Riding with Uncertainty

A more accurate title of this post would be “riding whilst uncertain about something outside of riding that could affect my riding.” But that’s too long. I’m going for a little practicality here.

Anyone getting on a horse is probably comfortable with a moderate amount of uncertainty (or just stupid, either way) because of the nature of horses. Is he going to spook at that pile of poles the ninth time we trot past, after trotting past eight other times without incident? Is he going to step on a rock and come up lame from a stone bruise that later abscesses? Am I going to see a stupid distance and fail to make a decision so that my horse stops and I end up picking splinters out of my teeth?

We of course also ride with uncertainty about our own skills and abilities. Is my horse not getting his leads because I suck at it? Or is it because he hurts? Or maybe he doesn’t care even if I am asking correctly? Or maybe it’s Tuesday?

We even all experience a little bit of daily uncertainty about whether we will be able to afford this sport for much longer or at all. We sometimes question whether the time we put in is worth the stress these animals can cause us. We spend too much on vet bills, we try to fit square pegs into round holes, we try to get better every day even in the face of setbacks in communication, health, finances, the wrong tack, daylight savings, or footing.

The view may change but the perspective will not

Personally, I have already worked through a lot of this uncertainty — I am comfortable with my shortcomings as a rider, knowing that I try to improve every time I get on my horse (plus he keeps improving, too, so that helps). I am comfortable with horses being unpredictable. I accept that my wallet is not a good match for equine pursuits but I will pursue regardless. The uncertainty I am not comfortable with, that I am facing now, has to do with my health. Specifically, my vision. I’m losing it, apparently. And not in an “I just need a stronger prescription for eyeglasses” way. Totally annoying.

The first thing that comes to mind is always the worst case scenario and I don’t think that’s me. Not yet. I can still see, I just have a blind spot that will probably never go away. I don’t know how much or if this will change over time. The vision loss I have experienced thus far was not even obvious to me until I went in for my regular annual eye exam and once the eye patch was over my right eye during the visual field exam I noticed that there was something very, very wrong with my left eye. “Like, whoa, that is fucked up” was my first thought. I didn’t think much about it after that and just let my eye doctor tell me about the possibilities and request more diagnostic exams for me and prescribe me some eye drops.

And then I got to the barn. It kind of hit me then. What will the barn be like if I can’t see? What will riding be like? No, I will not give up riding no matter how much my vision dwindles over time. It may not even get all that much worse with treatment. But if I ever lose so much vision that I have to change how I ride or which horses I ride–what will that be like? How much vision loss is enough to say “no more jumping”? I even think that if I could, I’d trade my hearing to get my vision back. Which is a selfish and childish thing to think, but really, I don’t need to hear anything else ever again. However, I need to see.

perspective from patentlybay on Vimeo.

This isn’t even that much of an issue yet, but the uncertainty about how long my vision will last makes me consider the future in a much different light. There are plenty of people with far worse conditions who ride in the face of disabilities and adversity no matter what. Seeing them do it — I know I can, too. Not riding is not on the table.

What uncertainties related to riding have you grappled with?

39 thoughts on “Riding with Uncertainty

  1. Wow. Yeah, that’s a lot to be uncertain about. I’m so sorry! I am also sorry its a wait and see situation as those can be the toughest. My back was similar- I could barely walk due to herniated discs, and was told no running, no riding. I do both. I just make sure I take care of my back as best I can. Hopefully something similar can happen for you as well.

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  2. This hit home. With lots of migraines and some nasty concussions (related and not related), I need to be very careful with head injuries. So, I’ve definitely been very careful about riding/jumping. But, I don’t want to ride tentatively since that’s a recipe for disaster? So, right now I’m riding my trainer’s bombproof packer over fences because he’s amazing and my amazing gelding on trails/paper chases/etc. My senior TB is more or less retired (he also seems to have a possible stifle injury which solved my lingering questions about bringing him back for flat work).

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  3. Oh wow, that is terrifying. I’ve thought occasionally about the what if scenarios of losing limbs and such and how I’d still ride without them. But my vision? I couldn’t imagine losing it… My thoughts are with you while you get through this rough patch. Hopefully, it’s not a full loss and you can still continue to ride, just slightly differently eye-wise.

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  4. I’m sorry, that’s really a scary thought. We are extremely visual creatures. Good luck with diagnostics and treatments, hopefully whatever is going on is either manageable or reverseable!

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  5. This is so scary and I don’t blame you for being worried, upset and having all the feels. I do think though, that even if your eyes fail you that you’ll see the view from your horse’s back with your heart. We don’t forget the sight of the things most important to us – even if it’s not physically possible. Ask me how I know 😉

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  6. Wow I am so sorry! I can’t even imagine how I’d feel if my ability to ride was threatened due to health reasons. You are so brave and seem to be handling this news incredibly well (way better then I would be!). Keep us updated- sending good vibes your way

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  7. I have suffered from migraines in the past but nothing to this degree. I am with you though. However difficult it would be to give up a sense sight is one that is so vital to barn time. Hoping your drops do the trick.

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  8. I suffer asthma from serious hay allergy. End of summer I usually get a bad infection in the lungs. I often feel fatigue, and use my Rescue inhaler to cope with constriction during long barn days.
    Still riding 5 days per week 😉

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  9. I ride and show with a woman who had a stroke at a very young age and has suffered quite a bit of vision loss in her left eye. She took a while to adjust to jumping with impaired vision and to watch her eyes when she jumps is funny, if you don’t know about her condition, but she still makes it around on her speedy jumper.
    People (and horses) can adapt to quite a lot. I hope you don’t lose much vision, but I am sure you’ll find a way to keep riding.

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  10. My father had a minor stroke several years ago that essentially put the ‘horizon’ in one of his eyes at about a 45 degree tilt. He wore an eye patch, rotating eyes every few weeks, to re-train his brain to recognize that one eye seeing crookedly was his new normal. It took him a good six months, but now he goes around with no eye patch and his brain adjusted to think this was all normal. It’s definitely amazing what our brains will adapt to when they have to.

    I’m sure you’ll find a way–I used to ride dressage with a gal who was almost entirely blind. No other horses or obstacles to deal with in dressage. 😉

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  11. That is extremely terrifying and I hope everything works out ok. When I was diagnosed with hypersomnia and they can’t diagnose narcolepsy yet it freaked me out. What if I was to fall asleep while riding? I’m sure its pretty far fetched but since I can fall asleep while driving at the drop of a hat, I’m nervous for what my future leads to.

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    • I am so glad for you that you did get a diagnosis, and I hope that you have been able to treat and manage the condition! Fortunately I think anything I end up getting diagnosed with will be treatable, at least to a certain extent.

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