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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!

Social Media & Why It Helps Me!

Over the past years, people have complained about me writing about my disability on social media. In this blog I explain why I do it and why I find it so cathartic.

I grew up during the time Facebook was first launched, and it became a huge part of life for almost everyone. I remember going home after school, and chatting to all my school friends straight away, and posting embarrassing photos of each other! Thanks to Facebook and YouTube, I made a lot of new online friends that I enjoyed conversing with.

However, I soon discovered that most of these people were v false and I had to be selective in who I friended and culled the rest. I still get lonely and feel very isolated from the outside world. This is where the use of social media comes in. I have people as friends on Facebook, especially from the equine world, that I don't know in person. You get to know these people really well, and even feel personally involved with their lives.

However, most of the posts you see on social media are all a front, and not necessarily what these people are like in person. If you scrolled through my Instagram accounts, you would never know anything was wrong with me. I can make my life seem perfect just by uploading a few photographs every now and then.

Recently, I started to film makeup tutorials to put on YouTube. If you didn't know about my disability before hand, you would never realise whilst watching these videos. I look like I don't have a care in the world when that's not in the slightest bit true. I can easily create a whole life for myself, without even having to leave my bed!

When I had my first Scoliosis surgery, during secondary school, I never spoke about it much. I didn't want people to think I was useless, just because I needed surgery. I explained my situation as much as possible to my friends, but never made a huge deal over it. I thought it would be just one surgery, then my back to normal life. Unfortunately, it didn't quite go to plan.

As I didn't make a huge deal over my Scoliosis, people started to think that I was lying about how major the surgery/recovery was, and that I was just overreacting. I would have to show them my scar, or else they wouldn't believe me. I was also relatively shy during secondary school, so I would just suffer in silence. I was so nervous about making a scene, that at one point I even spent an hour suffocating during a lesson, as I was having an allergic reaction to the metal rods that were holding my spine up! I just laid my head down on my desk, and counted down the seconds till the end of the day, so I could get some help. A few of my classmates noticed something was wrong, but never said anything to me. They basically chose to ignore the reason that I was on the verge of passing out.

I do regret not asking for more help over my spine issues, as now no one understands how I went from a normal energetic teenager, to chronically ill and unable to walk, in the space of a few months. Their attitude towards it was that if I had never complained about it whilst around them before, then it's not really happening. That's what it's like to live with an invisible disability. The thing is, I was always in a lot of pain. Even before my current problems started, but I just rarely spoke about it. I know from personal experience that a lot of young people don't know how to react to those with disabilities/illnesses. In my case, after I had to turn down evenings out when I wasn't up to it, friends gave up and eventually it was easier for them to just cut me out totally.

My college friends never knew much about my original back issues, due to not knowing me during that time and I didn't feel the need to speak about it much. They knew I had some spine issues, as they had seen my scar when I wore cropped tops. When my health started to deteriorate, I would always try to speak to them about it, and let them know when I was having further surgeries. I was in and out of hospital for appointments, and had 3 different procedures in the space of 6 months whilst I was friends with this group of people. It never really clicked with them how much it was affecting me, emotionally and physically. That's what caused our friendships to begin to break down, till I decided to rip the bandaid off, and just break all ties with them.

So, there I was 17yrs old, stuck in bed, in chronic pain 24/7, and had not one single person my age to talk to. Not being able to express myself to anyone was very difficult to deal with. I am very close with my parents, but there are still things I wouldn't talk to them about, which is where friends come in. That's when I turned to social media as a way to express myself. I found it helped a huge amount, as I could write about how I felt whenever I needed to; whether it was to do with the way I was feeling about a certain situation, or updates about what the next part of my treatment plan was. It was my form of therapy!

A lot of people started to see it as me just moaning nonstop, and for some bizarre reason it personally affected them to the point they would post horrible things about me on social media. I constantly got asked why I post so much on Facebook, when I apparently should be keeping it to myself. The thing is, I don't care if anyone reads any of my posts or not, and I'm definitely not after any pity. Social media just provides me with a platform where I can write out my thoughts. It also reminds those that think I'm lying, that I do have a very real, chronic disability!

