1st of the series 'Ride Like You've Never Been Thrown' From the Rider Newspaper*
As Equine enthusiasts, some of us dream of spending every waking hour at the barn. Some spend exorbitant amounts of money on their lovable steeds. We talk a different stable language even in the presents of our ‘unstable’ friends and some but not all of us have on occasion make excuses when our ride goes wrong. I’m sure you all know what I am talking about. Have you ever noticed that no matter what or how something bad happens while riding, it is rarely the horses’ fault? Listen sometime when you friends are describing when their horse spooked on a ride. It was another horse who came up behind them or the tires of a passing car on wet pavement. Something other than the horse is usually to blame.
There is no proven reason for this deflection. We are just human after all and do not wish to believe our equine barn mate is capable of hurting us.
Many riders have been tossed and ride on as if it didn’t happen. It is of course part of learning to ride. But for a large portion of the population of horsemen and horsewomen this can be a most traumatic episode in their life. Being bitten by the horsey love bug is not always enough to get you back in the saddle.
I have interviewed a number of women equestrians who have been through this in their life, in search of some feed-back to share with you on how they were able to tame their demons.
I have my own tragic story and know first-hand that it takes a certain kind of mind set to get past this phobia. I am hoping that by hearing our different ways of dealing with the problem that those who have yet to find a way back can possibly see a glimmer of hope.
As an Author, I sign all my books that I sell with ‘Ride like You’ve Never Been Thrown’ on the inside cover. This is my motto. It’s my philosophy for life and not just when I’m in the saddle. If life sends you trouble and tried to buck you off you need to take the lesson learned, then live like you it didn’t happen and continue on. Traumatic things will happen in your life. You have to kick and spur your way back into the saddle.
I would like to share with you a short story that I wrote about that fateful day in my life when I had the biggest, most life changing event happen. At the end I will share with you my approach at dealing with that dreaded phobia.
Let’s imagine that you’ve strapped yourself to a rocket. Now add muscle, flesh and a brain to that rocket. Seeing as the rocket now has a mind of its own and muscle to control its every whim. What would you say to that?
Maybe you already know where I’m going with this, but saddle up with me for the ride anyway.
I used to say ‘it’s all in a day’s work’ but this time with this horse it was different and it was the one ride that changed my life for a long, long time.
Her name was Caddy, short for Cadillac. Not that she looked or rode like one. It was due to the fact she was built like one. I wanted to call her Tonka, like the truck. That’s what she reminded me of but the owners thought better of it.
Until I’d come along the owners would rarely name their horses because it was a step closer to getting attached to them and that meant that they would end up hanging onto them longer than initially intended. They owned a large Quarter Horse breeding farm and were very passionate about their business.
Well, when I came into the picture that year, they had 12 foals left, 9 yearlings and 5- 2 yr. olds most of them of the highest quality.
I had come into financial difficulty by becoming unemployed and asked a favour of them, to board my yearling filly in exchange for me working and handling their herd. They agreed whole-heartedly.
In the beginning I took the young horses and worked them to enable the vet or blacksmith to handle them safely as well as load into the trailer when sold. I also started working a few older horses to be used as trail horses.
Even after the course of two years that I worked there, I still felt that I got the better deal. I still owe those two a heck of a lot for the opportunity. I say that because it was so enjoyable to me. Previously to this I was starting horses or breaking them as they used to call it. But I sure loved working with the youngsters.
Now back to my rocket ride, I’ve never driven a Cadillac nor do I wish to, as the memory is still embedded in my temple with the scar. But when a simple chore turns rancid, is when you check your birth certificate for your age and then check your shorts.
Caddie was destined for the auction as she had proven she ate more than she was worth. She was the odd duck on the farm too, being a Belgian Arab cross. Don’t ask. The owner was a collector with camels, miniature donkeys and even racoons. We will put Caddy in with this bunch.
My task was to exercise her and tune her up a little for the sale.
Now, I’ve always round penned then lunge and then line driven when I train. Make sense right?
I was told she was green broke and she was. I was told that she could drive and she could. I was told she doesn’t buck but she did.
So, tell me what was the size of the last rocket you strapped your butt too? Some say size doesn’t matter, fine for them. I’m 5’2” 130# and Caddy was 16h and 1300#.
We all know that horses sense fear, well that is not all they sense for whatever reason I was in a bad mood when I arrived that day. Not in my normal serene, Zen-like kind of place that I usually work in and she sensed it.
I was given every sign not to ride that day and I chose to ignore them. I even opted not to lunge first like normal, testing fate so to speak. I usually always worked with someone watching and even chose to forgo that small consideration.
After mounting and warming up at a walk I pressed Caddy into a trot to start. We didn’t even make it one revolution around the outside arena before blast-off. There was no countdown, no message from mission control; it was 0-60 in less than 3 seconds.
Houston, I think we have a problem. She just went rodeo on me from one end of the arena to the other. Now, I know I did everything right from that point on. I sat back, heels down and I thought I had her at the ¾ point when she eased up slightly. But for whatever reason, not even my cursing at her was going to slow her down. The fence came up faster than it should have. I think it was the Belgian in her that turned the football field sized arena into a golf green.
