I have been encouraged by ProfG to write a post about my “MS Chariot” experience. It’s a good example of an activity that those with limited leg function can enjoy, but for which it is important to preserve upper body function.
After becoming a full-time wheelchair user, I was looking for ways to re-engage with the outdoors, so when I read an article about an open day at a Riding for the Disabled (RDA) Centre that also offers carriage driving from a wheelchair, I went along to see what it was all about.
I found an enthusiastic bunch of people who loaded me, in my wheelchair, up a ramp into a carriage. I was handed the reins and invited to ask the horse to “Walk on” and off I went, with an experienced volunteer by my side holding an extra set of reins for safety. I was hooked!
Three years later, I have lessons with a professional trainer using a sports carriage, which I get lifted into. I spend about an hour a week either careering along woodland tracks, ducking under branches and trying to avoid the potholes or trotting around an outdoor arena learning precise control of the horse’s direction and pace. I have a couple of homemade adaptations: loops on the reins so they cannot slip through my hands and one on the whip so I don’t drop it.This winter I plan to compete in Indoor Carriage Driving (ICD) which runs competitions right through the season. ICD competitions are open to drivers of all abilities, at all levels with all sorts of horses and vehicles.
When you are driving, the only communication with the horse is via your hands and voice. As someone with advanced MS (EDSS 7), the residual function of my upper limbs is critical to my independence, allowing me to wash, dress, feed myself etc on my own but carriage driving has added a whole extra incentive to keep up with my arm and hand exercises.
I still support the RDA, occasionally driving with them and doing demos for fundraising. They provide a very accessible and low-cost way into this exciting and enjoyable activity and I recommend them as a great place to start if you are interested.
Roll on #ChariotMS!
Tim is 57 and was diagnosed with MS in 2000 having experienced symptoms since the 1980s. He is retired and lives, with his wife, in rural Suffolk.