Twitter has also become a massive website that influencers can use to keep up with their followers. I have never been into Twitter, just due to the reason it has a word limit on what you can post. I actually only started a Twitter account as someone notified me that a few of my old friends were writing about me on this very public website. I found this hard to believe, as I was still speaking to a few of these people up until very recently. Once I finally made an account, I found out they had been posting about me the entire time we were friends, knowing that I couldn't see it, as they knew I didn't have an account! It was mostly them saying that there was nothing actually wrong with me, I was just being lazy, and didn't deserve to have my horse. Even on my 18th birthday, there were many tweets about me being "too lazy to go and see my own horse", when this person knew how ill I was. I wanted to scream out of frustration that these people who I thought were my close friends, didn't care that I was chronically ill! They would rather just write nasty things behind my (curvy!) back about me instead of trying to understand my situation. This wasn't just one person doing it either, there were quite a few others doing it as as well. I've even had people I don't even know, who have never met me before, write about how stupid I am for thinking I'm disabled, and that it's just a "bit of back pain". It's very sad to think that these people were, for some strange reason, so personally affected by my life that they couldn't stop thinking about me!

So, that is why I post about my disability quite openly on social media. It reminds people that I actually have an all too real, yet invisible illness, and that I am 100% not lying about it. Why would I even think to lie about something that has caused my life to take a complete detour, and stop me from doing something that I love so much? I get no gain out of that whatsoever! They should try 24 hours in my life.

There are always going to be individuals that hide behind the relative anonymity of social media – they'd never be brave enough to say it in person. If writing about my situation on social media helps me to deal with having a painful disability, then I don't intend to stop just because a few incredibly ignorant people don't like it.

Not so Wow! – My experience with Wow Saddles

After my experience with Wow Saddles, I decided to share my story with you all. Saddles are to important when it comes to horses, so even though this is my personal experience, I hope it will help others out there looking for a new saddle. I have read stories similar to mine on other equine forums as well. Doesn’t seem I’m the only one to have gone through this issue!

Even though I grew up riding horses, I have only owned them myself since I was about 15/16. Over all those years of waiting, I would daydream about the perfect tack I would buy if I ever got my own horse. Once I finally got my own horse, I made sure they had well-fitting saddles. I always bought second hand though, as brand new saddles are a little on the expensive side! When I first got Dave, I really struggled finding a saddle that would work for him, whilst helping with my back issues. I spent months searching for the right saddle, until I finally came across the Wow Saddle. I thought the concept was really cool, so I booked in for a fitting so I could have a test ride in it.

The day came around, and they sent their most experienced fitter. They explained how the saddle worked, as it’s very different to a normal flocked saddle, and promised me it could be fitted to absolutely any horse, due to the mix and match parts. We discussed what I was after, and I tried a few different parts to the jumping saddle. I ended up choosing the close contact jumping saddle, with a flat seat. Although I found it slightly strange to ride in, I really liked it, and Dave felt happy enough. We continued to fill in the forms to order my desired saddle. I expected a price of £1500 at max, which was stated on their website, and phone, but it turned out to be a whole lot more, because of extra parts to make it fit. Due to this, I didn’t order it on the spot. I went home rather despondent, as it was way over my budget. At this time, I was also having multiple surgeries done on my spine, so I was very ill. Given how unwell I was, my parents decided that my spinal health (and Dave’s!) was paramount, so they put in the extra money I needed. I couldn’t be more grateful for that!

Fixed block jumping Wow Saddle, with matching stirrup leathers.
The parts used in my custom saddle.
So, the saddle was being built whilst I was recovering. It took quite a bit longer to arrive than expected, which was a bit of an inconvenience, as I didn’t have another saddle to ride in. I actually rode the recently backed, very green Dave bareback out on hacks for months, just before I had several back procedures in hospital!

Riding 4yr old, Dave, in the field bareback!

Once it arrived, the fitter came out to do some last minute adjustments whilst I rode in it. Dave didn’t take to it well to begin with, and wouldn’t even walk without throwing his head about, but I put that down to me being a bit rusty from not riding after surgery.

