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Leading with one arm/heimplegia/hemiparesis

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  • Leading with one arm/heimplegia/hemiparesis

    Hello everyone - I'm interested in hearing from riders who have one arm, hemiparesis, or hemiplegia. I am a NARHA certified riding instructor and have a student with hemiparesis in her right side. She is doing well riding and it is time for her to become more independent with the grooming/tacking/leading aspect of horsemanship.

    My question is this - with the right side having hemiparesis, her 'strong' arm is holding the bight, or loose end, of the reins when leading. She does not have nearly as much control because her hand is further away from the horse. Do you think it would be helpful OR harmful to have her lead from the horse's right side? That way her strong arm could be closest to the head. (Horse is safe and appropriate to lead from either side.)

    I, of course, will ask for the rider's input, but thought I would pose it here first for addition input, experience, or ideas.

  • #2
    I would think that if the horse is OK being led from either side that she might feel more comfortable having her stronger arm closer to the horse.

    I was relegated to use of only my left arm for awhile when I obliterated my right elbow and had surgery to put it back together (I'm right handed, so the right arm is my dominant one). It also took time to get my strength back in that arm even when I was allowed to start using it.

    When I was coming back to the barn, I was clearly lacking in a lot of strength and coordination in my right arm. So, I led my horse from his right side having my left hand closest to him. I felt much stronger and safer that way, and only when I felt my right arm was strong enough to handle it did I go back to leading on the other side.

    I just had my hardware removed from my elbow, and while it feels much stronger this time than when the hardware went in, I will still probably start out leading from the "off" side until I really feel that my right arm is truly dominant again.


    • #3
      I would probably look at it from a couple of different angles depending on her degree of hemiparesis.

      Is she be better off to have the L arm closer to the horse to drive off the horse (on the R side) or better off to have the L leg out for stabilization (leading on the left)? I think it would depend largely on the rider/horse combination. From a safety standpoint- I would consider where she would be safest if the horse were to move into her quickly.

      The other thing to consider is the goal of therapeutic riding. If the goal of riding/horsemanship is to strengthen or continue/encourage use of the affected side, you might consider continuing to lead from the left. I absolutely think there could be benefits from leading from the right as well.

      Some conditions that cause hemiparesis can affect eyesight. You might inquire about this to see if her vision is better to one side than the other? That might affect your decision. Also, consider if she is equally affected on the whole side- or if an arm or leg is more affected.

      Please share what you decide on and why!
      Last edited by Movin Artfully; Jan. 25, 2010, 05:30 PM. Reason: cut


      • #4
        I would think it appropriate to lead the horse from the right hand side. Leading from the left hand side and the leader only being able to use the left hand, would create a problem if the horse stops quickly the leadrope would be across the leaders body and could knock them off balance.

        By switching sides the strong hand and control hand is closer to the horse, the extra rope can be held by the other hand if that is possible or drape over the shoulder in such way that nothing gets tangled or accordian fold the lead and hold in the one hand. (might need to use a different type of lead rope, flat leather or something)

        Just a couple of ideas.

        Leading my horses from a chair is always a challenge since both hands are being used to push the chair there is no free hand to lead:-) The really broke horses, I drape the lead rope over my shoulder and the extra sits in my lap for me to grab quickly if needed. The greenies, I usually put a chain on them and try to hold the lead in one hand and push my chair, without tangling the lead in the wheel. The chain helps because my reaction is a bit slow sometimes and then they don't get a chance to pull away from me.

        Actually the really really broke horses I grab on to the side of their halter and they pull me:-) Only problem with that is when someone else leads them they tend to go to fast...



        • #5
          I often lead from either side.
          a 501(c)3 organization helping 501(c)3 equine rescues


          • #6
            A well trained horse should not have an issue being led from the right. As a little trivia, Icelandics are traditionally led from the right side.

            Unless she is planning on showing in-hand, I see no reason why she should not be able to work with the horse in a manner which works best for her limits.


            • #7
              All of our horses are taught to lead from either side because of the many different people (and their needs) that they encounter.
              I Loff My Quarter Horse & I love Fenway Bartholomule cliques

              Just somebody with a positive outlook on life...go ahead...hate me for that.


              • #8
                A whole bunch of thoughts, pick and choose!

                If your rider is older than a young child, I'd ask her what feels best. She can probably tell you if her balance is compromised, or if she feels like the horse needs to be on one side vs. the other - ask her, if she needed to step out of the way quickly, or wanted to stand her ground, how would she be most stable? Part of living in her body is, or will be, explaining to others how it works to be her. I've worked with some very insightful middle school girls with hemiplegia who can tell me exactly what they can or can't do and what they think they can do as a work-around. When I listen to them, we save a lot of time and aggravation!

