The March 2008 issue of Horse & Rider magazine discusses how various illnesses can affect riders. (See "Diagnosis: Health Problems--Yours, Not Your Horse's.") Here's more on the subject, directly from readers themselves.
Cancer, from Kathy Swan
"I underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation as treatments for breast cancer. Chemo is the part of treatment that stops most people because of its effects on the body. Since chemo affects the flora in your stomach and intestines, it can nauseate you. I made sure to take a big-time acidophilus pill found in health-food stores' refrigerators. This really helped to add good bacteria back to my digestive system.
"Mouth sores are also a problem. I used aloe vera toothpaste (Kiss My Face), also found in health-food stores, to keep my mouth soothed, and never got any sores. I don't know if it was the toothpaste or not, but I think so.
"Chemo also affects bones, and mine became osteoporotic. I had to go on bone-building regimens, using pills like Fosamax and drips like Zometa to help with that. I worried about falling off a horse or just breaking bones in general. I'm stronger now with the treatments.
"Radiation is supposed to make you tired. I didn't find that, but I think it was because I'd kept up working with the horses and riding throughout, and that kept my energy level high. There's potential for skin burn, and there are over-the-counter treatments for that.
"There's an online newsletter for breast-cancer patients that I found helpful as well: www.imaginis.com."
Back Pain, from Paula Zdenek
"In May 2004, I fell off a horse while going down the fence in a working cow horse class. Initially, I thought the only thing injured was my knee, but as time went by I also experienced lower-back pain that was excruciating at times. By April 2006, I hurt so badly that when I would first stand up in the morning, my legs would lock up, and I couldn't move. My lower back screamed, and the pelvis pain was unbearable.
"I bought a new saddle, with more seat padding, and that helped some. I also found a sports-medicine chiropractor, whose treatments and advice were totally different from those of a regular one. I took six weeks off from riding and lifting heavy objects, like saddles and hay. I took treatments three times a week, am now on a monthly maintenance program and will not miss this appointment for anything! I also began visiting an acupuncturist and a masseuse and worked to change my thinking.
"The point is, a person who rides or wants to ride needs to think like an athlete, eat like an athlete, and develop and work a program complete with warm-ups and cool-downs. People who ride often don't see themselves as athletes, yet serious riders with strong commitments, goals, dreams and vision of purpose seem to see things differently.
"I've learned that I can't get lax about my health-maintenance issues, and that I can't take my ability to ride for granted. It's a lifestyle change that was forced on me-but for the better, in the long run."
Joint Replacement, from Jane Doskal
"I had a hip joint replaced last year. Something that's helped with my return to riding is orthotic boot/shoe inserts--purchased either at a New Balance Sport Shoe store or a mall store called Fast Feet. The inserts give me much more arch support, as I'm naturally flat-footed.
"The arch supports, in turn, keep my legs straighter, hips straighter, all the way up my spine. They run about $35, but it's the best $35 I have ever spent (other than on the horses). Foot doctors also make custom orthotic inserts, but I haven't gone to that extreme."
Visit the Horse & Rider forum to pass along your own experiences on riding with health problems.