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2017

My 2017 summed up!

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2017 has not been an easy year for me. I’m still stuck in bed, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, my pain is worse than ever. It’s been really hard to see all my old friends progress, finish uni, and start full time work. I really hoped to be able to say I’m on the mend for 2018, but sadly that’s not the case.

I started off this year with my new Amerigo jumping saddle, which has honestly changed my life, and Dave’s! I did a little showjumping show at my yard, on New Year’s Day 2017, and he jumped perfectly. He had gone from refusing even a cross pole, to jumping a full course of fillers. I really thought that I would be able to jump more, even compete this year. Unfortunately, that was the only time I got to jump this year. I did manage to pop a cross pole last month, but that’s it.

On the other hand, I am incredibly proud of Dave’s schooling. He was practically unrideable for the whole of 2016, and I would come home in tears not understanding what I was doing wrong. It turned out to be a saddle issue (read my Wow blog here – https://braceyourselfeb.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/wow-saddles-yay-or-neigh/), so now that we have a perfect new saddle, things are looking up again. Dave has always had a very difficult canter to ride, but I finally cracked it a few months ago. It’s taken me almost 3yrs to just be able to ride a basic jumping canter. It’s a slow process, but any progress is good progress!

He is still a ridiculously spooky, overreactive horse, which is most likely down to me not being able to ride him much. I barely manage once or twice a month. It takes so much effort and determination just to get dressed, and get into the car, yet alone ride. By the time I’m home from the yard, I’m in agony. I drag myself back into bed, and don’t move for another week. It really doesn’t seem worth it a lot of the time, but without Dave I don’t know what I would do with myself. I would never leave my bed, or walk at all. He is my form of physio, with the added bonus of being very loving!

This year I finally bit the bullet, and went to the The Royal Windsor Show to buy some custom riding boots. I’ve struggled trying to buy good long riding boots for many years now, but with my legs being so weak, it’s really important for me to have well fitting equipment. Joshua Jones were really helpful, and patient with me being useless at decisions! I adore my DonaDeo boots, even though they are still a pain to get on. My legs swell a lot, especially the left one, just from walking, so it’s a real fight to get them on sometimes. Let’s just hope they stretch some more soon. They have really made a difference to my stability on Dave, and I no longer have to worry about clenching my toes to hold my boots on!

Moving onto my health now. I have seen quite a few different specialists this year, which has been really stressful. Going into hospital makes me very anxious, as the smell always reminds me of my surgeries, and makes me feel very sick. I don’t travel very well either, so being in the car for any amount of time is awful for me. It’s excruciating to sit upright for long periods of time as well.

At the beginning of the year I saw a new specialist who I really liked (for once!), and he told me he would have me “improving at 19, and cured at 20”. Well, let’s just say, not once did I see him in clinic although he promised to see me personally, but I was left to see his registrar instead. I’m a very polite person, and would rather suffer in silence than cause a scene, but I actually had to walk out of one consultation. Driving to the hospital, waiting 2hrs in a waiting room, then not even getting to see the doctor you made an appointment with is incredibly frustrating. I would end up having to wait outside in the cold, as I end up having a panic attack, and overheating from being in so much pain and waiting.

I then went to see a Neurologist who was highly recommended. I won’t go into too much detail, but he basically blamed every single thing wrong with me on the Morphine. Baring in mind, I have had these issues way before I started taking Morphine, and have had multiple surgeries. I wasn’t too impressed with that answer! This was the point when I decided to start weaning off my painkillers though. I’m hoping that by coming off all of them, I can start again, and see what pain is from my conditions, and what is a side effect of my painkillers. I’ve already fully come off my Methocarbamol (or Meth as I like to call it!), and cut down 100mg of the slow release Morphine. It was very hard coming off the Morphine, as I was in so much pain, but it has to be done.

Last week I finally managed to see my actual specialist. Miracle! We had a long chat about my future, and what can be done for me. The next step is to have a Spect CT scan, which is when they inject a radioactive dye that shows any inflammation/pain points under the CT scanner. This should show where my pain is actually coming from, as I have multiple issues going on. I’m also having an MRI on my neck, as thats very painful too.

