What do you do for exercise/recreation?
I used to do a lot of horse riding, which was my main, if not only, form of exercise for many years. I’m not really into any other sports, nor am I good at them. I started with it in primary school only in the form of hippotherapy, because that’s what is mainly done at the stud where I go to, as it mostly serves disabled people, most of them quite severely disabled with severe forms of cerebral palsy and severe things. However, my hippotherapist is also a riding instructor and at some point she suggested to me that we could do more of riding as a sport, since I don’t have a severe movement-related disability, and do just elements of hippotherapy in it, which I was very happy to do. I also participated in some local competitions for disabled youth. Now though, things with my horse riding have been suspended for a looong time and I don’t really even know when/if they’ll go back to normal, for several reasons. First there’s the pandemic now. Even if it perhaps is an option for some people to do sports while wearing a mask (I have no idea how they do it) it is definitely not an option for me, because despite I’ve been riding for years, I’m at the same time allergic to horses and while this allergy is mild enough that it can be super easily managed with anti-allergy meds before and after the ride, I still do experience some mild respiratory symptoms of it, and having to additionally wear a mask would make breathing rather tricky. Social distancing wouldn’t work either because my riding instructor assists me a lot of the time especially when we’re somewhere that I’m not familiar with or when I’m learning some new technique or something or sometimes she holds me when I do some exercises on horseback that I feel insecure about because of balance stuff.
Besides that, even before the pandemic my instructor has had a crazy life. She had a breast cancer two years ago, which thankfully is a thing of the past now, but as she says it made her change her life and realise that she wasn’t prioritising the right things before. Besides being a horse riding instructor and hippotherapist, as well as a keen equestrian herself, she is also a very busy neurologist by profession, and a mum of a primary school-aged boy on top of all that. Before the cancer, I remember her as being always super busy and in a hurry and she kept saying that she wished a day would have more hours so she could squeeze more things in it that she had to do, yet she was also always very positive and energetic and rarely seemed very tired or worn out with all the comotion going on in her life. Yet when she got the cancer and several other things started going wrong in her life at the same time, it made her realise that she really needs to prioritise her mum role over her professional life, and maybe focus some more on her own riding for pleasure, which she had very little time and opportunity to pursue because she was constantly teaching other people and she had no time for riding just for the sake of it. That meant that she decided to slow down with work a bit and also with the stud, so I was seeing her less often. Then there was also some financial trouble they were having with the stud, and then my horse – Łoś (or Elk in English) – the one on which I rode primarily, died. All the horses at the stud where I go are older, often have some diseases and stuff or have had difficult or traumatic experiences before. Łoś was no exception, he was in his 20’s and had several illnesses, but ultimately died of bronchitis. Because my horse riding was very irregular already then, I only learned about the fact a lot later and it was a huge shock, because we’ve known each other for like ten years and we were a really good team, even though he would often fall asleep or get lost in his daydreams while I was riding him. 😀 After that, when I did go riding, I would usually ride on another horse – Rudy (or Redhead in English) – a very cute fjord horse whom I used to ride already before whenever Łoś had a day off or something and we knew each other well, and I really do like him very much as well, in fact, in a lot of ways, Rudy is easier to ride because he’s a lot smaller, lighter and a lot more sensorily perceptive so riding him requires a lot less strength and muscle effort, and he’s also a LOT shorter so I feel less insecure in terms of balance. But at the same time I never felt like we get along sort of emotionally as well as we always did with Łoś, we’re on quite different wavelengths while with Łoś we clicked instantly, so much so that even though I used to be scared of riding before, it miraculously changed the first time I rode him, or at least got alleviated enough that, despite the anxiety, I was able to fall in love with riding enough that I wanted to continue it even though I’d always be very nervous beforehand. He always was extremely sensitive to my feelings and especially when I was anxious. Often, even just his presence made me feel more at ease, perhaps because he was absolutely, unbelievably phlegmatic, like you’dthink absolutely nothing can phase him as if he was half-asleep all the time. 😀 Rudy is a lot more lively, which is super cool because you can have more fun with him and generally do more spontaneous things, but we just don’t have as much of the emotional connection and he’s quite anxious himself so my anxiety makes him more anxious and vice versa.
Then during winter before the pandemic has started, I got that weird, recurrent thing on my calf that I sometimes get during winter, apparently it’s similar to eczema but I don’t know really what it is or what’s the actual cause, anyways, it takes ages to heal and it hurts when walking and stuff or when something rubs on it which is quite hard to avoid when you’re riding and have riding boots on. So during winter I stopped riding completely. I’m always massively frustrated when that leg thing happens to me because as you can figure out I do love riding very much, but that year, my frustration was accompanied by a hint of relief that I won’t feel obliged to ride. Because the last few months of my riding, I found it more difficult than before. I wrote here many times before about my first experiences with riding in nursery and how I didn’t really like them and found horse riding super scary because of my balance problems, but how I then got into it later at our local stud because Mum read that hippotherapy would be beneficial to me. Even though I ended up loving horse riding, partly because of my very competent instructor and her being able to understand my issues around it, and partly due to Łoś magic, I never fully got rid of the anxiety and always felt quite anxious before riding and it took me some time to relax. Some times were worse than others. And I guess after Łoś’s death things got a bit worse generally and it became more difficult for me to feel at ease when riding, so that finally at some point it started to become more and more of a struggle for me to actually motivate myself to do it, and was no longer as much of a pleasure as it used to be.
So now, having not ridden since before the start of the pandemic, I don’t know if I’ll get back into it. I’d love to, I miss being in the saddle, I miss that feeling when I am finally able to relax my brain and my muscles while riding and I miss how freeing riding can be once you relax, I miss Rudy and I miss my instructor, with whom I really enjoy talking. But on the other hand I’m not sure, I just have super mixed feelings about it. Also I know that, while I’ve experienced a lot of benefits from horse riding, at the same time it’s very paradoxical that that’s the sport I’ve been doing, because I lack pretty much all the skills that are said to be required to be a good rider. My balance, coordination and sensory integration are all fairly rubbish, and I’m allergic to horses on top of that. Still, I’ve been told that I’m a pretty good rider despite that, given my possibilities, and I do feel I’ve achieved a lot and am quite proud of myself in this department. Being an equestrian is definitely a part of my identity since I’ve been doing it for years, and it would feel weird to decide that I’m no longer going to do it. And I don’t have as much interest in any other sport or physical activity, so I don’t know what I’d do instead. Yet at the same time I think it’s not really something for me because of my difficulties. I just don’t know.
But because I don’t do horse riding for now and I haven’t yet made up my mind on whether I will or not, I think I still need to do something so that if I decide to go back to it, I won’t realise that I’ve regressed physically. Therefore, I regularly go for walks with my Mum when we both can, often quite long ones, which I like as it can be a good way to clear your mind, although not as effective and cathartic as horse riding can be. I also do some low-key core exercises at home that my instructor recommended to me and that I also used to do in between my riding days, which I consider fairly boring as any form of workout so I’m not always as systematic with it as I should, these days, but it’s just to keep my muscles in some kind of shape.
How about you? 🙂