Note: This is a guest post from Sydney Middleton who is a participant at ROCK.
My name is Sydney Middleton. My hobbies and interests include painting and writing stories. Before COVID-19 hit, I went to an art class to do different arts and crafts projects. I would also go with my mom to the humane shelter and walk dogs on Thursdays and I’d sometimes go and help with the cats some on Saturdays. I would go do that in the mornings and then go to my art class. I’ve been riding for… a long time now. I started out with Hippotherapy when I was 3 or 4 years old then I moved onto Therapeutic Riding at about eight or so years old and have been doing that for many years since.
I have Cerebral Palsy. The Cerebral Palsy, although it is milder than most, it still effects my legs in that I can’t use them the way a normal person would to get a horse to go, so I’ve had to come up with and remember some of the ‘accommodations’ involved in that process. Although I can feel if someone’s pushing into my legs, I can’t duplicate the pressure of the amount used or that is required for the horse to be able to feel it and walk forward. Instead of using my legs to tell the horse what to do, the ‘accommodations’ that I do use are my voice, reins, and body.
Not to mention, I can’t really do anything with my ankles— I can’t really use them to help me at all because they are so tight and locked-up. It’s almost like my legs are just there, they don’t seem to do anything when I’m sitting up there on the horse. Heck, the only way I am able to tell they’re there a lot of the time is when I’m about to get off the horse. When I sit up and move somewhat forward, both of them seem to tighten up as if to remind me that they’re there and to reassure me.
Horses and the challenges that they can sometimes bring to the table
The horse I’m currently riding now is Oakey. I guess what I like about Oakey is that he’s not prone to lowering his head during warm-ups, and his pace isn’t really that fast either. What challenges me, and kind of with any horse, is when he forcefully puts his neck down when he has an ich or just wants to eat grass.
Some of the horses that I have ridden over the years
I’ve also ridden other Quarter horses like Shug and AJ, Palominos like Monty and JJ’s horse at the World Palomino show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and a big draft horse named Skye. I’ve also ridden a big, black horse named Bart in a horse show before. There was also Queenie, a Paint horse Rocky, and a Fjord named Shandy after Queenie had acted up. I don’t think I’ve ridden Bart but once, and that was for that one horse show. I just remember thinking of how wide and tall he seemed while trying to straddle him with my little legs and hang on. What I could say about Skye was that she was big, but even though she was quite tall, she was also surprisingly narrow.
How my horseback riding instructor has help me
My instructors name is Devon. Before I was in a semi-private lesson, I was in a group lesson and for a while I was doing good, but then some anxiety reared its ugly head for some weird reason making me think that if the horse is standing still that I’m going to fall off. I would move in the saddle and ask the instructor and/or horse handler if I could circle. There was even a few instances to where I would curl up on the horse’s neck in a panic. Sometimes if we are just standing about ready to hop off/dismount, and my feet are out of the stirrups, I would topple-over and sort of Spider-Man off my horse. Thankfully it’s gotten a lot better now, only with some occasional thing here and there and most all of them now, if any, happens during the dismounting part of it.
Horseback riding and the lasting impact
Some of the memories I have of ROCK are when the covered area was added. I remember when I think I was either just coming out of elementary school and/or just starting middle school—anyway, I loved doing tricks on the back of the horse, such as: Around the World, Table Top, Dead Man/Dead Woman, and Stand up on the back of the horse, which I found most challenging. Oh, and I also rode backwards. I think I found the riding backwards the most enjoyable out of all of them. The Dead Man/Dead Woman—I remember that I guess I could only do for ten minutes or so because it was kind of uncomfortable (actually I think it was more like to the count of 10 or more like 10 seconds). I remember the saddle I was using was different. It was a trick saddle to where it had a brown leather handle on the back; it may have had one on the front as well.
My inner struggles involved with horseback riding
Well, managing my anxiety with it is a big one. Feeling comfortable on the horse whenever the horses’ head goes down. Some of the ways I manage my anxiety are to just try and stay calm and breathe through it.
Working and learning on horseback
What my instructor, Devon, and I’ve recently worked on is doing lots of Trail Patterns. Once we even worked on a Barrel Pattern which I find to be very simple. The only problem I’ve found with the Barrel Pattern is that it’s very hard to keep the horse moving after we’ve turned around one barrel. One of the problems that I have recently kind of run in to when it comes to the Trail Patterns is that when there are more steps to one than there was in the last one, it’s really kind of hard to remember and keep it straight.
Growing as a person through horses
I guess if it has taught me anything, it’s that: although now I might be more aware of everything than I once was, I’m bigger than my anxiety and I can NEVER let it win because if I were to lose horseback riding because of it, then I’d literally have nothing… there would literally be nothing left.
One of the things I’ve heard my grandfather say is that when I first started out, I looked just like a water balloon. I don’t really know what that means, or what he meant by that, but I think I have come to my own conclusion as to what that means. In my opinion, it means that maybe my core muscles weren’t strong enough to hold me up straight so every once in a while, I would slump over. Another thing I know for sure is that riding horses helped me achieve one of my goals when I was younger, and that goal was for me to walk into Kindergarten without the help or use of my walker.
In conclusion, now you know a little bit about me. No matter how many obstacles I may face while doing something that I used to love, and the fact that may change over time with some very unclear struggles as to why I have them in the first place, what has always remained will stay true. All-in-all horseback riding has always remained a fun and sometimes interesting, and yet, somewhat of a surprising journey.