Claire Drey-Brown’s we need to talk blog: listen to your doctor, and don’t play the hero

  • I feel like, as equestrians, we have all fought for so long to have our horses seen as athletes. Moreover, we have moved on to fighting for the non-horsey community to see us as athletes. This really has been a struggle, and I think every equestrian has had the ‘you just sit there’ comment thrown at them at least once! I think a lot of riders really have started to make an effort with their fitness and strength since the question about whether some are too heavy for their horses too.

    So someone PLEASE tell me why on Earth riders are rushing their recoveries when they get injured?! I see at least a post a day on my Facebook feed of ‘I’ve broken this that and the other, doctor says X amount of weeks. How long do I REALLY have to take off?’

    We must all see these posts, as they really do flood all Facebook horse forums. We’ve all been there. We’ve all hurt ourselves, been to the doctors/A&E, been diagnosed and given a recovery plan, and then ignored all of the above and ridden the next day. You may be chuckling at this familiar scenario, but I am about to put it all into perspective so stop those chuckles!

    Imagine your horse came in from the field a bit lame. You call the vet straight away for extensive testing and once given the diagnosis, you STRICTLY stick to the rehab plan. You would (hopefully) never dream of ignoring the vet’s advice and rushing your horse back into work. Imagine the abuse and threats you would receive if you posted the same post I described earlier, but about your horse, and not about you as a rider. If we are fighting so hard to make people think of us as athletes, why the hell are we not treating ourselves as such? Why aren’t we treating out own bodies with the same respect as we do our horses’?

    I have learnt the hard way to treat my body with respect. This may sound very strange to a non-equestrian (and even weirder out of context!), but my New Year’s resolution was genuinely ‘to treat myself more like a horse’. Sounds weird, right? Told you! By this, I mean to treat my body as well as I would treat my horse’s body. I am going to give my own injuries as much serious consideration as I do my horses’. I am not going to shove myself back on a horse as quickly as possible following an injury, I am going to get back onboard when I am fully healed. Yeah, I know, we are equestrians, we are tough. Equestrians control a 500kg+ animal using a few fingers and their thighs — you don’t need to prove that you are tough!

    Everyone understands that when you, as a rider, gets injured, they of course want to get back to their passion as quickly as they can (your horse probably does too when he is injured). But, do you just let your eventer go for a gallop with a tendon injury? No, that would be stupid!

    Pretend that it is the horse that has the injury in question. If you rush your horse back into work, there are a number of things that can go wrong. Firstly, there is a huge risk of making the injury worse. Even if you decide to just go for a 10 minute walking hack, that is still putting extra strain on an injury. Once a horse has an injury, he will most likely compensate. By this, I mean that if one front leg hurts, he will put more weight onto the other front leg, for example. This can open up a whole can of worms and make the horse sore in different places throughout his body.

    If you were to give your horse time off, but not wean the horse back into work slowly, and instead just get right back to it, you put the horse at serious risk of re-injury and sprains/strains. This is because the muscles will be weaker after having a break. For instance, if a horse had two weeks off, you should bring them back into work slowly, starting with a quick stretch lunge or a gentle, short hack for the first couple of days. The opposite would be to do a full on schooling/jumping session on day one.

    These all sound like very obvious no-nos. But, realistically, most people reading this (including myself) have kept riding when injured ignoring the possibility of compensation, and probably wouldn’t bother to give themselves a couple of easy weeks to build back up to full work.

    We may excuse ourselves by saying ‘oh but I am doing it for my horse, so he doesn’t lose fitness. He doesn’t like time off.’ In reality, you are not helping your horse out by soldiering on, at all. If we compensate and twist in the body or put more weight in one stirrup and so on, we can cause discomfort in our horse, and also create some nasty schooling habits in both horse and rider.

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    If you are not able to ride to your full potential, you may not ride as well as you normally can (due to pain, lack of balance, compensation etc). If you therefore cant ride as strongly as usual, you may even cause a knock in your horse’s confidence. This can also look pretty bad on paper too — you may cause a couple of blips on an otherwise faultless record, for example.

    Because of these issues, you may need to put in a few weeks really working on the position of not only yourself, but your horse too after weeks of riding wonkily. You may also need to spend weeks revisiting the basics to rebuild any lost confidence. Furthermore, if you didn’t allow your injury time to heal, you may soldier on for a few weeks before realising it is no better, and then having no choice but to have the time off. Except now, it will be longer than the original rehab plan, because you have spent weeks damaging it further.

    In conclusion, listen to your doctor, and don’t play the hero! Join me in my New Year’s resolution and treat yourself as though you are a horse too.


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