I had already been buckling her up to the left with no effect, when she became conscious of the barrier and at the last minute agreed not to argue with it and cranked to the left.
From the ground I watched as she continued to pivot and buck the circumference of the arena and headed back towards me. I un-wedged my helmet from between the ground and the bottom board of the fence and tried to get up in a slow and pensive way so as to not to disturb the gravel in my ‘gitch’. Caddy, given a second chance to finish me off came back around to where I lay. I was thankful to see two people come running to my aid but I was afraid they were moving too slow. If I had yelled for help, I didn’t think they’d have heard me over Caddy’s hooves pounding in my direction.
Hanging from the second rung, they got to me just in time to wave her off her path. As I hobbled to the house half carried by my boss, I could taste the warm salty brine drizzling from my head. His wife, who was on the phone gave a quick “Call you back” and ran to the sink for a cloth. I let her nurse my head for all of five seconds not wanting to show weakness and hobbled off to the bathroom to survey the mess. Joking and laughing all the way but I am sure it was nervous laughter because I knew I was banged up pretty bad.
My husband met us at the hospital to wait and I truly believe that if your wounds are in anyway self- inflicted then your penance is to sit longer in the hospital waiting room.
Even though I landed and slid on my right side, the left hip wouldn’t hold up my weight. The longer I sat, the stiffer I got. So in time I needed a wheel chair to get me through to the viewing room.
To make a long story, not as long as it could be, I’ll skip down to where nothing was broken but my pride. I received four stitches in my head, ripped tendon in my hip and I hyper extended my elbow. I couldn’t take a full stride for 5 months. I know I was damn lucky.
As all of you may know, the pain eventually subsides and we are left with the scars to write stories around or scars on our minds to hound us when we go to get back in the saddle. But nothing else is so embedded or engraved in my head as the look on my husband’s face when he first saw me. The anger and frustration didn’t out-weigh the fear and concern, but it was still there all the same. We’d been here before a few times but this time was different. To me it truly had that “this is the last time” feel to it.
I was turning fifty, I had a son who needed his mother and a husband who, up until now had not stood in my way so I could follow my dream and to let me hone my craft.
He’d been there the time before to drive me to the hospital for a broken leg. It was his show of support even though he didn’t like it much.
If the timing of my fall had been one to two seconds later my body would have either straddled the fence or I would have hit the corner post. Either way I’d be in a wheel chair right now or not here at all. Yes, it was a big eye opener, and the pivotal point that changed my life.
So, to my son and my husband whom I owe the rest of my life to, I promised I would stop ‘breaking horses’. Oh, sure I’m sad about it but the reality of it all now is at fifty I don’t bounce the way I used to, simple as that. Now I’ve turned my experiences and my passive energy into writing fiction, dramatic horse stories and some poetry. It wasn’t an even trade but I’m cool with that.
Oh and Caddy. She was eventually sold and with a warning sign around her neck from NASA “All systems go, 10, 9, 8, 7…
After I was nearly mended I started to think of getting back in the saddle. The fear of it was genuine and it obsessed my thoughts constantly. How was I going to get there? I had to find a way. At first I called on a good friend who had a mare that was as close to bomb proof as they come. (Not that bomb proof even exists) but Shawnee was perfect for what I needed.
I labored aboard like a drunken cowboy not being able to pivot my hips properly. Once on I was terrified just standing still. I was not even on her very long but too me it was long enough.
I was frustrated with myself yet fearful to keep going. But I had a young mare that I had purposely bred for show and she was my main motivation. I knew I would not be breaking horses any longer but I refused to picture my life without them completely. I had to find a way and then it came to me.
When I was training and the horse I was working came to a point where it was insecure or stalled in a big way on what it was being asked to do, I did what a lot of trainers do; I would take them back to where they were comfortable and willing. So for me, that meant I knew I had to find my comfort zone.
The biggest part of that for me was to move my mare back to where I felt truly self-assured and where I felt it was my second home, the farm where I first started to work on horses full time. Where I knew I had been my strongest and where I knew I would get lot the love and support through this trauma.
You are probably thinking it doesn’t sound that big of a deal, but when you consider that this phobia is a war within yourself then why not take any measure to set yourself up for success. Just like training a horse, we always want to set them up for success.
Like I mentioned before, it took 5 months physically and another 6 months mentally. I pushed myself through the fear more with anger with myself for seeing this a weakness and sheer determination to get past it. Oh I had my shameful moments and I had many painful nights after riding too long, messing up my physiotherapy in doing so. It took some time before I was able to banish those ‘impure thoughts’ from my head and I began using my mantra, ride like you’ve never been thrown. I put it all behind me.
Just remember ‘It’ doesn’t own you. Use whatever gets you through it. Be strong minded. Be honest with yourself and most of all do it because you love it.
Next in the series is “Shirley, you Joust?”