Tuesday, July 19, 2011

An Argument For Riding

Over half of Alzheimer's cases may be preventable, say researchers

Preventing Alzheimer's or proving it's too late?

ow and then I feel the need to justify what I do.  Riding horses, caring for them (which includes some damn stinky, sweaty work), and working out (semi-)regularly to enable my aging body to do all of that isn’t a hobby.  It’s a lifestyle choice.  Just as I don’t believe it’s possible to train the “gay” out of someone, I also don’t think this lifestyle is optional.   If it were, my  mother would have prayed it out of me decades ago.

But new research has given me much better ammo than my habitual "horses are nice" and "I'm ventilating my inner cowgirl".  We now know that while riding is a two-edged sword, the work involved is a huge plus.  
The down side has to come first because it feeds into an ongoing argument throughout the equestrian world, to wit:  To Helmet, or Not To Helmet.  Sure, the long flowing locks of a rider on a galloping horse are sexy and artsy, but there's very good reason not to risk even a single whack to the noggin.  

Science News

Single Traumatic Brain Injury May Prompt Long-Term Neurodegeneration

That's really big print, I know.  I wanted to get your attention.  A "traumatic brain injury" includes even the mildest concussion of the sort that doesn't actually knock you out, just gives you a mild headache and a great story to tell at the next holiday dinner.  Breathes there a horseman so balanced and invulnerable that he's never made head-forward contact with anything hard and unforgiving?  Helmets don't prevent all damage, but they certainly lessen the blow.  Short of not taking the risk at all (and we know that isn't happening), they go a long way toward keeping your loved ones from stealing all your stuff while you drool into your oatmeal

You say you're willing to risk it for the thrill?  Well, fine then.  But you might want to run that past your Significant Other Life Partner POSSLQ.  S/he might not be as thrilled at being assigned to long-term diaper duty.

But this isn't a helmet treatise.  This is a paean to exercise, and to riding in particular.  If you read the opening article (please do, for both our sakes), you know that in the US the lifestyle precursors for the dreaded senility and above-mentioned drooling scenario include lack of exercise and poor education.  Those are two areas where horsemen truly have a leg up.  Statistics generated by horse-people studies indicate that horsemen tend to be college educated, though that's hard to prove when you're watching us braid bows into an animal's hair and put heavy winter jackets on during heat waves so we can meet some odd standard that I've never quite gotten the meaning of.  And you sure don't want to see our financials.

Statistics also suggest that riding is an athletic endeavor, so we should have the exercise piece locked in.  Sadly, not all of us do, which accounts for many of the head injuries (see how this all ties together?).  If we exercise to stay in shape to ride, and if we ride with enthusiasm so that we're actually using those muscles we're so assiduously building, then we are, indeed, the paragons we pretend to be.  Only the individual rider can honestly asses where on the paragon scale s/he might fall. 

In addition, depression, left unaddressed, also contributes to the likelihood that we'll fade earlier than necessary.  If there's one thing that wards off depression better than Simon Baker crashing our Girls' Movie Night, it's animals.  They've long been attributed with great healing powers in nursing homes, schools, hospitals, and at those amazing ranches and camps where damaged humans go to recover their senses in the company of such healers as dogs and horses.

So, ride on!  Exercise to stay in shape!  Wear a helmet!  But most of all, be aware that your future is in your hands and in your lifestyle.

Jess and Dolly fighting Alzheimer's with style


Anonymous said...

I'm a big believer in exercise for all sorts of things - mood, health, being able to do more things that I like, and your post gives another good reason. On the helmet point, I just had a bad fall onto a very hard surface off one of my horses (not the horse's fault - I apparently had an undiagnosed cardiac arrhythmia), was wearing a helmet and had a serious concussion involving 5 days of hospitalization - but if I hadn't been wearing that helmet - it got a 4 inch crack - I would have probably been dead or at the least much more seriously injured. I (personally) think that anyone who rides a horse without wearing a helmet is already showing signs of brain damage.

Joanne Friedman, Freelance Writer, ASEA Certified Equine Appraiser, Owner Gallant Hope Farm said...

Couldn't help but laugh at your last statement, but I have to agree. I'm often startled by how many parents let their kids go helmetless because it's "cute", particularly for western pleasure. I had a helmet smashed like yours and kept it hanging in my workshop for the kids and their parents to see. I walked away from that one without so much as a headache, but the crushing force applied to my skull might have had a very different outcome.

Anonymous said...

I never used to ride with a helmet either, until I became a mom. Years later, when trying to convince my daughter to wear a helmet I could not have had better reinforcement if I tried. After spouting off about "if you are a good rider, you won't fall off!" she stepped up into the stirrup swung her leg up and over, and before she could sit, the horse stepped sideways and she went right off the other side. Thankfully only her ego was bruised, but she has worn a helmet ever since seeing how close she was to both a fencepost and a large rock in the riding arena.