About 6 months ago, I got a letter through saying they had gone back over my 2016 scans, and a rare cyst (meningeal diverticulum) had been found on my spinal cord. No one would explain to me what it was, or what it meant. There was very little information online either. During this appointment, my specialist finally showed me where it was on my x-rays, and it’s scarily obvious! He said it could explain why I’m having issues with my bladder not working properly, rather than it being blamed on my discs pressing on any nerves. I’m also meant to be having tests done on my bladder, but as they are so invasive, I’ve decided to leave it until I can’t cope with my bladder problems anymore.

My doctors really want me to start socialising again, and doing more “normal” activities, but it’s really not that simple. I hate being bed bound, and would love to go out again. I just don’t know anyone that understands my disability enough to help me go out. Also, the reason I throw up when I’m in agony from being out of bed doesn’t help either! I did try making new friends earlier this year, but it ended with them getting fed up with my back problems, and not speaking to me ever again. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, and not one I would want to go through that again. I already have enough stress with my back issues.

I started making makeup tutorials on YouTube this year as well. I love filming and editing them, and they also give me something to concentrate on. I hope to be able to expand my YouTube channel in 2018.

So, overall this year has been pretty terrible, with Dave being the only positive in my life. My wish is to be able to jump in a BSJA competition in 2018, but who knows. I’ve been saying the same for the past 3 years! I just hope that I get some treatment options, and can at least control some of my pain and have some semblance of a “normal” life (whatever that is!).

I hope that you all had a great year, and thank you so much for supporting my blog! It means a lot to me to have an outlet to write in, and that you all read it. Onwards and upwards!

Here’s to a happy and healthy New Year.

Elise x

The V.I.P Half Pad – Review

I got the chance to test out the V.I.P half pad, and write a review. All opinions are my own, after I had thoroughly tested out the product!

What Is It?

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The V.I.P (Very Important Pad) is a half pad that sits underneath your saddle in order to reduce the pressure from a saddle. It’s made by Amanda Renouard and Tamara Hudleston, who put a lot of research together to find the perfect material for this pad. Unlike the average silicone half pad on the market, the V.I.P is made out of a medical grade material, called Akton Viscoelastic Polymer Gel. This is a raw material that is usually used to prevent Ulcers, and pressure sores. The Akton Gel has over 45 years of scientific research to it’s name, in order prove the benefits of it’s use. The reason this material is so perfect for a half pad is due to it being hypoallergenic, and very easy to clean. The gel draws sweat away from your horses back, so you don’t have to worry about your horses back overheating. It’s extremely flexible, so it sits over your horses back like a second skin, yet it is durable enough to hold it’s shape. As it’s designed not to bottom out, or spread under the weight of a saddle and rider, it doesn’t change the fit of your saddle. It comes in 3 discreet colours: yellow, blue, and black.

The Design

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This pad has one side that is completely smooth, and one side that has bobbles protruding from it. The bobbled side is designed to sit against your horses back to spread the weight of the saddle over a wider surface area, therefore reducing any pressure points. These bobbles are super squishy and soft, so you don’t have to worry about the texture causing any rubs on your horses skin. The smooth side then sits against your saddles, preventing any marks being left on your saddle. The gullet is extremely thin, with no seams, which means that there is no pressure put across your horses spine, and it is left completely free. The pad is only 8mm thick, which stops the fit of the saddle being modified in any way. It can be used either directly on your horses back, with a saddle cloth on top, or it can be placed directly on top of the saddle cloth.

My Experience

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This pad caught my eye whilst scrolling through Facebook a year, or so ago. I have had a lot of issues with saddles in the past, so anything advertised to keep your horses back protected is a winner for me! I suggest reading my blog, “Not So Wow!” (https://braceyourselfeb.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/wow-saddles-yay-or-neigh/), to further understand the problems I experienced in this department. I never got around to trying the V.I.P out, as I had to deal with finding a good fitting saddle in the first place, but this week I finally got the chance to try it out with Dave.

In the past. I have used all sorts of sheepskin and silicone half pads, that were advertised to aid with comfort, and all of them have made the saddle sit so high up of my horses back that I couldn’t stand to use them anymore. Dave is an extremely sensitive horse when it comes to tack, and if one bit of tack is even slightly out of place, he will turn inside-out. This is especially noticeable in canter with him. So, I would be able to tell straight away if this pad wasn’t doing it’s job properly.

