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Horse Riding After Spinal Fusion

Hi all,

I really wanted to share my story, my success after having 2 spinal fusions, and my journey with riding horses again. I want to share it, because before my 2nd surgery, and after, I remember searching relentlessly on the web, everywhere I could find to find details about those success stories, did people ride again, was it the same, what happened. I found next to nothing, and the few bits I did find, were 10+ years old, simpler surgeries than mine, or people who plan said. "Don't do it"

Now that I've lived through it, I'm over 2 years since my 2nd (hopefully final ever) spinal fusion, I wanted to share what I went through, and hopefully instill some faith for the next person who's trying to find about what others have done. 

I originally needed a fusion, because I was in a car accident when I was 17, I burst my L1 vertebrae completely, I was flown to hospital and fused from T12 - L2, I won't go to much into detail, it was hell obviously, a lot of trauma to overcome, learning to walk again, being in rehab for a month. So on.

Got through that, went back to school, I really tried to just live as I would. I think a year or so later, I could feel my hardwear, and it slowly became more and more prominent to the point if I stood up as straight as I could you could see 2 dinosaur like bumps along my spine, it did get sore easily, but I put that down to what a fusion was like. I believe it was 4-5 years from the originally surgery and I decided to go get xrays, when I got the xrays (before a doctor had seen them) my heart sunk, I could physically see a broken screw in 2 very clears parts, I was a mess, had no idea what this meant. I live in a remote area now, so the only neurosurgeon I could see was out of the state, so I got on a plane, flew 4.5 hours away to finally see a surgeon, who then confirmed both of my bottom screws had broken, and my spine was starting to curve, if we didn't do something soon, it would continue to deteriorate until I wouldn't be able to walk/stand. 

I flew back home, knowing it would be 1 month at least before I'd get surgery, and I'd have little notice, I'd also need to be away in another state for at least 6 weeks before I'd be able to fly again. I finally got the call, and I have the 2nd surgery.

My surgeon made it very clear this was not a standard surgery, it was a complicated surgery, there were risks (as always) he had to request to move me to a private hospital (got lucky there) because he needed the equipment the public didn't have. Because I was originally in a car accident, this was all covered by my insurance. Thank god.

So this surgey, would be much bigger, because there was damage, he had to remove the old hardwear, try to straighten my spine, and re-fuse from higher/lower points giving me even less flexion. This surgery would be from L4-T10 multi level, I had to have rods/screws and a bridge this time as well. He predicted it would take 6 hours. It took 10. 

When it was done, I woke up in ICU, very groggy, very confused, I was then moved to the normal ward, I was there about a week, starting to walk a bit, and when I was deemed well enough I was moved to rehab for the next few weeks, really trying to walk, and do physio and so on. This 2nd time, I found while still hard, a lot easier, as I didn't have the trauma of an accident, I knew what I was doing and I was determined, I was determined to walk and beat previous days records, when I walked 5 minutes it was like winning Olympic gold. 

I then was discharged, but staying in an apartment close by, until I was fit to fly home. Where I guess all the routine settles again, I got off all my meds within 1 month which was the hardest part, feeling withdrawal, I got back to work, 1 year passed, I went back to see my surgeon who was very happy with everything, and basically said unless there is something wrong I won't see him again. 

Fast forward to 6 months ago (1.5 years after surgery) I went on a holiday to the states, and we went on a nose to tail trail ride, and I got the horse bug back. (I rode up until my accident, and blocked it out for those 5 years) So I started wanting to know if it was possible, did people ride? was it possible? was it normal? was it stupid? I spoke to my surgeon, and he said the only difference between me riding and anyone else, would be the fall. He said there is no issue with riding for me, but if I was to fall, my back wouldn't take the pressure evenly like a normal spine, I would have weak points above/below my rods that could make me more susceptible to getting hurt. Other than that, he was fine with the riding/movement itself.

So I thought on it for a while, was it worth it, riding is dangerous of course, and everyone needs to come to that conclusion on their own as it is a very real factor, but to me. I thought, I'm 25 years old, I'm not ready to give up a passion on a chance, a passion and a sport that is really just as dangerous to a healthy person full spined person, accidents happen, no matter what. 

