November 14, 2011

Reynauds and Riding

Appropriately, the first time I had a Reynauds episode was right after a long, cold winter trail ride.  Specifically, it was after SMWC's 2009 Senior Holiday Ride, a tradition in which outgoing seniors, college of equine studies faculty, and special guests ride horses all through the college campus, singing Christmas carols as we go.  Decorating the horses is optional, but highly encouraged:

We were riding in 30 degree weather for over an hour and a half, some of us choosing to be festive rather than warm, and when I got back to the barn and began untacking Flash, I suddenly felt "it."  That familiar feeling of tunnel vision, clamminess and general malaise that precedes a fainting episode, none of which had ever been triggered by cold before in my life.  As quickly as I could, I walked Flash back to his stall, put him in with the halter and lead still on, shut the door and collapsed onto the hard concrete floor, willing and ready to lose consciousness.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, as it felt at the time), Mary raced over to me and talked me through it, not letting me just pass out like I wanted to by that point.  It's so much easier to let go, pass out for a few seconds and come to again rather than trying to hang on and fight those feelings.

This happened several more times that winter, always after my fingers and toes went numb while I was riding.  Usually it happened after I got off and started walking around, but once I stuck my fingers in my armpits while waiting in a group lesson and had to get off because I was afraid of passing out on the horse.  Finally, I was fed up enough to do a little research, and found out that my fingers and toes going numb were symptoms of Reynauds, a disorder that normally has an onset in women in their early twenties (oh, hi!).  The passing out thing was undocumented anywhere I've seen, but I have heard anecdotal stories from other Reynauds sufferers who complain about passing out after their fingers and toes "come back."

So now that I know I have it, I have to manage it.  Most doctors will tell sufferers to just avoid the cold, but hello, I'm not giving up riding between the months of November and March.  Fortunately, mine is not as severe as some people who have episodes at temperatures as high as 70 degrees, but it is triggered at temperatures as high as 50 if there's some pressure on my extremities (another trigger for me, in addition to cold temperatures, is pressure, such as the pressure from the stirrups or from too many socks or from socks and a HotPocket in my boot) and I've been foolish enough to underdress.

So far, I've managed it with:
1. Decent gloves
2. Lined Carhartt bibs and good coats that keep my core warm.
3. Drinking lots of hot tea
4. Smartwool socks
5. Mountain Horse base layers

This winter, in addition to the above items, I'll be trying:
1. Underarmour Cold Gear base layers
2. Winter tall boots
3. Even better gloves, as well as glove liners
4. Red wine (don't laugh!  It's a vasodilator, so supposedly a glass before you go outside helps reduce the chance of an episode.  My husband asked if we could start referring to the liquor store as the pharmacy.)
5. To avoid putting myself in situations where I have to take my gloves off, ever.
6. Possibly a battery operated coat/gloves set.
7. And, if things get real bad, doctors will prescribe Viagra (increases blood flow to extremities...ha.  ha.  ha.)

Anyone have any winter products they live and die by at the barn?  I am always open to suggestions!


  1. I don't think my friend with Reynaud's has ever passed out (or almost passed out) - I'll have to ask her next time I see her...

    I just bought a pair of Mtn Horse Rimfrost paddock boots - I'm hoping they help keep my feet warm this year. I only wear SmartWool socks in the winter - they are well worth the money.

    As for base layers - I've tried a few brands - most are geared for downhill skiers, so I think as long as the product is meant to be a base layer, it should be ok. I like merino wool the best, but it is also kinda pricey.

    Wine is always a good idea - lol - hope you dont have to resort to viagra!

  2. I actually have a pair of Rimfrosts, and I like them, but they were too short for tromping through deep snow and too thick to put my half-chaps over, so I only wore them when I was wearing my full "snow suit" at the barn. They are very warm, though.

    I've heard merino wool is good, and I guess I can't complain about price if it would keep me from passing out, but it's always been cost-prohibitive. Maybe that will change now that our HSA will pay for Reynauds-related purchases. I do love my one pair of Smartwool, need to get a few more!

    Yes, in my opinion, wine should be used to treat every medical condition! My GP doesn't agree with me though...

  3. I am going to show this to my husband and tell him red wine is medically necessary :)

    I did not know Reynauds was that common either...course I did not even know what is was till a few years ago. Guess I am a late bloomer since it usually shows up in your 20's!

    Lots of good product ideas and great post.

  4. Kelly, have you had yours officially diagnosed? I have not, but have to for insurance reasons now. I know there are two different kinds, primary and secondary, and since I'm otherwise healthy I'm not too concerned about having secondary, but you never know. Indiana winters make me wish I didn't have it at all, that's for sure.

  5. Yes - when I had an insurance physical 2 yrs ago, I was diagnosed with primary Reynaud's. The only advice the doc gave was to avoid the cold...easier said than done!

  6. Thinsulate, silk (seriously it's very thin and very warm) and a few other technical fabrics.

    I would also look at ski products, they have to have a lot of mobility while keeping warmth.

  7. Kelly, I hadn't thought about looking into products designed for skiing, but that's a really good idea. Thanks!

  8. I believe they started doing holiday rides like that when I was there. I graduated in 2002. I didn't participate in it for some reason, don't remember why. I miss those days...