Ride Like You've Never Been Thrown
I have named this final segment ‘True Grit’ as I believe that this woman is the epitome of the term. She is strong minded and even stronger willed. She was competing at Congress before she became debilitated and she is bound and determined to excel past the competitive level that she was at despite the disability and despite all the injuries she has incurred. So look out Congress here she comes.
This story is about a woman, whose friends hold her in high regard for her to have gone through what she has and then still rise up back into the top 10 at Congress. One such friend has stated that there is more steel in that girl than in his truck.
Her name is Liz Heffernan, whom I recently had the pleasure of meeting to interview for this series. She is a patient horsewoman, coach and trainer who shared her story to encourage people to get past their fear of ever riding again after a bad fall and to advise them of the process that has truly helped her.
The first of 3 tragic episodes has a left Liz with a condition that causes imbalance in her vision. When she is in motion and her eyesight lowers, her vision splits and she either sees double or the object she is looking at begins to shimmer and shake. This throws her off balance. She has had to retrain herself to concentrate and envision where the object truly should be until the incident passes. Liz has come a long way from when she used to feel nauseous from this insane vertigo that would come over her. She now has a greater grasp on how to battle through these episodes.
Liz told me that her fall came about in an uncanny way. She had an amazing barrel racing prospect, a two year old mare that had incredible bloodlines and was the full sister to one Liz had already had success with.
Being the good trainer that she is, Liz knew when to ask for help, when the mare started to show some dangerous tendencies. So she packed up the mare and went to a friend to have him assist her. After a time he had the horse straightened out but he was sure that these issues would return and he told Liz that if this mare started bucking again that Liz would be better off getting rid of the horse. Liz described it to me that she felt, more often than not, the troublesome ones were the superstars and she, being optimistic was reluctant to give up on the mare just yet. Time and effort had proven that horse, now at the age of five, did have the potential Liz knew she had, but the mare began showing her old tendencies and continued to get worse. One day after a good work out Liz felt that she would change things up and take the mare for a trail ride to walk her out. No sooner did she get outside the arena that things went bad. Liz had no time to react and braced herself for the fall. She said that it was almost like the rock pile came at her in slow motion and she remembers telling herself that this was going to hurt.
She could feel the blood running down her face; however, she found that she was unable to stand. Her left wrist was broken as was her right tibia. Her cheek bone was fractured in numerous places as well as her orbital bone where she lost the battle with the rocks. A quick assessment told her that she was not going to be the one to catch the loose horse and she was going need to help. There was no sense calling out because her husband could not hear her from the shed, above the tractor noise. Weighing her options, she crawled the longer way on the lawn. She had feared if she went on the gravel she may have passed out and drown in the water filled pot holes in the driveway. It took over twenty minutes to get within earshot. The second she heard the tractor shut off she screamed with all her might. Then, even from the ground she took control and was directing her husband to get their son to care for her and her husband was to gather the horse.
In time her leg and wrist healed and she only had to deal with the pain in her face which required a screen and pins to restore her check and eye socket to resemble anything close to normal. She knows how truly lucky she was to have been wearing her helmet.
Overexertion and bright lights bothered her eyes for the longest stretch but she felt it was time to get back to riding and see exactly how her vision issue was going to affect her. As it turns out, her attempts were made far too early. She was not physically ready.
She was eager to get back in the saddle and raring to go. She decided to ride her horse George, who was just back from training. The horse was not used to a rider that was not altogether balanced and she incurred another injury, this time she broke her right femur. Which meant more pins, more plates and more time convalescing.
Even though she was still suffering from the vision impairment it is like they say you can’t keep a good gal down. No sooner did she heal from that last occurrence, she was already planning her next ride. Her horse George had been schooled while she was mending and again she felt she was ready. So, she chose the gelding again and this time the horse was stellar. However, all it took to force her vision to split was the horse shifting its weight as she was mounting. With one foot in the stirrup, she became dizzy and fell away and forward twisting her leg, giving her a lateral break across and down her tibia. This break proved worse than the previous two and was far more painful. Again she needed more plates and screws to reconstruct it.
Liz truly felt that she would never ride again. She was at an age where the bones start to become more brittle and take a lot longer to heal. All her muscles suffered from not being weight bearing for so long and she knew the only chance she was going to have of ever riding again was to be totally prepared physically. She knew there was no way she was ready to sit back and become just an observer in her own life.
She was forced to downsize her herd to only two horses as the chores for any more than that proved to be too much for her. The strain on her eye when trying to focus on something as simple as the wheelbarrow was proving too much.
When she was well enough, Liz turned to Yoga classes to build her core muscle up and Spin classes to strengthen her legs. These proved to be an immense help to her. She started feeling like there was a chance again for her to do what she loved and did indeed start to ride again and to compete at Congress. She had the support of her friends at the competitions, who would shout out to her ‘find the next barrel’ or for the gate when heading for home. She would concentrate on the next barrel and if her vision split she knew where it had been and can now master her turns.
So 2015 is going to be her year. She will be back at Congress and we have to wish her all the best. I will be watching her success for that you can be sure.
True Grit is all I can say. Liz’s story and the others in this series show us that if you want something that bad, there are ways to achieve it. You need to wait until you are physically ready. You need to find the horse that you can trust with your life to help with your first rides. Find the right exercise programs for you to make yourself strong. Draw strength from your inner being and ride. If Liz and the other women can overcome such adversity then so can you.
If you take nothing else away from reading this series take the fact that being a horse person is like glorious virus you catch or a spiritual contract. Once you sign on, you’re in for life because it is a lifelong passion. The title of this series is Ride Like You’ve Never Been Thrown. Which means, take the lessons learned from your fall, carry a little bit of that fear with you to keep you smart and ride on like you’ve never been thrown.