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I chose to use the V.I.P over the top of my saddle cloth, so I would be able to see if it moved at all, and how it sat under my saddle. It fits beautifully under my jumping saddle, and is barely noticeable. It’s so flexible that it just moves with the saddle when you do any adjustments whilst tacking up. The first thing I noticed once I got aboard, was that you couldn’t even tell there was a pad underneath you. It didn’t change a single thing about the fit of my saddle, or compromise my comfort either. So, I was already impressed that it was working exactly as advertised.

Whilst warming up, Dave was super stretchy across his back straight away, and didn’t hollow his back as much as normal when asked to do downwards transitions. Due to my disability, I sit a bit lop-sided in the saddle, so I usually have to stand in one stirrup to move the saddle back over, which I hate doing as it pulls at Dave’s back. Dave also has some asymmetrical muscle along his topline, due to a slight rotated pelvis, and me sitting wonky. I didn’t have to readjust the saddle at all whilst riding with the V.I.P. It seemed to keep my saddle a lot more stable by filling out the gaps where Dave is lacking topline. My Amerigo jumping saddle is actually designed to have a gentle lift at the back of the panels, which sometimes makes it “rock” a little bit in canter, even though it has been fitted for him. This time, as the panels had more surface area to sit against, the saddle sat flatter across Dave’s back, meaning it moved less!

Dave usually takes quite a few laps to settle into a proper rhythm in canter. His wonky pelvis tends to make him canter with his bum sticking out to one side, and it’s usually worse on the left rein. Whilst wearing the pad, he went straight into a relaxed, pretty straight canter that didn’t take as long as normal to settle into a good jumping canter. He stretched over his back properly, and accepted a really nice contact, when normally he would duck behind the contact as a way to evade anything that’s hard work! This is where I really saw the positive effect the V.I.P Pad was having on Dave.

When using other kinds of half pads, I have always felt that they affected the way I ride. I would “bounce” more in the saddle, and feel really unstable from being perched above my horses back. This would then make me extremely tense, which then transposes onto Dave. Whilst using the V.I.P, I was delighted to find that the pad never changed the way I rode. I actually felt like I was sitting up better, when I usually tilt my upper body forwards. Being able to sit up without having to make a conscious effort is a huge bonus for me, as it helps to opens up my ribcage, which then prevents any more compression of my lungs. Being able to sit up properly is also useful against those excitable flying horse moments!

I’m currently bringing it home each time I use it, as I feel like it is too delicate to leave in a tack room. You also have to hold it right in the middle, as the packaging mentions to not hold it on the edges to prevent it from stretching or tearing. It would be easy to cause nail marks/punctures with your nails too. Especially if they’re long like mine! It is actually quite heavy for a half pad, although not so bad that is difficult to carry. It’s just something I noticed when comparing it to other silicone half pads I have. Once I find a good bag/case to store it in, I will happily leave it in the tack room. I love that you can just wipe it over with a damp cloth each time you use it, rather than having to put it in the washing machine, and dirt doesn’t stick to it. It’s very easy to keep clean!

Is it worth it?

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I definitely think the V.I.P is worth investing in, especially if you have a sensitive horse. It’s not made to use on an ill-fitting saddle, instead it will add a protective layer under your saddle. Think of how your horses back is affected when you have those not so fun moments of landing hard in the saddle from your horse over jumping, or having a bit too much fun! Can’t be too comfy for them. This pad acts as an “air bag”, cushioning your horses delicate back against those moments. It’s also used by professional dressage rider, Roland Tong, who pairs it with his custom fitted saddles, and swears by them. At first, I was worried that it was going to alter the fit of my saddle, and even spoke to my saddle fitter about it before using it (I’m very anxious when it comes to anything that could possibly affect the fit of my saddle after my terrible experiences), but it held it’s shape so well that my saddle still fit perfectly. It’s totally different to any other pad on the market, and works exactly as advertised. It didn’t budge at all under my saddle, even with my uneven pressure pulling on it.

I will be using this pad from now on when I ride, and have confidence in my horses comfort!

Pros

  1. It doesn’t affect the fit of your saddle.
  2. It doesn’t move.
  3. It protects your horses back.

Cons

  1. Relatively heavy.
  2. Delicate to handle.

Price – £107 (without postage)

Where to buy it? –  “The Comfy Horse Company”: https://www.comfyhorse.co.uk/product/vip-saddle-pad-the-very-important-pad

Thank you for reading, and I hope this review helps you out!

