My wife, who has had PD about 8 years just read your post. We live in Iceland, having returned from many years in S.E.Asia in 1995. She, too, was an avid horse rider in her youth, winning competitions on her horse when still a teen, living on a farm not too far from the famous Geysir.
When she was diagnosed with PD, she decided to take up riding again and has been doing it consistently since then - even winning the first competition she entered this summer. We have gathered 5 horses, which she trains. We live in Mosfellsbær, just 10min drive from Reykjavik. It is a beautiful location with a large bay and the mountains of Esja behind us.
Riding has been a big help to her. Generally, she has been just taking shorter rides, sometimes up the dale to a horse rental farm popular with all the horse riding community about an hour away. Last year, she took a week-long ride upcountry, even though the weather was pretty rainy, taking 4 horses in a group of almost 100. The riding was fast and inspiring, going through all kinds of beautiful countryside, up a mountain or two, across rivers etc.
She has found it to be a big blessing. She does get stiff, but for that, we use a Thumper Mini-Pro2 massager (www.thumpermassager.com) which we have found to be very powerful and very effective. We also have a horse massager from the same company, which I have used on her at times when she was particularly stiff. It's more powerful and very effective on the leg muscles, especially.
Riding and the massager have been a real Godsend and she has been able to keep up a very active and busy lifestyle despite being in her 60s.
We feel that there are several other reasons for her being able to keep up a good lifestyle - both spiritual (we were both missionaries and teachers in Thailand for many years) and physical. We maintain a good diet and recently, after a serious illness in which my health collapsed, we have been taking a food product from a company called Synergy Worldwide. Two of the products are the result of discoveries that earned the researchers the Nobel Prize for Medicine. They have helped us considerably - to such an extent that I am now going to their annual conference. Everyone who meets her says my wife is looking so much better - something that just isn't meant to happen with PD. She is on a lower medication level than when she started but she does still have to take it very consistently. The l-arginine and l-citruline supplement in particular enables the body to create nitric oxide that dilates and cleanses the blood vessels, and makes them more supple, thus preventing heart attacks and heart disease in general. We have found that the 3 products, used together - there is a very powerful antioxidant and an effective peppermint and chlorophyll drink that accompany the l-arginine - have led to a considerable, but very gradual, improvement in both of us. It's not like they are medicines. They don't heal anything but they do provide the body with the material to heal itself. Only time will tell whether it will have a greater impact on the PD, but it does help smooth the effects of the medication and ensure a good absorption of the different drugs and has greatly improved her blood circulation.
One problem my wife had was with cold hands and feet, with a bit of arthritis. She wore gloves 24/7. One of the results of the Synergy products has been that her hands and feet now have much better circulation - something I esp. appreciated in bed. Cold feet - ugh - and she was always trying to warm them up on me! When riding the horses in cold weather, she now uses a very effective hand warmer designed for outdoor people like mountaineers, etc., which can be reused time and again. This, and good clothing, has enabled her to ride in snow or heavy frosts without problem - getting no colder than any other rider.
One point about the Icelandic horses is that they are both quite small but very powerful. They are very good natured, generally and are very responsive to the rider. They develop very close bonds with the rider - esp. when treated well, with a lot of care and affection. There is no show jumping or cross country as you know it in Iceland. Up to as late as the 1950s, horses were used a lot in general transportation. (My wife would ride to school, for instance.) So they are a real part of the culture here. They even have a special church service where all the riders ride their horses to the church each year! (The horses stay outside, while the riders attend the service.)
Surprisingly, though my wife have been developing horse riding as a therapy, few of the people with PD want to ride, even when shown the benefits. Sadly, there is an attitude among many that they just have to take their medication and put up with the consequences - which can often be fatal, if they don't exercise or get help.
I do hope that you have been able to get your own horse by now. They give off dopamine - so riding bareback is really good! There is just something about being around a good horse, with the interaction between horse and rider having a very positive effect on the disposition and demeanour of those the horse comes in contact with. As you say, the benefits far outweigh the downside. We're really fortunate to have the stables just a few minutes away and to be able to ride out into the bay or up into the dales, as well as on a number of horse trails in the area. Generally, we have pure air (though right now, the volcano is spewing SO2 out all over the place) and pure water (no fluoride and few chemicals besides natural minerals). Being in a pollution-free environment is a great help. Also, the homes are well insulated and warm (no igloos!), heated by geothermal hot water, so we don't face the challenges many in the UK face with the high cost of heating, draughts and poor insulation. The air is dry, too, unlike the damp humidity of England, so I actually rarely use all the heavy sweaters I amassed - unless I'm out on a cold day. Our winters are a lot longer, though and get a bit tiresome, but horse riding goes on throughout the winter, with longer riding tours very popular in the summer months.
I will be in the UK for about a week, visiting my family in Devon and near Guildford. If you're close to either spot, I would be very happy to meet up and compare notes.
Please feel free to contact me at: email@example.com or +354 820 0840. I look forward to hearing from you.
My best regards to both you and your wife,