So I thought, I will start riding again, and I'll just take it easy and walk and that will be enough. That's what I did, at the start. Then it takes over you. Since I started, I've gone from walking a trail, to buying my own horse, galloping on the beach, jumping small fences, riding almost every single day and I haven't looked back. To me the risk of what if, is 100% worth the happiness I feel everyday now, I didn't realize how miserable I was until realizing how much joy and purpose life has now. I feel normal, I don't feel limited, I feel happy, I have goals. It is possible. It is hard, the start was hard for sure, but I'm now fitter and stronger than I've ever been since before I was 17.

There is success out there, you can make it happen, it just takes time.

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Comments

  • WLLadyWLLady Ontario CanadaPosts: 1,463

    i love reading this!  i have 2 horses, and am itching to ride again-just pleasure riding.....walking was always good enough for me LOL.  i couldn't ride for the 2 years prior to surgery because of the pain, i literally could not walk getting off my horse.....now that i know what the issue was and had it fixed last december, i'm 8 months out and caught myself actually looking at my horses going "i wonder....". my surgeon wasn't wild on me riding, because of the falling part lol.  i have clydesdales that are literally 7 feet to the ground.  but they are gentle giants.....i have decided that i will ride...it might not be until next year, but i will.  i'm fused T10 to pelvis.....


    Kathy
    Spine-Health Moderator
    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    Dec '16 T10-S2 fusion with pelvic fixation. Laminectomies L2, L3, L4, L5, facet removal, cages L4-5, L5-S1, severe scoliosis, arthritis and stenosis repair. 

  • chloerosebaxtercchloerosebaxter Darwin, AustraliaPosts: 3

    Thats so awesome to hear!!

    Yeah I waited until I was well over a year out, which I think was the right decision, but I was the same, after a while I started to think more and more about it and just needed to get that horse fix somehow!!

    Good luck with it all!!!

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  • WLLadyWLLady Ontario CanadaPosts: 1,463

    i did find that i can actually pick feet out again!  i couldn't do that before my surgery....i was floored, and so was my horse LOL.  he's used to holding his foot up for me, and then me crawling up his leg and pulling on his mane or tail to get myself up standing up again.  so this time i picked up his foot, picked it, put it down and stood up and went to the next.  no crawling up his leg for support LOL.  he was just looking at me all funny-unsure what i was all about.  then he gave me the "horse hug" head on the shoulder.....it was awesome.  i was sooooo happy that i could do that again!  i'm still tired after picking 8 giant feet, but at least i'm not broken after picking 1!!!!

    Kathy
    Spine-Health Moderator
    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    Dec '16 T10-S2 fusion with pelvic fixation. Laminectomies L2, L3, L4, L5, facet removal, cages L4-5, L5-S1, severe scoliosis, arthritis and stenosis repair. 

  • I've gone riding after my fusion, but found it needs to be on a calm horse!  I rode one who decided to go into a trot and it absolutely sent my pain level through the roof.  "Gus" and myself had a heart to heart after that.  He didn't care much for what I had to say!
    Several Epidurals, L4-S1 360 ALIF, Numerous Facet Joint Injections, RFA x2
  • I really enjoyed reading your story as that is the exact reason I am on here, trying to find out if what I'm feeling is normal.  Everything is dated, 2002, 2007, and so on, so thank you for posting.  I was thrown off of my horse January 2016, it was a bad combination of an inexperienced rider, me, and my inexperienced horse, my love Stella.  Knowing something was wrong, and going to the Dr's for almost 11 months before they realized I had a fracture in my spine.  Needless to say I couldn't walk, lost all feeling in my right leg, and until I found the right Ortho-surgeon, my riding days were over for good.  March of 2017 I had a 7hr infusion, that did turn out amazing.  I am back to walking, I did just start riding one of our other horses that is experienced, put our Stella in training, and hoping for the best because she has a super smooth gate, I just love her...  Anyways, since I've been riding my lower back hurts and both sides of my sciatica,  so I have to ride and then take a few days off.  I do take ibuprofen,  which is the only thing that will help with the pain.  Everyday I think of how lucky I am to be able to ride, and pray for another.  I am 49 now and only started riding 2yrs ago, so I  have a lot of catching up to do.  I am mad at myself for waiting so long, but dreams do come true♡  I am hoping my Stella comes back from training a strong, confident, gentle girl this time..  She has been in training before and the trainer said she was crazy, but I have a love for this horse that is unexplainable.  Here is why I'm nervous, do I take that chance and trust her to be my horse, or do I buy another gaited horse, that is broke, broke, broke and always feel guilty for not giving Stella a chance.  I mean I know its my life I'm talking about here :), and all it will take is being thrown off of her 1 time to change everything. Uhhgggg. I just love her and hope she knows that.  We bought her knowing she had never been riden at the age of 5.  She is now 7, although still young,  hopefully age will be in my favor.  