Elise x

My Experience With Withdrawal – Tramadol

What it was like for me to go through withdrawal, from Tramadol.

Since my original diagnosis of Scoliosis when I was 14, I have been on countless amounts of different drugs. Finding what works for you is a huge amount of trial and error. As expected, as my problems got worse, the painkillers got stronger, and the side effects increased. I have struggled with an array of side effects from certain drugs, which I will talk about in the future, but for this post I wanted to focus on the feeling of withdrawal.

When I was 15, I started taking Tramadol, which is an opioid painkiller used to help with severe pain. This was when my back problems had first really started to affect my everyday life post-operatively. I couldn’t go out with friends, do school activities and even sitting still hurt. I was even struggling to ride my horse, due to constant back pain. When I first started taking them, the side effects were fuzziness and tiredness. I hated taking them, as it was inconvenient dealing with the side-effects, especially trying to study for GCSEs. As soon as they ended, I was back in hospital for another spinal op. Once I healed, I felt better for a few months, but soon started to go downhill and went back on tramadol.

After about 6 months on the drug, and trying to continue with my education and failing miserably due to pain, I was now completely isolated from any friends, and spent all my time at home, mostly bed-bound. I became extremely depressed, to the point I’d just lie down on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket and not speak all day. This routine went on for months, and my mood just got worse over time. I would cry even when there was nothing worth crying over, and I just felt awful. I was angry at the world and my situation. I also looked so gaunt. Even though I am naturally slim, I have a good appetite, but Tramadol took this away. Even people who didn’t know me that well started commenting on my weight. My riding breeches, which were normally a skin tight fit, were way too big on me. I had to wear leggings instead to ride in, if I felt well enough to ever leave the house. My doctors were extremely concerned about how much weight I had lost, and wanted to have monthly weigh ins to make sure I didn’t lose any more weight, thinking I had an eating disorder, which I certainly didn’t.

Whilst scrolling through Facebook, I came across an article online about how Tramadol should be made a Class A drug, and about its awful side effects. After reading this article, and doing some more research, it finally clicked that it was the Tramadol making me feel this way. So, not only was I still in a lot of pain, now the drug that was meant to help me was actually making me feel 100 times worse! I went back to my pain management consultant who originally prescribed me the Tramadol, and explained my issues and increasing pain, so he decided to change me onto Tapentadol, which is a Morphine-based painkiller. He told me to just stop taking the Tramadol the next day, and start taking the Tapentadol instead. This is when I experienced one of the worst weeks of my life. The next morning I took the new Morphine pills, expecting to be a bit drowsy whilst my body adjusted to the stronger painkillers. As the day went on, I started to feel extremely ill. My pain levels were through the roof, to the point my entire body was hurting. I couldn’t even move one leg without wincing in pain, and I felt like I had the worst flu ever – even my hair hurt! After being extremely worried about me to the extent of thinking about going to A&E, my mum realised what was going on, as the same thing had happened to her many years ago when she came off Tramadol. She realised it was physical withdrawal symptoms. She tried to call the consultant, but he was unavailable over the weekend of course. When we finally contacted him on the Monday, he said to just carry on with the Tapentadol and yes, I was suffering Tramadol withdrawal.

It is extremely difficult to describe what it’s like to go through withdrawal. I always say it’s like experiencing a real life Trainspotting! Never in my life did I think I’d ever relate to that film. It starts with muscle aches, and the general feeling of being a bit run-down. Like how you would feel just before coming down with a cold. Then you start getting really bad mood swings. I was going from misery and hysterical crying, to being really angry about the situation. The worst part of withdrawal is the temperature swings and dripping with sweat whilst shivering coupled with uncontrollable shaking and the dark thoughts going through your head. I can never find the words to explain how truly horrible it is to experience. It’s like you can feel every fibre of your body moving and contracting and you just can’t stay still.