Adjusting the air pressure using the tubes.
Walking around in the new saddle at the original fitting.

Fast forward a few months, and I started to like the saddle. Dave was doing well, and felt like his normal self again. One thing I did find though, was that whenever we jumped, I’d bounce on landing, and found his jump almost impossible to sit to. Dave does have a huge powerful jump, but I never had any problems like this before. I read up that others have had this issue, due to the air used in the saddle. It always gives you this feeling that you are perched really far off the horse’s back, and I never really got used to it. I had a fitting done every now and then, whilst Dave was gaining muscle, to make sure he was always comfortable. Another thing I noticed was the flair pannels felt incredibly hard on the horse’s back. I had other experts comment on it too, saying it felt too solid, and was pushing on Dave’s back. Even though it was described as feeling like riding on a cloud, I found it very unforgiving on my back, so ended up using an Acavallo seat saver on it. However, I carried on riding in it for a few more months, as whenever I spoke to Wow about it, they said to give it time, and it was a matter of getting used to it.

However, I started noticing bigger problems than just discomfort. Dave started to canter with his bum sticking out to one side, and even started to buck when asked to canter. He had never bucked in his life till then! So, of course I called out the fitter to sort it, and was told it would be fine with a few small adjustments to the flair balance. Over time, it started to get worse, and worse. The saddle would visibly twist forward on one side, and back on the other, whilst also slipping over to one side. I had never seen a saddle twist like this, ever! It got to the point I was in agony every time I rode, and Dave wouldn’t even canter anymore. He was clearly in pain every time I rode him. So I stopped riding in it, and used my old dressage saddle that was a better fit for him at the time.

Showing how much it twisted. Camera is in line with Dave’s spine.
Stirrups that are on even holes, but are now uneven due to the saddle twisting.

I had the fitter out multiple times to try and sort this out, as it’s supposedly meant to fit any horse, of any shape, but it never improved. In fact it just made it worse! The fitter decided to put a point strap on the left side, to try and stabilise it. This is a girthing system where the back girth strap was placed further back, on the left side, to anchor the back of the saddle down. This had absolutely no effect whatsoever, so was basically completely pointless. I was then told to buy a £200 H girth, made by Wow. They told me I should have been using a girth like this from the start, except they had never mentioned this to me before during the multiple fittings, and emails! I wasn’t going to spend that much money on a girth without knowing it would help, so I got them to send me one to trial for a bit, which I had to pay to hire. Dave hated the girth from the minute I put it on, and it still made no difference to the saddle fit. It twisted just like before, except now Dave was trying to buck in walk, as the H Girth was very wide. I soon sent the girth back, and didn’t bother purchasing it.

The H Girth.
Showing the point strap girthing system. (The back strap, just on the left).
 

It had now got to the point where I didn’t have much patience for this anymore. My dad got in touch with our fitter, and made it clear that they had one more chance to make this saddle work, or we would be asking for our money back. They sent out our fitter for free this time. My dad attended the fitting as well, to make sure they understood our point, and took it seriously. It made absolutely zero difference, no matter how many times she adjusted it. These are the sort of saddles that you should be able to feel the improvement straight away. I went home that afternoon feeling frustrated, and disheartened. I had spent around £500, if not more, just on fittings alone. Not forgetting about how much the saddle cost in the first place! It was soon clear that we weren’t going to be seeing any money back, even though we had every right to be refunded according to trading standards, and according to other saddle fitters. The owner of Wow Saddles wanted nothing to do with it either. So, I cut my losses and the saddle went into storage at home for almost 6 months. I rode in my dressage saddle instead, which actually fitted him better than the custom Wow Saddle, even though it wasn’t made for him!

