When I was 13 I fell off my pony. He was a pretty thing. 14.2hh, golden palomino and beautifully put together. I was the envy of Pony Club, which was a long time coming as I had previously been the scruffy kid with the old trailer and the hairiest cob you have ever seen. We used to pull up to rally’s with the truck coughing and spluttering next to my best friend…the willowy blonde with the space age trailer, the sleek TB and the saddles for each discipline- who knew? I was lucky enough to get her very expensive jodhpurs which I had to roll up so many times I couldn’t keep them over my jodhpur boots.
However, I was now the proud owner of a sleek and stylish winning machine myself. He wasn’t very expensive to purchase; Mum only ever buys things when they are ‘on offer’. Pola, not Polo, Pola (the creation of much confusion) was a bargain. ‘A great pony at an even greater price’. Yes, well with all things beautiful comes the arsehole gene and my adored Pola would test me to the limit. One year at Pony Club camp he stopped at EVERY SINGLE FENCE all week. By the time competition Sunday rolled around I was in a pit of doom (only being very slightly competitive) but Pola must have sensed the importance of the occasion and didn’t want some lesser looking equine to get the right coloured rosette so we jumped a double clear and went home with a car load of trophies.
Anyway, I digress.
I fell off Pola, not as we were refusing a jump but as I was riding him, bareback, in from the paddock. It wasn’t an elaborate or spectacular fall and mum had always said ‘you don’t hurt yourself falling off bareback’. But I did. I managed to break my collar bone and the head of my humerus. No big deal. It meant my sister fetched and carried things for me and I had a few days off school.
I did however need some physio attention for the rehab of my shoulder, and during one of these sessions the physio commented that something ‘didn’t look right’ with my spine and scuttled off to find someone who might know what she was talking about. The end result being that they had discovered I had a spine that was all sorts of wonky. This was news that promptly sent my mum to put her head between her knees and get a bed all of her own for fear of feinting. That was pretty standard and I had grown used to Mum going AWOL in times of medical need. Those genes have not escaped me and I have embarrassed myself on a number occasions. It’s ok Mum, I understand.
I was referred to a specialist surgeon at the hospital, as it turned out that I had congenital scoliosis. This was caused by a vertebrae (or more than one) not forming correctly, in essence a hemi or half vertebrae, which creates a sharp angle in the spine. One curve requires extra curves to develop as a method of compensation, as the body’s primary mission is to keep the eyes level and to stay upright. The surgeon proceeded to lecture me on the dangers of horse-riding and how many of his patients were riders. He told me I should never ride again as the risk of damage if I fell was too great and he wanted to put rods down my spine to support it. Being raised as a polite English chick I didn’t tell him what I was thinking but I do remember walking out of his office and telling mum we were never going back.
From then on I had monthly visits to the hospital where I would be stripped butt naked, dots would be applied along the length of my spine and I would have to stand in the middle of a room full of doctors looking at screens full of measurements whilst they took pictures of my back. Feeling like an alien exhibit isn’t the best for a teenage girl and I freely admit that those sessions hold no fond memories for me at all! There was one incidence where after a particularly lengthy session, the nurse at the end came over to me and told me that I must do everything straight. I must even sleep straight. I thought she was barking mad. I sleep like I am making human origami, the idea of sleeping straight was completely ludicrous to me and felt like an impossibility!
It was then that I decided to seek some other opinions and stumbled across a fantastic osteopath who told me riding would be great for my posture, it would keep me strong and I should carry on. The fact that I was still riding was irrelevant, I thought she was the best thing since sliced bread. I saw her every 6 weeks for tweaks and crunches (enter feinting mum once more) and so began my interest in ‘alternative’ care. The range of movement that I could gain from some bodywork and the ability it gave me to continue riding really was the path away from the pits of doom.
I did find myself obsessing about the fact that I was anything but straight. It frustrated the life out of me, and that of my coaches, as I sprinkled flying changes through every workout as my pelvis is totally unlevel!
I was lucky enough (somehow) to get some tremendous experience as a rider, learning on many school masters in the UK, America and Germany. My desire to be straight was all consuming so I got better at strengthening the weak muscles and stretching the tight ones and eventually I could make the changes happen from an actual aid (!)
So folks, that’s why I am obsessed with straightness, because for me it is the elusive holy grail. Straightness satisfies my need for balance and symmetry, things that I have never had in terms of muscular development and ease of movement – particularly to the right (circle right 8m? no no no, two left turns make a right, right?)
My body is a continuing work in progress, it requires regular care and attention, but my career as a sports therapist has made me realise that so does everybody’s!
I may be a bit more crooked than someone whose spine is structurally straight, but we are all wonderfully crooked and we are all striving for the elusivity of being straight. And to frustrate us a little more, to keep us honest and continually trying to be the best versions of ourselves, our horses are not straight either.
Go figure, I am not that different after all.