The entire withdrawal period lasted around a week for me. I spent that week rolling around in bed, and barely slept more than an hour a night. I even got to the point I was begging to have my Tramadol back. You see these documentaries of drug addicts giving up on rehab, and most people will judge them for that. Even I would wonder why they were so weak, and would give up within a few days. Now I can totally understand how those people feel having gone through withdrawal myself, and how incredibly difficult the process is. Your body just takes over, and you will do anything for it all to end. I would never wish this experience on my worst enemy. I remember lying down on the kitchen floor, because I couldn’t stand, and the cold marble felt soothing on my hot skin. I was in hysterics, saying “why me?” over, and over again.

I was still taking Morphine during my withdrawal period, so I couldn’t imagine how awful it would have been without any other painkillers. Along with the symptoms I have mentioned, nausea and stomach aches are another main side effect of withdrawal. I was never actually physically sick, but I felt so nauseous that I was praying I’d throw up hoping it would make the feeling stop. I barely managed to eat at all that week either. In that short timeframe, I lost quite a bit of weight which I could ill-afford.

Once the horrible ordeal was over, I was back to “normal” again and the tapentadol helped with the pain for a while, although I have needed increasingly higher doses to get any relief. I now have a whole other load of side-effects to deal with – that’s another story!

It was a pretty traumatic experience, and one I never thought I’d ever go through. It was also a learning curve, as I now know the right way to come off any medication. Unfortunately for me, the way my specialist dealt with it was brutal and negligent, and could have been very dangerous. People have died from going “cold turkey” from strong prescription drugs. The issues with Tramadol have become widely known, and it is now classed as a Schedule 3 drug due to multiple deaths related to the drug itself. Scary!

DonaDeo Riding Boots – Review

A product review on my custom DonaDeo long riding boots, from Joshua Jones UK.

Ever since I began riding, I have always struggled finding long riding boots that actually fit me. I have long legs, but my calf is strangely short, and very skinny. Then to add to that, I have a high instep, which makes off- the-rack long boots that fit almost impossible. I have tried everything from low-priced boots, to high-end boots. I find that almost all boots are extremely long on me, so hit the back of my knee, and are really loose around the calf. After years of struggling, I gave up and stuck to wearing short boots and chaps, which I have always hated! I was always told short boots were for children under 16, so I prefer to ride in long boots now. They were only supposed to be for temporary use anyway, as I thought I’d be able to find a pair of long boots before too long. One of the many side effects of my disability is that my legs tend to swell, which adds to the turmoil of finding long boots!

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My Ariat Chaps And Cheap Synthetic Short Boots

After going back and forth on whether I should invest my savings on a proper pair of custom boots, I finally decided to bite the bullet. I had been doing research for months on what brand, style etc I should go for. I came across a make called DonaDeo that I had never heard of before. I liked the DonaDeo Lucia boots, and were so different to any other boot I had ever seen at shows. That specific antique leather style only came in a reddish brown colour, so I was conflicted on whether I should get them or not. Then I saw that Joshua Jones UK were going to have a trade stand at The Royal Windsor Show. So I decided to go and take a look at all their boots.

Their trade stand is riding boot heaven, and really high class. They have a ton of choice incuding De Niro, and DonaDeo boots, along with all sorts of other products. After looking around, I decided I wasn’t that keen on the leather quality of the DeNiros, so I just tried on different types of DonaDeos. I loved the brown version of the boots I’d seen online, as the antique look was stunning, but for practicality I decided to have them in black. However, I wasn’t keen on the “ready made” black version they had. I thought they looked too plain compared to the brown ones considering the cost. I came back to the stand twice that day, after mooching around the other shops, as I wanted to make sure I was making the right decision on what boot to invest in. Luckily,  Joshua Jones were super-patient with me, and very helpful! They told me that the antique look leather isn’t actually as hardy as the black leather, and that the leather used on the black boots is made to last forever, if looked after properly of course. Let’s hope that’s true!

The Brown Boot With The Black Version Next To It

I was measured for my boots by one of Joshua Jones’s fitters, who was extremely thorough. He showed me lots of different swatches of materials I could choose to customize my boots even further. I chose to have the black boots with black patent croc print on the top, heel and a line across the toe, with grey snakeskin as the curved accent point. Then I chose the silver/grey stitching, as it was less stark than the white. I chose the more detailed stitching for the foot, without the punch holes. It was a difficult decision, as there was so much choice! It was also hard as I didn’t know what my boots were going to look like until they arrived. I was nervous but so just hoped they would turn out exactly how I designed them!

