Horse Riding and RA

Spring 2012 by Dawn Vear

I have been a keen horse rider since childhood, competing regularly as well as breeding ponies and training them. When I was diagnosed with RA in 2006 I think my exact words to my consultant were “I’ll give up anything except horse riding.” Admittedly, in those early days, I only rode my older pony who I knew would look after me no matter what.



It took a while to get my medication right so that first summer was a bit tricky but I did manage to carry on riding. I was also referred to an excellent Occupational Therapist, although a bit of a bully when it comes to joint protection! Anyway, she set about designing a splint to protect my hands whilst I was riding. The initial splint was plastic but that was too bulky and not strong enough so with the help of a local jeweller and some trial and error we created a silver splint, which I used regularly until very recently. I was lucky enough to meet an engineer who works with carbon fibre in the UK and we got talking about my RA and the splints that I use, and I jokingly said “what I need is a carbon fibre one”. My silver splint was taken as a template and it was scanned and imaged from every conceivable angle to produce the required computerised dimensions. A plastic prototype was produced for me to try and after a minor alteration the carbon fibre splint was produced. It is very light, is not at all bulky, but is very strong. I am very fortunate that they made my splint as a test to prove the process was possible.

My Occupational Therapist also gave my lots of finger excises to do, some using putty and some not. All of the exercises can be done whilst relaxing in the evening and some can be done in any spare moment during the day, like finger walking. If anybody that didn’t know I had RA looked at my hands they would never believe I had anything wrong with me at all. I am sure that is down to a positive approach and the exercises.

I use a number of gadgets to help me around the home such as jar openers and a kettle tipper. The best gadget I have is a jar and bottle opener that fits under my kitchen cupboard, you can place anything with a screw top on and just twist it.

That first summer I was selected to represent my riding club at dressage and was fortunate enough to qualify for the National Championships, where we won.

I’m now back riding every day in the summer and three or four days a week during the winter. I work part time in the software industry and help out on my parent’s sheep farm, and am also back to training the young ponies that I have bred myself.

I have qualified for the National Riding Clubs Championship every year since I was diagnosed with RA, with different ponies, and have been placed every time, more often than not we come home with at least one win. I also compete regularly in British Dressage competitions and have competed at the regional finals. I also qualified one of my young ponies for a national novice final where she was placed.

When I was first diagnosed I felt very unwell much of the time, and as a result I decided to reduce my working hours to part time. A risky step at the time as my company was making redundancies due to the economic climate and the role I was in was very full time. I had a discussion with my Managing Director and went on holiday not knowing if I had a job to come back to. As luck would have it the company agreed to my proposal and changed my role and reduced my hours to three days a week. Last year I decided I was well enough to work four days a week which is what I still do. Actually, I’m well enough to work five days a week, I just choose not to!

Yes, I have to pace myself and accept that I need to rest the day following a competition but on the whole I’m as active now as I was before I was diagnosed with RA.