Riding high with Parkinson's

Judy has had Parkinson’s for 15 years, but that has not stopped her taking up horse riding again – something she had not done in decades. Here she shares what getting back in the saddle has done for her.

"I had owned my own horses in the past, but I hadn’t sat on a horse for 30 years!” Judy explains. That quickly changed though after a chance meeting at a party.

“I started chatting to Peter, who runs a charity called the Brown Horse Academy. They use equine assisted therapy and learning to help disabled, disadvantaged and vulnerable people in the local area. I told him about my own experiences with horses and he suggessted I try riding again.

“I’ve had Parkinson’s for 15 years, and friends said to me, ‘You can’t take up riding at 73.’ But I thought ‘Yes I can!’ So Peter arranged for me to have an assessment at a stables near to where I live in Truro in Cornwall and I climbed on a 17- hand horse – it was wonderful!”

Often Parkinson’s is about what you can’t do anymore, but you can do it.

Sheer delight

During the assessment, Judy was put through her paces – winding in and out of bollards, changing direction on the horse, and cantering around the ring. Although someone does not need to have ever ridden before to take part in equine therapy, the assessment allowed the instructors to understand what level Judy was at and what she might be capable of.

“I would not have gone straight back to riding without that first assessment. Before that lesson though, I felt completely calm. I thought I’d be really nervous, but I trusted Peter absolutely, and I felt completely relaxed. I didn’t have a moment of nerves.”

Shortly after her assessment, Judy was out riding. “On the first hack out, I was with several other people and there was a lady who was giving a lowlevel lesson. She asked if I thought I could canter. I didn’t hesitate. It was like I was waving my fist in the air, shouting ‘yee-ha’ and off I went! I can’t describe the sheer delight.”

After a series of gentle sessions, Judy was keen to tackle something more challenging. “I now go to a farm close to where I live and go out for two hours with one of the staff from the stables. They have about 40 horses there and I tend to ride a different one each time I go out. They are all super horses though – and luckily very obedient!

“It’s not particularly easy riding – it’s real countryside. I need to manoeuvre steep paths and rocks. But I also get to gallop and it feels like I’m riding properly. In the nicest possible way, the person I ride with doesn’t worry I might fall off. I am still a good rider.”

But Judy laughs at the one red line she does have: “I don’t jump, I refuse to jump. I know my limitations!”

    When I ride I concentrate on what I’m doing and I leave Parkinson’s behind.

    Feeling normal

    “I get an enormous sense of normality when I ride. I need help getting on and off the horse, but otherwise I don’t need anything at all. If you saw me on a horse, I am grinning from ear to ear, from the sheer happiness of being normal.”

    Come rain or shine, Judy now goes out every other week. “I don’t mind how wet or cold it is, off we go! Often Parkinson’s is about what you can’t do anymore, but you can do it.

    "When I ride I concentrate on what I’m doing and I leave Parkinson’s behind. I’m so proud of myself and it’s done so much for my confidence.”

    • Riding for the Disabled is a national charity which provides equine therapy, fitness and skills development. To find out if there is a group near you, email [email protected] or call 01926 492915.