8 hours a day.)

Because it DID help me ride better!

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Jackie, do you think the ASC is better than the HH? Or do they just do different things?

For me, right now with my weak muscles and horrible sense of balance, the ASC is better.

The ASC seems to just target my core muscles all around my core, belly, sides and my back muscles. Obviously it is doing a great job with that! After I use it I feel increased muscle tone around my waist and about 4-6 inches above or below my waist.

The HH is better for everything else, balance, coordination, and it seems to be wonderful for working most of my riding muscles. My riding muscles most definitely gained strength from riding the HH, and with patience it probably will increase the endurance of my riding muscles in my gut, back, sides, thighs and lower legs. I am sure it also helps with strengthening the back enough so I would sit more erect, but I have some difficulties with some of the wild swings back and forth during which I most certainly NOT sitting erect!.

Riding the HH seems to make me more tired than using the ASC.

Thank you! I’ll get one.

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I’m coming back from a long illness with major weakness and lack of muscle tone, and what helps me is chair yoga. Maybe that could help you, too?

Thank you all for your responses!

I’m sure Yoga could help me, but right now I just do not have enough energy. Getting into a position and holding it, well my tremors increase unless I move, and my tremors take a good bit of my limited energy. I am really glad that it is helping you @ShenanAnna.

This morning I put an insole in my right jodhpur boot. I could not get it zipped up. That weirded me out at first and I know it may weird out my riding teacher, but I think I have a solution for riding, my spur strap should keep my boot closed enough for my non-strenuous walks and slow trots.

I did 1-2 minutes on my ASC. I concentrated on keeping my head erect with my face vertical, keeping the bottom of my shoulder blades against my rib cage, and BREATHING!

Then I did 1-2 minutes on my HH with my husband concentrating on if the platform was tilting. When he said that the platform was horizontal I felt like I was leaning to the right, not like I was centered in perfect balance. I think we need to put a bubble balance, one big enough so my husband can see it easily, across the front of the HH. My body really did not believe my husband when he said the platform was level, if there is a bubble balance my body should take that as proof of hitting the balance point.

With the insole in my boot, he said that I was not as badly off kilter as I was without the insole in my boot.

After that short period of time my body felt like it was exercised and I got a little bit tired from just sitting on my riding simulators.

If my body stops feeling tired I may sit on my ASC for a minute or two later on today.

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If you really think yoga could help you, take a look at Sarah Starr’s Happy Yoga. It’s easy chair yoga, mostly to the rhythm of your breath, not holding poses for lengthy times. She has a YouTube channel and is on PBS here.

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2 min. on the ASC, then 1 minute on the HH this morning. Yesterday evening I did a second session of 2 min. on the ASC.

My husband bought a 2’ long bubble balance yesterday, it has side to side, forward and back, and also diagonal. I noticed that with the double bridle extension and the reins that, yes, this get up puts the HH on its forehand. I have proof from the bubble balance!

During my HH ride my husband sounded a lot more sure and confident when he told me that I was centered or starting to go to one side. That reassured my brain in that it could definitely believe it when he said I was centered. This resulted in me finding it easier to stay in balance some of the time. The insole in my right boot did seem to help me level off.

Since it is supposed to be raining next week during my lesson time I am hoping that I can entice my riding teacher to come to my house to give me my lesson. I will keep the bridle extension on until after that, if she comes out I want her to get the feel of “contact” with the HH.

After that I will probably take the bridle extension off so I can better develop my balance front to back. Then I can start “walking”, concentrating on returning my seat to center between the movements of my seat bones.

A long slow process.

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It is wonderful that you have such a supportive spouse to help you reach your goals. A round of applause for him and to you to continue to find ways to improve your riding.

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