The Aging Rider, Part I: Man versus knee

Jon Bicho loved riding horses; his injury-battered right knee did not. In the first column of a series, he relates the story of reconciling the differences between body and soul.

Top photo: Riding a friend’s horse and doing some cross country schooling at Full Gallop Farm in Aiken. Photo credit: ABicho Images.

From Jon:

As horse people and riders we always have the daily aches and pains. Old Fire Breather dumped me over a baby rabbit, the yearling filly danced on my toes or maybe I lifted too many bales and feed bags today.

I joined the ranks of horse people and riders at a late age. I was 29. My new girlfriend (eventually my wife) was an intermediate event rider. If I wanted to spend time with her, it meant jumping into the horse world. Off the cliff I dove. I came from a background of ski racing, cycling, long distance backpacking and many other activities that left me with a legacy of old injuries. The worst of these was a battered right knee.

But enough of the fun stuff. My knee was progressively getting worse. I have had many surgical procedures to repair and rebuild the damage. Starting almost three years ago I began to receive the human equivalent of Legend to calm my knee down. It worked for me until this spring. This last fall I was riding my OTTB Cheer Cheer (Chestnut gelding by Two Davids out of You Will Like it by Amazing, 1988) at the Furlongs to Fences event held at Fair Hill. During the trail ride portion of the event, while galloping, my knee was grinding and shifting. I no longer had control of the knee. I dismissed this as a one-off experience and continued to ride. I guess I did not want to face the realities before me.

Now it is March, I find myself in Aiken and being given the chance to ride former four-star event horse Northern Spy. My friend Heidi White offered me the chance. So I climbed on. I was sent out with another rider and our instructions.  Trotting went well and then we began the canter portion of our instructions. For the first time while riding, my knee screamed for mercy. Shifting, grinding and PAIN! I think I could have bitten thru saddle leather to try to control the pain. But it my mind I could not quit. I was riding one of the greatest event horses ever. I need to complete my task and enjoy these few moments learning from a great one.

After returning to the barn, my knee let me know what it thought of me. This time the pain would not go away. I chose not to ride anymore that day hoping it would calm down. And it did until the next day when I was asked to ride Farley again. Call it male pride or macho B.S., there was no way I would turn this offer down. I climbed on and we repeated what we did the day before, but with even more pain. Now there was a chance to jump. There was no way I could safely jump with a knee that I did not even think I could walk on. Farley and I retired to the barn.

It was when we were walking back to the farm that the hard reality hit me, I cannot ride anymore like this! I cannot ride anymore!

I returned to my home outside of Philadelphia and made the phone call I knew I had to make. I had to call the Orthopedic to see what my options were. Deep inside I knew what they were.  But at 50 years old, I am not about to retire to the sofa and stuff myself with Ring Dings.

Next: We Can Rebuild Him!


Heading to the polo field in Aiken on Northern Spy. Photo credit: ABicho Images


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