During the time these issues were happening, I had a professional equine physiotherapist out to check Dave over. I had used the same lady before multiple times, on different horses, so knew she was great at what she does. I explained that I was having issues with my saddle, but never told her where I was having problems with it. After a once-over, the Physio immediately picked up on where Dave was sore from the saddle. She noticed which side was being affected, as his muscles were very tender, along with his withers being very painful. It also ran down his left side, to his bum, which showed why he was cantering very lop-sided. I had him checked over, from head to hoof, multiple times during the timescale of the fittings. Each time the same issues would come back, due to the saddle. It’s extremely frustrating to see your horse in pain, when you thought you were doing the right thing by purchasing a pricey, “top of the range”, custom saddle! I kept all of the paperwork from the Physio stating what issues were picked up during the sessions, so I could refer back to them during the Wow saddle fittings.

I finally made the decision to sell my Wow saddle, which luckily sold pretty quickly. It felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders the instance the saddle left for it’s journey to it’s new owner! It was a huge relief to see it go, and at least I got some of my money back. They got a complete bargain, as it had had such little use during the 9 months or so, that I owned it for! I can only hope they had more luck with it than me.

Now we had a horse with a bad back, a rider with an even worse back, and no proper saddle. The whole situation knocked my confidence in riding, and in saddle fitters. I have always been such a confident rider, but I felt awful. It took me a good year to feel safe again, once on board! The next issue was that I couldn’t afford another saddle having lost so much on the Wow one. I was going to give it all up and just sell Dave as I couldn’t enjoy him anymore. Luckily, an amazing saddler came along from the company Polished Saddles, and fixed all of my issues. I rode in all of her saddles, and decided I loved the Amerigo DJ the best, as it suited Dave and I perfectly. However, we were talking about a £4000 saddle here! The saddler never once pressured me into buying, and was so helpful when I was trying to find a second hand one. After all this bad luck, I came across a never used before, ex-display black Amerigo DJ saddle. It had been sitting in the shop window and the sun had faded the leather on one side. You literally cannot find these saddles second hand in black, ever. I bought some special cleaning products from Amerigo, and it looked pristine when I had finished. Dave, and I are now back to being happy, and comfortable when riding. The difference you can feel when riding a horse in a perfectly fitted saddle is incredible! 

Dave looking very happy in his Amerigo DJ saddle!

Disability and Emotional Wellbeing

When you first get diagnosed with a physical illness, you never think about the long term effects it could have on your mental health. All you think about is what can be done to fix your ailment, which would then allow you to move on with your life. Simples! Sadly, when your little ‘blip in the road’ becomes a chronic illness, it isn’t so simple anymore.

I like to think I’m quite a stable, level-headed person. Of course I’ve dealt with the odd dramatic situation as a young teenager, but who hasn’t? However, after my first Scoliosis surgery at 14, I started to notice little things would get to me more than normal. The main thing was how my friends treated me when I was in hospital. They all promised to visit me after surgery, yet they never did. I was recovering at home for a long time, yet I still never even got a message asking how I was. I don’t expect much from others, but it would have been nice to know someone was thinking about me. 

When I first went back to school, friends were helpful carrying my bags and teachers showed some empathy. That lasted about a week! Because outwardly I looked fine – there are no bandages or crutches needed – people thought I was fine and soon stopped offering the help I so badly needed. One teacher even shouted at me for slumping on the desk when I was shattered and still on half days! Then a substitute teacher took me outside to passive aggressively explain how “lazy” I was being in the lesson, when I had just told him I had major surgery not long ago. That really affected me, and it still does to this day. I would make out that it didn’t bother me, but it really did. This actually leads on to one of the biggest differences in my life since I became disabled; my social life (or lack of!). 

Between the age of 15-17, once I got over the back surgeries, my social life was great. I would spend every day hanging out with my friends, partying at the weekend, and I thought we were a pretty close-knit group. I tend to get along with pretty much anyone, as I like to think I can hold an intelligent conversation and am interested in what others have to say. Then I started getting ill, and I don’t think any of my friends truly got how I was affected. I know it’s hard to grasp how someone can go from walking around in high heels without a care in the world, to not being able to leave their bed, in such a short time period. They thought I was making excuses to avoid seeing them, and they stopped making any effort to contact me because I was always saying no to arrangements, despite me explaining why.

