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Although we missed epilepsy awareness month, we’d like you to enjoy this post by Heidi, one of our riders who took the opportunity to educate us on epilepsy, seizures, and the effect they’ve had on her riding.

Hi! I’m Heidi, and I’ve had epilepsy most of my life. Since I don’t have the stereotypical seizure type (grand mal), people usually don’t seem to fully understand my epilepsy. The majority of people don’t know much about seizures. That raises the question: what is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which people have seizures. Over one million people in the United States have uncontrolled epilepsy. It can be developed by anyone at any time. Two out of three people who have epilepsy don’t know the cause, including me.

There are two main types of seizures: focal and generalized. About 30% of people with epilepsy have generalized seizures. They include tonic, absence (petit mal), clonic, atonic, myoclonic, and tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures. There is epileptic activity in both halves of the brain in a generalized seizure, and these often respond to treatment easier than focal seizures.

Focal, or partial, seizures affect one part of the brain and are the type I have. There are two types: simple partial and complex partial seizures. In a complex partial seizure, consciousness is either reduced or completely lost. In a simple partial seizure, a person can later recall what happened during the seizure. I haven’t had a complex partial seizure since I was 7 (when I was diagnosed with epilepsy) but continue to have simple partial seizures.

If a person is having a seizure, someone must stay with them. They need to time the seizure. Anything tight around the person’s neck needs to be loosened. The person must not be restrained, and nothing should be put in their mouth; this could injure them. As the seizure subsides, they need to be rolled on their side. However, first aid is not always necessary. I have been able to continue doing things during a seizure. I’ve continued doing schoolwork while having one, since my simple partial seizures usually only cause slight nausea.

Last year, I had many seizures, some of which occurred while riding. We were able to continue with my lesson, although we would change what we did during the time. Still, being able to do something I care about during a seizure meant a lot to me, especially when I was having so many. While epilepsy affects people’s lives in many ways, society’s knowledge about it is often scarce. Informing people about epilepsy should be an important goal, since many of us may know someone with it or have it ourselves.

At Trinity Farm, we follow PATH Int’l. guidelines when working with riders with epilepsy and seizures. The good news is that many riders with seizures are able to manage and continue their equine based activities, albeit sometimes with modifications.

Depending on the rider’s seizure type and history, epilepsy can be either a precaution (we may modify our activities and have a safety plan in place) or contraindication (meaning it may be dangerous to ride, but you may be able to enjoy horses in another way) to riding.

Things we take into consideration are: type and frequency of seizures, medications the participant is on, the horses we have available for the rider, motor control and state of consciousness during the seizure, and the ability to safely manage a participant during an emergency dismount.

For instance in Heidi’s case, on days when she feels like she might have a seizure, we are able modify the lesson plan away from cantering and jumping to focus flat work at the walk and trot.

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Seizure Myths

* All seizures are grand mal.

FALSE. Many times seizures don’t have outward physical signs, and the person will retain consciousness.

*All seizures necessitate immediate medical intervention.

FALSE. Many people manage their seizures day to day without seeing a doctor every time. Although when in doubt, you should always seek medical attention, the CDC advises to call 911 only if:

  • The person has never had a seizure before.
  • The person has difficulty breathing or waking after the seizure.
  • The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
  • The person has another seizure soon after the first one.
  • The person is hurt during the seizure.
  • The seizure happens in water.
  • The person has a health condition like diabetes, heart disease, or is pregnant.

* Put something in a person’s mouth so that they don’t bite their tongue off.

FALSE. If you put something in the mouth of a person having a seizure, they may choke. If a person is having a tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure with spasms and loss of consciousness, DO:

  • Get them to a flat surface and turn them on their side in the recovery position.
  • Place something soft like a jacket under their head.
  • Loosen or remove anything tight around their neck if possible (tie, collar, etc.).
  • Clear the area from anything that may harm them.
  • Time the length of the seizure and the amount of time they have been unresponsive to inform emergency personnel if needed.
  • Once the seizure subsides, reassure them and give first aid as necessary.