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My Custom Boots (This Image Is Copyrighted, Please Ask Permission Before Sharing)
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(This Image Is Copyrighted, Please Ask Permission Before Sharing)
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(This Image Is Copyrighted, Please Ask Permission Before Sharing)

Once I was confident with my choice, the fitter asked all sorts of questions that were on the custom order sheet. They were really detailed, to make sure the fit is spot on. They ask you questions such as what discipline you plan to use the boots in, as the stirrup length you use can affect the height needed for your boots. They also ask what sort of breeches and socks you usually wear. I cheekily asked for matching custom spur straps included for free, seeing as I was paying a decent amount for the boots!

The Matching Spur Straps In Black Croc Print

They say it takes 8 weeks for the boots to arrive, and on the 9th week I got an email saying the boots had been posted to me, and they arrived the next day! I was very impressed with how quick the postage was. It was like Christmas morning as I ripped open the packaging as I was so excited! I was stunned at just how beautiful they were. They were slim, tall, and elegant to look at. The leather quality was so soft, yet tough enough to last. The patent crocodile print accents were stunning, and contrasted beautifully with the grey snakeskin trim I chose. They were exactly what I had been dreaming of owning for years! I actually wore them whilst in bed, over my pyjamas, for a week before actually riding in them. They were a little difficult to get on to begin with, which is totally normal with custom boots, but once I did a few days of ankle rolls, and flexing, they loosened up a bit. I just had to work on making the tiny ankle part of the boot more flexible, so I could slip my foot in properly. I can barely walk, even when at home, so I knew breaking them in would take a lot longer than normal.

Trying My Boots On In Bed

When I finally got the chance to ride in them, I could just about do them up all the way to the top over my Montar breeches and long socks. I believe they would fit better with short socks though, as they are like a second skin. The only issue I noticed is that the left boot is quite a bit harder to do up than the right. My left leg is more prone to swelling though, so it could be due to that. I did tell Joshua Jones about that at the fitting though. I did a lot of research on how to break in new riding boots, and read that the first few rides are pretty painful, and you shouldn’t do the boots up all the way to the top. To my surprise, I didn’t experience any pain related to the boots at all on my first ride! In fact, I felt much more stable than normal, as the boots didn’t slip away from my heels like my short boots did. During the second ride, I found that the left boot really squeezes my calf, especially when my foot is in the stirrup for a long time. It gets incredibly painful, so I have to stop every now, and then to take my foot out of the stirrup and shake it out. That again is probably due to my left leg swelling. Hopefully the more I ride in them, the comfier they will become!

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My Second Time Riding In My Boots

I’ve only ridden in them 3 times, as I don’t get the chance to ride that often, due to my physical problems. However, in the short time I’ve owned them, I have fallen in love with them! They definitely live up to my high expectations, and you can see them glistening in the sun when I ride. It has also helped with my anxiety, as I no longer have to fight with my chaps in order to get them on, for them to just fall off my feet when riding anyway. It was a huge decision and investment to go with boots that were a lot of money, but I’m extremely glad I did! I totally recommend taking a look at the Joshua Jones UK website if you are in the market for some new boots. Their prices range from about £300 plus. They also do some lovely children’s boots, belts, trainers, and spur straps. Their boots also come with blow up inserts to stop your boots from bending over when not being worn, and a 50ml pot of DeNiro boot polish. When not using my boots, I put the inserts in and store them in a boot bag to keep them pristine. I also wipe them down every time I use them, as I am obsessed with keeping them in mint condition! I am looking forward to being able to show them off at shows in the future.

Product Details:

DonaDeo Lucia Riding Boots – http://joshuajonesuk.com/shop/category/lucia/

Price – From £775 (price may differ depending on customisation).

If you have any further questions about the boots, feel free to comment, or PM me on my Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/braceyourselfeb.

Thank you for reading!

Elise x

My Ear Surgeries

When I was 11yrs old, I caught a nasty ear infection, which ate through my eardrum. This then lead to having to have multiple surgeries to re-build my ear drum.

I've always been a pretty healthy child. I never had any issues at all until I was about 9/10yrs old. I was in the final years of Primary school, therefore preparing for my entrance exams for Secondary school. So all very important stuff. Alas – I started to get ear issues just at that time.