                Which brings me to the next thought: a therapist may have a therapeutic goal of strengthening the weak side, but if you're the riding instructor and your goal is developing independence in grooming, tacking, leading and riding, etc. then you need to look at it from a really different angle. If she can be more independent leading from the offside, that's what you need to do. If she can be more independent in her mount and dismount by using the offside, then do it.

                I don't think I realized at first that some individuals with hemiplegia/hemiparesis are no longer working on strengthening the weak side; they've decided this is the level of ability they're going to live with, and they get on with their lives using the strong side. If your rider is an adult, you might sound them out about what they do outside of riding to work on their weaker side. If they say "nothing," that gives you some important information.

                Core strength is your best friend when working with riders who have one very weak side.


                • #9
                  There was a Latino barn employee at my old barn who's arm stopped right after his elbow.

                  He cleaned stalls about 20x faster than I ever could, led two horses at a time, and did anything I could.. most of the time better!

                  No real help for your post but just wanted to share my story and how inspiring he was.
                  http://www.clarkdesigngrouparchitects.com/index.html - Lets build your dream barn


                  • #10
                    I lead my guys from either side.

                    Since I don't carry a saber there isn't a worry about it hitting the horse. I'll also mount from either side just in case I ever have to.
                    "Sic Gorgiamus Allos Subjectatos Nunc"


                    • Original Poster

                      Hi all -
                      I want to thank you for taking the time to respond - I'm sorry I could not get back to you sooner. Our sessions just restarted last week. Student and I had a discussion about what is most comfortable for her. We decided to try leading on the right for a while and then if it is not better we'll switch back to the left. Horse agrees : )

                      As Movin Artfully and Betsyk brought up, the student is young adult in her twenties. The strength she has is, according to her doctors, what we have to work with. So our goal is to maintain that strength without the expectation of it increasing significantly. But - hey, if that happens.....We will continue to work on increasing independence (grooming/tacking/mounting etc)

                      My next big hurdle is to play around with reins/steering. She's done fine at the walk but any turns (serpentines/circles/a naughty snatch of grass) presents a problem. She naturally compensates by learning forward and switching to using her left hand. We've discussed how this won't quite work at a higher speed or when more strength is needed - but I need to start being more inventive about creating a solution! Horse does not neck rein - and, unfortunately, the only other therapeutic horse who is neck-rein trained is a 13 hand pony. Horse is also very dull off the leg, which makes him useful, in the ED's eyes, for all the other non-independent students. This is just another bump in the road, and as I've told her, we will figure *something* out. Its not as if we're the first to work with this situation!


                      • #12
                        steering, even of the horse doesn't neckrein she can hold the reins in one hand. Picture holding your left hand horizontally in front of you with your thumb towards the right. Then your right rein goes through your hand from thumb to pinky. Your left rein goes through your hand from pinky to thumb. Now to turn right. Turn your hand (still keeping it horizontal) so your thumb is towards your belly. This takes up right rein and gives on left rein. Do the opposite to go left.

                        If easier you can also do similar holding hand vertically and tip your hand back and forth. Just depends on what is easier..

                        Just a few ideas. One handed and horse doesn't have to learn how to neck rein. Drivers do it all the time:-)

                        Diane Kastama


                        • #13
                          I have a right shoulder injury so my arm is very weak. I've been working with my horse a lot about respecting my space. When I lead him I have a totally loose lead rope and have him responding to my movements. When I stop, he stops. If I move into his space he moves away (this is how we can do a circle without me ever tugging on the lead). It has helped my confidence and been fun.

                          My arm often hurts when I ride so I ride one handed. I've been working hard with my horse to listen to the leg and seat. I think someone else on this forum said that you should be able to ride a serpentine with no reins. That's my goal.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by cadriver View Post
                            steering, even of the horse doesn't neckrein she can hold the reins in one hand. Picture holding your left hand horizontally in front of you with your thumb towards the right. Then your right rein goes through your hand from thumb to pinky. Your left rein goes through your hand from pinky to thumb. Now to turn right. Turn your hand (still keeping it horizontal) so your thumb is towards your belly. This takes up right rein and gives on left rein. Do the opposite to go left.

                            If easier you can also do similar holding hand vertically and tip your hand back and forth. Just depends on what is easier..

                            Just a few ideas. One handed and horse doesn't have to learn how to neck rein. Drivers do it all the time:-)

                            Diane Kastama
                            Used to be part of riding when it was not purely for fun: The rider needed to have one hand free to wield a weapon or whatever (think Spaniards with the long steer herding sticks)

                            takes a bit of practice I can imagine, especially if you ride with a double...