Slowly, but surely they fell by the wayside and I now no longer speak to anyone of my age. It was a mixture of falling out with them over their ignorance of my situation and deciding that it would be better for my mental health not to have to deal with the drama of others. I believe I made the right decision to cut ties with any toxic friends, as I can now concentrate on myself without worrying that I’m doing or saying the wrong thing. 

However, the downside is I go through phases where I am incredibly lonely, and depressed. I spend around 21hrs in bed by myself (except for when Mother Blair joins me to watch Netflix!). I try to get out once in a while (it takes a huge amount of effort to fight the pain and side-effects of the drugs) to visit my horse. 

I used to be okay about having surgery, and going to hospital appointments. No one likes going to see doctors, but I would suck it up, and get on with what I had to do, feeling that every step was one nearer to getting better. Now it’s a different story. I get this horrible feeling of dread in the days leading up to the appointment. On the day, I literally feel like curling up and never moving again. It’s not just nerves anymore, it genuinely scares me. My imagination runs away with me and I start thinking it’s going to be like The Walking Dead!

I’ve had some really traumatic surgeries/ procedures without anaesthetic in the past, and now even the smell of the hospital will set off high levels of anxiety. It seems every time I go, some consultant tells me there’s nothing they can do, or I have yet another complication adding to the list that has to be endured and managed. By the time I get home, it has taken so much out of me that I will just cry till I fall sleep.

I have probably suffered with depression for the longest out of any other problem. Constantly getting your hopes up that this time a surgeon will be able to fix your issues, then just being told it’s gotten worse, and nothing can be done, really affects you after a while. I have learnt not to get my hopes up anymore, which has actually just led to me feeling even more depressed. I could quite easily sleep the entire day away, as everything is numb when you’re asleep. That’s what I thought at first. Then I started getting disturbing dreams. I have this recurring nightmare where I am being held down by a group of surgeons, whilst another one slices my back open (sorry for that graphic image!). I always wake up at that point, sweating profusely with my heart pounding. I never understood why I was always dreaming about this, but then I realised it was my mind’s way of telling me that I’m still in pain, even when asleep.

The scariest part of having all these problems, is that thinking of the future makes me feel physically sick. Getting better almost scares me more than having to live like this for the rest of my life. Due to all my disabilities, my routine has become like a comfort blanket that will be hard to change. I just don’t have the energy or positivity to deal with it anymore. I can’t even talk to anyone of my age about it in case they get the wrong end of the stick. Speaking to me, you would think I’m a totally normal teenager. I’ve become very adept at putting on a brave face and only showing my smiley side – no one wants to be around someone who moans all the time. My next step is to see a Consultant Pain Psychologist, who will hopefully teach me new coping mechanisms and to hopefully move forward and accept my situation.

Rambo Optimo Rugs

Being disabled, rugs are next to impossible for me to get on my horse. I tried out the Rambo Optimo layering system, by Horseware, to see if it helps me at all!

Rambo, by Horseware, is well known for producing high end rugs. They make a large variety of rugs, all with different purposes. I have been looking to try out a liner system for a while now, in the hope that it will make rugging up easier for my bad back. Dave is prone to rubbing, especially on his chest, so I decided to try out the Optimo range, due to the unique chest panel, specifically designed to prevent rubbing.

Rambo Optimo Heavyweight Stable Rug

The heavyweight stable rug has a 400g fill, with a 1000 Denier rip-stop polyester outer layer. It is also lined with a polyester sheet to promote a shiny coat. The rug features Rambo's split technology, with the introduction of the Articulated Pivotal Dart (the V behind the shoulder), which allows ultimate freedom in movement. This also keeps the rug 'stable' as it doesn't have to be pulled, or stretched to accommodate the horses movement. This is especially useful for big moving competition horses. The main problem with normal rugs is the awful rubbing of the mane, usually causing it to fall out!  The Optimo rug has a pad across the withers to lift it off the neck, preventing rubbing to the withers and mane. Instead of a normal tie-on fillet string, it has a clip on bungee cord, covered with a PVC tube. This makes it super easy to keep clean, and it won't keep coming undone. It is also quick release so you don't have to worry about it getting caught in the stable. What makes the Optimo truly unique is the V shaped chest panel. It has no fiddly buckles to do up when you've got freezing cold hands in the winter. Instead, it has a double locking velcro tab at the top, and a surcingle-type attachment on the bottom, with a velcro tab under it for extra security. This panel prevents rubbing to the chest, typically caused by the buckles on normal rugs. Also, by having straps on both sides, it spreads the tension evenly, therefore reducing any pressure across the chest.