At Primary school, in Year 5, we were forced to go swimming every week. We would take a coach to the local pool, and split into groups. I hate swimming, so was put in the smaller pool. This is where they have a lot of young kids coming for swimming lessons. It was the nastiest pool I have ever seen. Having to get in it every week filled me with dread. The pool would always have plasters floating in it, along with other unidentifiable debris! So, you can put two and two together what would happen when putting your head underwater in such a disgusting pool.

It started off as a little bit of ear ache in my left ear every now and then, but it never bothered me much. Then one day I was washing my hair in the bath, and the water ran into my ear. I was left screaming, and crying in absolute agony. It was the worst pain I had ever felt, and it still affects me today. It got to the point where I was terrified to wash my hair. I would cry, and argue with my parents every single week about it. It genuinely scared me to have to wash my hair, as I associated it with pain. This weekly routine went on for almost a year.

I started to notice I was getting a build up of wax in my left ear. This then turned into wet, yellow wax, with a very distinct scent. Graphic, I know. Sorry! I would have to constantly keep a tissue on me, so I could clean it out. I'd moan about it, but thought it would just sort itself out. Unfortunately, it didn't!

I began to notice it was also affecting my hearing in that ear. It felt like it was completely blocked up, but was also beginning to get very sore, and itchy all the time. This was the point that I started to complain about it more often. I didn't go to the doctor for a very long time though, and would just take medicine like Calpol to help with the pain.

Once I finally went to the doctor, he gave me some antibiotics to hopefully clear up what I was told was a "mild infection". I remember the antibiotics being a very thick, slightly crunchy, yellow paste, that you take in a syringe. It was absolutely vile, and I would make a whole big deal about having to take it every evening. I really hated it! Sadly it never helped anyway.

I didn't go back to the doctor for a while, mostly because I hated taking any medicine, as so far it hadn't helped at all. We continued with the same routine of trying to keep my ear clean, being in pain most of the time, then having a torturous bath to wash my hair every weekend. It got to the point where I needed to sort it, so I was referred to an ENT specialist.

This time I was told I had a pretty bad infection, as he couldn't even see through to the eardrum! I was given very strong ear drops to take every few hours or so. This infection had been going on more or less for almost a year at this point. We went home, happy that a solution had finally been found. Little did I know this was just the start! The time came round to do the first round of drops. I had to lie on my right side, and put 3 drops, one at a time, in my left ear. Then stay lying down for a few minutes, in order for it to properly sink in. The first drop was put in, and I remember flinching because it was so cold. I laughed about that, then within a few seconds of the first tiny drop of solution entering my ear, I was screaming in agony. I cannot explain how terrible the pain was. It hit me so hard, it still makes me cringe thinking about it today! I was rolling around the floor for a good half an hour, pleading for it to stop hurting. I flat out refused to take the rest of the dose after that experience. My parents would beg me to take even one of the doses a day. It would take every part of me to make myself lie there, just waiting for the searing pain to begin.

After three days of this torture, we went back to the specialist. Luckily, putting up with the intense pain from the ear drops had been worthwhile, as it finally cleared up most of the infection; or enough for the specialist to manage to diagnose me. He did a few further tests, and I then had a hearing test. It turned out I had a pretty substantial hole in my left ear drum, aka a perforated ear drum! That explained why any liquid going into my ear was so painful for me. It was going straight through my ear canal, and into the fragile ear drum, which is there to protect your middle ear and all the internal structures from anything bad. The ear drum consists of a ton of nerves, and tiny bones, which would explain why it was causing me so much pain. The consultant tried to work out where I caught such a bad infection. When I told him about the nasty swimming pool, he said it came from there without a doubt.

I was booked into hospital, to have a myringoplasty to fix the hole. This would consist of them taking a piece of cartilage/tissue from the side of my scalp, and using it to plug up the hole in my left ear drum. It's quite a delicate surgery, but routine for this specialist. I only had to stay in hospital for two days, then I could recover at home. As I had never had surgery before, I went into hospital totally chilled, not expecting it to be that bad. It's funny to think that I didn't care at all, as now after the multiple traumatic surgeries I've had, I'm terrified of even the mention of a hospital! I was told it would fix my hearing problems as well, which was great to hear (Ha Ha! Pun very much intended!).

