My left foot has been paralyzed for 21 years because of a stroke. It has been an arduous journey getting back on my feet. My sense of balance was severely damaged, too.
Not being able to move your foot means you can’t lift your toes to clear the ground when you take a step. This problem was inditially solved by a custom made brace that attached to my lower leg with a plastic piece that ran under my foot. It kept it at a constant 90 degree flex so I wouldn’t trip over it when I walked.
For years, I could only wear shoes the brace fit in. Usually, that meant wearing ugly, “old lady” shoes. I was only 35 years old when I had the stroke. I felt self conscious in old lady shoes. The loss of fine motor skills prevented me from being able to tie laces so often the shoes closed with Velcro.
I watched women walk in heels with envy.
I was able to take therapeutic horseback riding lessons starting a year after the stroke. I rode with whatever sneakers or hiking boots the brace fit in as I watched other riders in equestrian boots.
By the time I competed in my first horse show, I had started using an electronic stimulator that activated the nerve to fire the paralyzed muscles to lift my foot. My choices for footwear dramatically improved as the device did not need to fit in my shoe.
I competed in ankle height paddock boots with the stimulator on my leg in my first show. Tall boots were out of the question since the device sat below my knee. This was still an improvement over sneakers with Velcro.
I searched in vain for tall boots that would fit around the stimulator.
I remember spending several hours in the saddlery store with an extremely patient sales clerk who helped me try on about a dozen pairs of boots. None fit over the device. I stubbornly refused to accept I could not wear riding boots.
There is minimal walking required at a riding lesson or a horse show. My paralyzed foot was not an issue on the horse.
I could walk for short streches without the brace or the stimulator. Since the boots I tried on were usually stiff through the ankle, they acted similarly to a brace in keeping my foot lifted.
Another fit challenge was the fact that my right calf is hyper-developed as a result of compensating for my weak left side. This is known in the world of boot fitting as a “wide calf.”
The patient store clerk suggested sending a pair of beautiful, wide calf boots to my home for me to try. I could return them to the store if they didn’t work. She asked me to choose between the all black style and the one with a navy blue edge at the top. I chose blue.
The clerk showed me how to put a shoelace through the boot’s zipper to use to pull the zipper up in the back of the boot.
The blue topped boots arrived in a few days. I used the shoelace I got at the saddlery store to pull the back zipper up and over my wide calves. They fit!
They were not wide enough to fit over the stimulator device. I carefully practiced walking in them around the house. I couldn’t wait to try them on with my riding pants tucked in.
In the end, I figured out how to walk and ride in real equestrian boots. I won first place ribbons in them in my next 3 horse shows.
They are kind of sexy, if I may say. From the early days of stroke recovery in ugly old lady shoes with a plastic brace in them to winning in a horse show in sexy, real equestrian boots, I have seen a miracle I never expected.
© Victoria Ponte 2020.