As my eyes opened in the morning light which was now streaming through the hotel window, I noticed that some of the fatigue I had felt the night before had lifted, and my body was not quite as sore as I had imagined it would be. But what had not diminished was the exhilaration I had felt following the experiences of the previous day.
As part of our trip to Argentina, we decided to do an excursion to a horse ranch outside of Buenos Aires. The reviews were amazing and my girls were excited so I knew it was sure to be a highlight in what was already a full itinerary. Mentally I shared in their enthusiasm but as we arrived closer to the ranch, I couldn’t help but be a bit concerned about what the day would hold. Would the horse sense my tremor? Would I be able to hold the reins in one hand for an extended amount of time? Would I be able to keep my balance? And most daunting of all, would I be able to do this or would I fail? Would this be another thing that Parkinson’s took away?
I have always loved horses and had ridden quite a bit when I was younger and fearless. In my later years, although a bit more cautious, I took every opportunity to ride, mainly while on vacation, and usually with one or more daughters in tow. But for the last several years, as my Parkinson’s symptoms increased, my desire to ride was replaced by an underlying anxiety and feeling of trepidation. I was losing confidence.
We soon arrived and were greeted by the owners of Caballos Al La Par, Miriam a gentle Dutch woman with a kind smile and Adrian, a friendly, enthusiastic Argentinian whose passion for horses and prowess at his craft became evident very quickly. They were incredibly hospitable and friendly. After discussing politics, travel and of course the art of riding over Mate (a traditional, caffeine-rich, infused South American drink) and biscuits, we set off for our experience nestled in the natural beauty of a 24,000-acre national park.
The day was beautiful, the horses calm and our guides were excellent teachers. I soon found myself concentrating less on my symptoms and focusing on the experience. And gradually my anxiety began to resolve. I truly began to enjoy myself, feeling the gentle rhythm of the horse as we moved from walking to trotting to a full canter. I began to trust my abilities once again. I let go of my fear. And when he instructed me to take the horse to a canter across a field, drop my reins and spread my arms out wide, I did – and the exhilaration I felt was intoxicating.
I have heard that activities such as horseback riding have many benefits for those with Parkinson’s disease. Riding requires significant core strength and balance both of which are helpful in addressing some of the motor symptoms of this illness. And despite the fact that the horse is doing significantly more work, the exhaustion I felt by the end of the day was indicative of how strenuous riding can be.
But the most important lesson of the day was not physical at all. The exhilaration and beauty of that day served to remind me that I cannot let this disease dictate my life. Yes there are inevitable limitations but by living in fear of potential failure because of Parkinson’s will only result in missed opportunities. Before giving up our interests and our passions, we have to make a judgement call – is it the disease that is legitimately holding us back or are our limitations self-imposed? Accept our true physical limitations but if it is the dialogue in our own minds that is causing us to miss out on life experiences, we need to change that internal conversation.