    Thank you for listening to me go on and on,

    Rosonna

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  • WLLadyWLLady Ontario CanadaPosts: 1,463

    i think stella may need some other riders for a while to get the "point" of riding....and once she has proven herself then give it a try again.  you'll be more experienced from riding other horses, and she will be more experienced by having different people riding her.  and then hopefully the team will gel. :-) 

    i started riding when i was about 10 years old.....then took quite the hiatus from riding while doing my school/BSc/MSc/Phd.  Now that i'm happily along in my career i picked it up again about 8 years ago.  remembered a lot, forgot a lot LOL.  love my "ponies" to death, a little nervous about that first day that i get back up on them.....next year.  LOL

    Kathy
    Spine-Health Moderator
    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    Dec '16 T10-S2 fusion with pelvic fixation. Laminectomies L2, L3, L4, L5, facet removal, cages L4-5, L5-S1, severe scoliosis, arthritis and stenosis repair. 

  • I'm a dressage rider and loved reading these posts. I don't think there's any way to describe how it feels to have someone say you might not ever again be able to do an activity you love to do. I had a bilateral discectomy + laminectomy L4-L5. 6 months later with thanks of physical therapy, I'm back on my horse. Started with only walking. The movement helped relieve a lot of my stiffness. I've walked, trotted, cantered now and am doing okay. I just call it quits when I start feeling a little pain or weakness. I'm learning to quit while I'm ahead, not push through it and keep going like I used to. I have to keep reminding myself, this is not the same as muscle pain. I think the key thing is to stay on a trusty horse with smooth gaits. Ironically, posting the trot was harder for me than sitting. Something about the rising pulled in my lower right back. However, after a couple times, I can now post without issue. Just have to make sure the downward transitions are forward enough to avoid that down shift jolt from a canter down to a trot. I'm still unable to pick hooves, just too much stress on my back. Tacking up (swinging the saddle up) is also a challenge but I'm learning how to do things differently. I find I subconsciously engage my core immediately once I get on. It's the best core exercise there is and the mental escape and joy it brings is unparalleled. I feel better after I get to ride. Physically and emotionally. I'm okay with the risk. 

  • WLLadyWLLady Ontario CanadaPosts: 1,463

    Thats wonderful!!  I still havent tried getting up on mine...but i am starting to think about it much much more. Lol. I haebeen cleaning stalls and picking feet...my hardest thing is grooming-my guys are clydes so reaching up and over to brush/curry is still awkward and tough.  And my mare likes to play with a step stool if i try to use one lol


    Kathy
    Spine-Health Moderator
    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    Dec '16 T10-S2 fusion with pelvic fixation. Laminectomies L2, L3, L4, L5, facet removal, cages L4-5, L5-S1, severe scoliosis, arthritis and stenosis repair. 

  • Hi to you all ... it's so great to see all these comments , i will be having my anterior spinal surgery soon , but so needed to know how life is afterwards with my darling horses , i haven't ridden for a fair while now ( seems like forever )  but reading on here i see their is a chance i CAN when i have recovered ... i will need to be patient ! i see these posts were all 2017 , how are you all going now ?

    AlL the best


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