I know I have talked a lot about Loli and the wonders that have happened since I met her after giving my speech at the university. I don’t want to drone on unnecessarily but between us we have been working on a program to help me get stronger and to improve my health and it is working. I am writing a book about it called ‘Health Through Horses: a personal journey to recuperation, health and happiness’: The book will include a lot of personal things about my illness and some funny experiences but mostly it is about how Loli and I started to come up with a program that can help so many people recovering from cancer and other illnesses. So I will put here an excerpt from the book on some of my exercises.
MY SELF-HELP PROGRAM: HEALTH THROUGH HORSES
I decided that I couldn’t cure the virus (Note from Editor. Barbara’s virus remains unidentified after ten years) but I could make myself as strong and healthy as possible and knowing the power of the horse and what it can do, I decided to set up a program for myself using all of the knowledge I had learned over the years. With chronic kidney dysfunction and chronic anaemia, I was told they would just get worse and that my body didn’t absorb the iron I was taking in so I would have to inject myself every day. I was also told I would need to eat from a feeding tube for the rest of my life. None of these things were acceptable to me so I wanted to change things and make a difference in my own health.
I started riding at Loli’s once a week on the lunge-line, and in the ring, it soon became clear, I don’t know why, that riding on the lunge-line provided much more benefit. I think the reason being that I didn’t have to think about my reins or steering so all the concentration went into me, Loli was in charge of the horse and watching that my posture was correct. The benefit of riding bareback on the lunge-line is that you don’t need to have any previous experience. You have the sursingle to hold on to; someone in charge of the horse and you can go at your own speed. Start at the walk and when you feel comfortable then you can progress to the trot and so on. I have improved so much both mentally and physically and hope to continue through experimenting with more useful ideas.
I am still slightly anaemic but I don’t have to take iron and I don’t have to inject myself. My kidneys have improved by one point, which doesn’t seem much but really is a huge advancement because they were supposed to be getting worse not better. The side-effects of the steroids are almost non existent except for the continual hunger. My insomnia is finally easing up and letting me sleep a few nights a week. The most impressive result was that of my triglycerides - which turn fat into energy for your muscles. The highest you can go is 200 but mine was over 400 and after three weeks, of riding once a week, I now have my levels down just below 200 and it is still going down. I knew I had to keep a good flow of oxygenated blood running to all of my extremities, because at one point they were going to amputate my toes and the tips of my ears. All of this was avoided by getting a good blood-flow to my extremities; also through my heart and lungs so that was one of the first exercises I started to work on. It was important to help keep the new skin and implants from dying. I use a yoga breathing technique and stretching and opening my chest cavity. I also breathe from the abdomen instead of the chest. I do all of my exercises at the walk, trot and canter in both directions. I still can’t do some of them at the canter but each time I get closer. There are still some places I can’t reach in the stretches but I will get there. That is one of the wonders of this program, you don’t need previous experience and you go at your own pace, meanwhile, just sitting on the horse while it is walking is giving you benefits. After a long time in bed, especially hospital beds, which are known for being uncomfortable, I had a lot of muscle-pain and a bad and weak posture. That was one of the next things I worked on, by stretching above my head with a pole and doing push-ups on the horse’s withers. It will all become clearer when you see the pictures and get a full description of the exercises, now I am trying to tell you what and how I decided to work on different parts of my body. My kidneys bothered me so I had to find a way to strengthen my lower back and stretch my torso so there wouldn’t be so much pressure on them. I needed energy, most of that came from the canter with my arms spread out and my eyes shut. I had to be in a good frame of mind so as not to go into depressions every time I had to change my bandages or see myself in the mirror; I helped achieve this by getting back out into the world and helping other disabled people and the decision to stop dwelling on my own problems. I also had to work on my balance, since I am almost completely deaf, that included a lot of trot, stop, trot, stop plus a series of other things like around-the-world and riding backwards. I needed to build strength in my legs and build muscle-tone, so I put my hands on the rump of the horse and ‘did the bicycle’, foot circles and bringing my knees together and lowering them again. Between each set of exercises I would relax by putting my hands just behind my hips, resting on the horse and sit up straight at a good working walk. To relax my back muscles I lie down with my head on the rump and just go a few times around the ring. It is amazing what a great massage you get from that but you can’t do it at the trot or canter, at least I can’t. I do a lot of stretching, reaching from tail to ear and back again stretching way over my head. I spend about five minutes on each exercise in each direction at each pace. I found that I could isolate muscles that were bothering me by finding the right muscle on the horse and the right pace to make it work and it is incredible how when you get it just right everything just slips into place. Then I do some basic aerobics for fitness and energy. It is very important that your instructor makes sure your arms are at shoulder level when stretched out and that your hands are a shoulder’s-width apart when you work with a pole or other instrument. Always look between the horses ears with your head up even when you are doing twisting exercises to the sides. When I finish my workout, my muscles feel tired but good and relaxed and I have boundless energy and a fantastic positive feeling of well- being. I know I will always have moments of depression and wonder why this should have happened to me. There are times when I just want to give up but then I see all of the things I have to live for and it gives me a renewed strength to carry on. I know I am very lucky to have such a wonderful family and friends as a support group; I probably would have given up if not for them.
It has all been trial-and-error but now it is working well enough with me to get a few doctors interested and that is what we want in this field. I have seen over the last thirty years the benefits horses provide for the disabled but I never put much thought into illness and recovery. Since my illness I neither have the money or the strength to reopen my center ANIMO, but I am helping a few small centers around the area and giving a few speeches. Now, my main concern is to get better myself and if I can help other people in the process, so much the better.