The Neck

I also purchased the 200g detachable neck to go with the stable rug. They come in a variety of weights, with 200g being the heaviest. Once you work out which tabs on the outer rug are for the liner, and which are for the neck, it's very easy to put together. They have a sizing guide for the necks, so following this, I bought a large (for a 17hh horse), but I found it came up quite big. With my horse's head up, it's a little on the long side, but when he stretches down to eat, it's the perfect length, preventing any uncomfortable pressure on the neck. I could swap it for a smaller size, but I believe he is comfier with it being a little on the big side. I thought with it being only 200g, it wouldn't be warm enough as the heavyweight rug is 400g, but it's perfectly toasty. You could always add a liner with a neck underneath if needed.

Rambo Optimo Liner – 100g

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All Rambo liners can be mixed, and matched with any of their line of rugs, but I chose the matching Optimo liner, as I love the Optimo split technology that provides extra movement. The liner is a really lightweight rug, made of an anti bacterial lining, and a Polyester outer layer. Even though its designed to go under a rug, it would be tough enough to use on its own. They come in a 100g fibrefill, all the way to 400g of fills. I chose the 100g liner so I could use it as a lightweight stable rug as well, as I hate fleeces! This rug never gets shavings stuck to it, which is my pet hate. The liner has a single velcro strap across the chest, and no surcingles. When using it on its own, I would add a surcingle around it and move the fillet cord from the heavyweight rug to the liner for extra security. However, when attached to another rug, it doesn't need any extra attachments at all. It has 3 velcro tabs around the wither area to attach to the outer rug, then two clips at each corner of the bottom of the liner, to clip onto the fillet cord of the outer rug. Even with winter fluff,  the horse's coat gets a beautiful shine after wearing this rug! It can be a bit fiddly to attach to the outer rug, but once you get the hang of it, its really quick, and easy to use.

Using Them Together

To use a liner with the outer rug, you put the liner on first, then throw the outer rug on top. I would suggest attaching the liner to the outer rug first, before doing up the outer rug. The best bit about the liner system is the comfort it provides for your horse. No longer will multiple layers of different rugs have to be used. Just chose a liner, then put your outer one on top! Once the liner is attached, you can then use it as one complete rug, taking it on and off in one piece. When using multiple rugs, they always slip around, causing unnecessary pressure to the horse. The Optimo system prevents this as they can't slip once attached. 

Pros

  1. Extremely comfortable for the horse.
  2. Prevents having to buy multiple rugs.
  3. Adaptable for different weather conditions.
  4. No more rubbing of the mane/chest.
  5. Lots of freedom for movement.

Cons

  1. Expensive.
  2. A little complicated the first time you do up the liner attachments.
  3. Have to buy the neck separately.
  4. Could become heavy, depending on the liner weight used.
  5. Sizing comes up quite big, but this isn't  necessarily a bad thing! Just have to buy the size below.

Overall Opinion

It took me a while to decide to buy these rugs, due to them being quite pricy. I'm glad I went ahead with them though as they have been the best rugs I've ever used! I believe they are a great investment, and should last for years to come. There are lots of opportunities to find them on sale, which makes it a bit less of a shock to the bank account! Overall, I would 100% recommend them to anyone. I will definitly be looking into buying some Rambo turnouts next!

Prices

Heavyweight Optimo stable rug – £132.99

100g Optimo liner – £55.99

200g Optimo neck – £37.99

(Prices vary)

Thank you for reading, and I hope this helps anyone interested in these products.

Elise x