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Hip Replacement for Equestrians: My Story
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Hip Replacement for Equestrians: My Story

Five years ago, arthritic pain in my hips got abruptly worse. 

In a few weeks, I changed from an energetic endurance rider routinely riding 50-mile events on my big Standardbred mare, into a crotchety exhausted person barely able to walk across a parking lot.

As a 20-something, I’d thought nothing of riding through the pain of a smashed toe, broken finger, or bruised ribs. But when pain obstacles start to snowball, it’s hard to have fun on horseback.

Not riding is not an option for me.

I reached deeper and deeper into the bottle of painkillers—and that’s not ideal when coping with the swoops and swirls that can come aboard a 1200-pound mare known locally as “the Dragon.”

What could I do?

  • Painkillers and anti-inflammation medications.  Not recommended while riding.
  • Injections.  That stuff is awesome magic…but it doesn’t last forever.
  • Physical therapy.  I gained back some flexibility and strength, but the pain didn’t decrease.

A friend took me to lunch and told me, bluntly, that the pain was not going to go away, ever, without surgery.

I did research; I asked questions; I got recommendations.

I found a surgeon who not only didn’t try to dissuade me from riding post-surgery—he expected me to ride my horse when I was healed up again.

I had my first hip replacement surgery.

I returned to physical therapy.  The work I did prior to surgery helped my non-injured body parts support the healing parts, and the therapist customized a fitness routine for me so that I could do more every day.

I took pain meds…and within two weeks of discharge from the hospital, I didn’t need them anymore.

And faster than anybody expected…

I got back in the saddle.

The doctor had told me to expect to be back to my regular riding routine in six months.  That was a worst-case scenario:  I was back to riding in less than a month, and back in competition less than three months later. 

About two years after my first hip replacement, the other hip started giving me trouble. 

The same friend who had taken me to lunch before had also said, “When you want to reach for the painkillers again, call the surgeon again instead.”  She’s a very good friend.  I made that call again and had my second hip replaced promptly.

Riding doesn’t hurt anymore.

That’s really all that matters, isn’t it?  I can carry my saddle down to the barn without a wheelbarrow, I can trot out my horse for a lameness exam, I can climb stairs, buck hay, and jump out of the bed of my truck without pain. 

But best of all: I can ride my horse. 

Because not riding is not an option.

Here are a few FAQs about the experience:

Question: My cousin’s brother’s auntie’s best friend from church takes this essential oil vitamin G made from turmeric and sloth glands and it cures his arthritis. Why didn’t you do that instead of surgery? 

I tried acupuncture, chiropractics, over-the-counter pain meds, prescription pain meds, massage, herbal teas, cortisone injections, physical therapy, a non-inflammatory diet, and I forget what else.  Some stuff helped a little. Eventually, nothing helped at all.

Question:  You’re too young for joint replacement!  You fell off and broke something, didn’t you?

I was born with hip dysplasia, and arthritis started showing in x-rays when I was 20.  After 30 years of discomfort, the pain suddenly became unbearable.

Question: Don’t you have to be careful of that new hip for the rest of your life? 

For the first six months after surgery, I had to be careful. I only rode trustworthy and familiar horses during that time.  After that, I was cleared to do “any damn-fool thing I wanted to do” (the surgeon’s exact words).  He suggested that I take up sky-diving!

Question:  How long does an artificial hip last? 

In the past, artificial joints usually lasted about 15 years before they needed to be replaced again. Modern joint replacement parts are considered much sturdier, and can probably last for the lifetime of many patients.

Question: How much did it hurt?

Before the surgery, I could barely walk, even with a cane.  Post-surgery: I ride my horse all day without pain.

photo by Monica Bretherton, used with permission

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