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What Vertigo Taught Me

May 15th, 2018 by admin

I recently had my first ever episode of vertigo, not something I would wish on anyone.  It’s been three weeks now and the spinning has stopped but I’m now having some balancing issues.  Since the doctors say I shouldn’t drive or do any riding until this completely goes away it has left me with some time to think and I have some thoughts I want to share about balance.

 If had to take sobriety test right this second I would fail dreadfully, not because I’ve been drinking or doing drugs but simply because something in my inner ear has not totally healed from the vertigo event.  Got me to thinking about balance when we’re riding and how our horse must think of us when we act a little “tipsy” on their back.

Since balance is key to riding; I want to simply start with a thought about the walk.  For myself, I’ve been going up and down my hallway trying to put one foot in front of the other without toppling over.  At first my goal was just to conquer this darn thing and get on with life, but that isn’t working for me. So today I tried a new technique.  I stood with two feet together and then before taking a step, I focused really hard on exactly where I wanted to plant my foot when I took that first step.  I bobbled and had to reach out and touch the wall to stable myself but I continued on slowly and very focused. I wasn’t going to let the bobbles cause me to be discouraged and give up.  Step number two was a tad better. I realized very quickly that the key was to stay focused and go slow and by step number five I didn’t have to use the wall anymore. It wasn’t pretty and I would still have failed a sobriety test but I am making progress.


I can’t tell you how many times I start a riding lesson by telling my students to set up tall, focus where you’re going, and “think” forward.  This is pretty basic stuff even for beginners, but over and over again I see decent riders get on their horse while looking down fiddling with the reins or worse yet, their cell phones and then give a little jab in the horses side that makes a sensitive horse pop forward only to get slammed into the bit because the rider yanks back.  I’m kind of relating to this scenario myself lately. I go to one doctor and he says one thing then the Physical Therapist says another thing…yep, I’ve been jabbed in the side and jerked around just like we do our horses. I can vouch for the fact that horses are far more forgiving then what I have been lately.


So why do we do this? Good question and I have a answer!  It’s because we take things in life for granted.  Before vertigo I didn’t give ANY thought to how life would be with the ceiling and walls spinning or with a constant, sickening feeling deep within my stomach.  I didn’t have to be cautious where I stepped for fear of loosing my balance. I just went about life hunky-dory never once thinking how blessed I was to just be able to walk and do simple tasks.  I mean honestly, I was cleaning a stall when all this started for absolutely no reason at all.


We take our equine partners for granted as well.  We get on; give a pop of the saddle if it shifted when we mounted. We lean over to find a stirrup, crank on that saddle again while our horse is shifting to the left and to the right to balance our weight as we totally give no regard to him.  All the while we take lessons, attend expensive clinics, watch training videos and read hundreds of arterials in all the equine magazines in hopes of learning balance and softness because we know how important it is.


Here’s a thought: go saddle your horse and hand walk him for a few minutes asking him to start and stop without pulling him. Use your body language to cue him for what you are asking and what you expect. If you want to stop, square up your shoulders and stop moving your own feet.  If you want to go forward, move your lead hand ever so slightly in a forward motion to “invite” him to walk off with you.

Then take him where you are going to mount and square all of his feet. If mounting from the ground, hold your rein and a big chunk of his mane with your left hand and put your right hand on the cantle, do not use the horn!! Use your left hand pulling on the mane to raise yourself up slowly (this does not hurt your horse!).  Stand there with your left foot in the stirrup for a second and then slowly take your right leg over the saddle and sit down softly. And just sit there for a few seconds. Don’t worry about your right foot if it isn’t in the stirrup and don’t worry about your reins.  Sit there and consider what a privilege it is that your horse just let you get on his back.


Now you can get yourself situated (your horse should still be standing square).  This next step is important: look up and focus on where you are going, sit up and allow your arms to move forward ever so slight to invite him to walk.  Squeeze gently with your calf if he hasn’t already walked off. Make sure both your seat bones are touching the seat of your saddle and that your legs are hanging long and brushing against his sides gently.  For 10 minutes, just walk! Do circles without leaning and give your horse a heads up which way you are turning by turning your own head and shoulders while focusing on where you are going. Allow your upper torso to ride the direction you want to go.   Add a direct rein if you need to along with your outside leg to guide him into the turn. Dare I say that if you practice this correctly, before much time at all your horse will start to turn the direction you are focusing on long before you will even need that direct rein.  This is balance. This is heaven. This is foundation to anything else you dream of doing with your horse.


Once I’m allowed to ride again maybe I will make a video of all this.  Because if you can’t do the above and do it really well, then you should never even consider trotting or cantering.  Being out of balance with your horse is about as cumbersome as just being out of balance period. And if you’re not in balance with your horse then neither of you will really be content.  You will just be stumbling your way down the trail with the hope that you won’t fall off one side or the other.


I’ve always thought it would be super fun to ride a reining horse and feel the power of a perfect spin, I mean they pivot so fast and smooth……hum, I’m having second thoughts about that now.  That would surly put me right back into a vertigo attack. Think I’ll just practice the walk and I invite you to do likewise.