So, the surgery was done, and everything went to plan. I had a huge bandage around head for a few days, which took a lot of persuading to let them peel it off. The release of pressure from the bandage made me incredibly dizzy, and nauseous on top of the blood-matted hair and bald spot where they took the tissue from the side of my head! After I got over that, the rest of the recovery wasn't too bad. Well, except that I found out I don't react to anaesthetic too well! I woke up in ICU, extremely confused as to where I was, so started trying to sit up, asking for a glass of water. The surgeons didn't want me to sit up yet, so literally held me down. I completely freaked out, so began screaming, and thrashing about. I ended up with more medics holding me down to the bed. All I wanted was a glass of water, as my throat was sore from being intubated, but they just wouldn't listen to me. They finally went to get my mum after 10mins of holding me down, and I instantly calmed down, and went back to sleep in my hospital room. Apparently you could hear me screaming from the other end of the hospital! I remember this experience all too well, as I still have this issue with anaesthetic, which results in me usually having to be sedated again.

I bounced back pretty quickly, being only 10yrs old. I had to stay inside for a bit to avoid infection, or catching a cold, as this would mess with the pressure in my ear drum. I missed a few weeks of school, including our end of year play, which they decided to cut me out of, due to me missing two rehearsals. I will always be bitter at them for doing that! I was soon back at school, and everything was back to normal.

Then I noticed that it was still agony every time I put my head under water. I was having the exact same problems, and got another minor infection. Once checked over by the specialist again, and having another hearing test, I was told I had lost 30% of my hearing in my left ear. It sounds really insignificant, but it really does make a noticeable difference. The best way to describe it is like someones holding a cup over your ear, and you feel almost "blind" to that one side. He then looked inside my ear, and saw that the hole had opened up again, which explained the hearing issues! This was extremely frustrating, as we were told just one surgery would do the trick. It's not that common for the eardrum to burst open again either. So, I was booked in to have another Myringoplasty!

The second surgery was in 2010, and I was 12yrs old. I don't actually remember much about the surgery the second time around. I had actually taken on my very first share pony, maybe a week before that surgery, so I was really upset about not being able to ride her. I had more cartilage taken out of my scalp to plug up the new hole in my eardrum, so I couldn't wear a riding hat for a while. I really think having a pony to play with during my recovery made a huge difference though. I would spend my days off school running around with her over jumps, in the snow. Good old pony therapy always does the trick! The photo below was taken just a few weeks after my second surgery, where I had a sneaky sit on my first share pony, Melody. It was snowing then as well!

Fast forward a few months, and I had recovered fully from surgery, and back to living a normal life. The surgery wasn't fully successful though, so I still have a small hole in part of my eardrum that they just couldn't fully plug. It's not terrible, but there are still certain activities I'll never be able to do; such as diving, swimming with my head underwater, and flying always causes a lot of pain, due to the pressure change. I eat almost an entire bag of boiled sweets every time I fly, in an attempt to stop my ear from popping!

Nowadays, my hearing is still not perfect, but it doesn't bother me too badly. If someone shouts something to me from far away without getting my attention first, I often won't hear them. As not many people know about my ear problems, they think I'm just ignoring them, which is not the case at all! I also find taking lessons on my horse difficult, as if the instructor gives me an instruction, but I'm concentrating hard on my horse, I just won't hear them if my bad ear is turned towards them. The other way my hearing affects me is that I prefer people to walk on my right side, or I will start to drift into them. My right ear registers more sound than my left, so my brain tells my body that the person is standing on my right side, and I will start slowly drifting into that person on the left side. Crossing the road is also strange as well. As I said earlier, it's like I'm slightly "blind" on my left side, so I have to be extra careful to really look and register whats coming from the left before crossing!

I always have a fear of getting water anywhere near my ear, as I associate it with pain. So, I always avoid getting my hair washed at salons, and am very careful in the shower at home. I also avoid swimming at all costs! I had always wanted to go diving though, as my mum loves it as well, and we have a large salt water aquarium at home, so it's a bit disappointing I won't ever be able to do that. I am more prone to ear infections as well, and actually had a pretty bad one recently where I ended up with a large, incredibly painful lump on the back of my ear, but I know what to expect now, and will never leave it till it's eaten through my eardrum anymore before I get it treated!