It was nearly a year ago that I fell off a horse and broke my back. Before my fall, it was a different time. A time when I had big dreams and what looked like a way to achieve them, a three-quarters full teaching load, a financial partner backing me, and my Yankee-Irish horsewhispering boyfriend picking up the slack (and boy, was there was a lot of slack).
Everything changed when I couldn’t get to my feet after getting to my knees after falling off. Someone carried me out of the ring – the worst thing to do, according to the EMTs. But no harm was done. I consider myself lucky. I still don’t know what made my horse take off that day, but my best guess is a bee sting.
What did I do right? I shut my horse down and I tried to stay on. What did I do wrong? I didn’t stay on and I didn’t tuck and roll and I landed the wrong way. I felt the strongest contraction I can imagine in my lower back but nothing else. I felt nothing at all where the break was (it was at T12, the twelfth thoracic vertebra) until I’d been en route to the hospital for 20 or 30 minutes. The sirens were blaring, the lights bright inside the space-age compartment of stainless steel, aluminum and white plastic, and the time was punctuated by little jokes among myself and the crew, distracting us all from the larger, not very funny, reason I was there.
Last night, I watched a movie that had an ambulance scene in it. I can no longer hear the sounds of an ambulance – the doors slamming, the harsh clang of metal against metal from the gurney being loaded, even the sirens of a faraway call – without thinking back to that time last summer.
Blogging was one of the things that kept me occupied last fall, writing about horses when I still couldn’t ride them. Long before that, everyone had wanted me back on a horse as soon as possible. When my patron/partner, already anxious that I return to our joint enterprise, told me I should “just swing a leg over,” I still couldn’t swing my leg over the rim of my clawfoot tub much less a horse.
Things are different now, and I’m starting over – again. My horses are home, in a place without an indoor or a groom or a stablehand and we’re still coming back from the big, long break we shared. It all takes time.
It’s July now, and I don’t know where the time has gone. I don’t know whether I’ll make it into the show ring this year and I know I won’t go unless there’s something I want to show off. I’m patient with the horses and I try to be patient with myself and the vagaries of life, but as I live one day at a time, sometimes the time that has passed catches me by surprise.
One of my former students marked her progress by her pony’s birthday, as did her mother. When her pony was seven, he was still young, with an endless stream of successes in front of him. Then he turned eight, and it was time to celebrate how far he had come and all they had accomplished together. When he turned nine – all of a sudden – all the progress they had made suddenly didn’t seem like enough. Calling the pony “green” didn’t pass muster anymore (even though that little girl did a great job with a pony that wasn’t a great match). The girl and her mother aren’t alone. Anyone who’s had a horse pass from single-digit to double-digit has felt time – and potential – start to slip away, whether it’s fact or fear.
How is it that our horses are young one day and old the next? And we, too?
My Yankee-Irish horsewhispering boyfriend expects to get the sling off his arm very soon. He’s impatient about what he hasn’t had time to do this summer, while I mark my own progress, week by week, in terms of heavy lifting. I’ve always taken things step-by-step as I train horses, and we’ll see how my own journey of a thousand miles pans out. I expect to hit a milestone before the ice comes this winter, and I have my eyes set on next spring.
As time passes, I’m rebuilding. It’s time for me to pass the reins to someone else who wants to fix the buckers and bolters. I wouldn’t even think of trying to fix the dirty stoppers. I’m still happy to help the insecure horse develop confidence, the strong horse understand the meaning of cooperation, the unfocused horse rediscover interest in work. Green horse, spoiled horse, confused horse, the traumatized and the phobic are welcome.
I don’t mind horses with an attitude (actually, I think a little attitude is a good thing for a performance horse), and not much scares me. I just don’t want to try to turn any more dishonest horses around. Still, if you’ve got one, you can call me. I’ll probably have some suggestions (which will start with exploring physical issues rather than mental ones). Just don’t expect me to get in the saddle to see the problem for myself or to reeducate a horse that others are too scared to ride.
I no longer have the confidence I once had that I can handle anything. Maybe that will return, in time. But I don’t need to put myself to the test, at least not right now. Of course, I’m not letting time alone fix things, I’m right in the fray. I’m fixing the holes in all my property – my farm as well as my horses (such is how the state of Connecticut views them). I have more to do than there are hours in the day, as all of us do who work hard and have ambition and ride and/or care for horses, on farm or off.
So I remind myself, as I did this morning, to enjoy the time it takes to hand-feed a mash with a horse’s head next to mine, to reassure rather than rush, to give a refreshing liniment bath not because I have to, but because it will make a horse happy. And to enjoy what I do, rather than think of what time I’ve lost or what each “wasted” hour might cost me.
I wish I had more time to blog these days, because it’s one of the things that centers me and reminds me that my love of horses and teaching – both people and their horses – can be expressed even when I’m not able to sit in my Tad Coffin or someone else’s saddle or stand in the middle of a cushy, sand ring (although I don’t stay standing for long when I do). For now, though, as we like to say here on the farm, the animals come first. So I’ll come back and visit with you as soon as I can.
You should know that I enjoy hearing from you as much as I enjoy talking, so let me know what’s on your mind. If I write something that you agree with or disagree with, that troubles you or teaches you, that inspires you or makes you want to share something of your own horse life with me and your fellow readers, please do. If you can find the time, that is.