A friend of mine volunteered at a nursing home. One of the patients there was always talking about riding and my friend thought that maybe I could come along and talk horses with her. That was what I knew when I entered her room.
The walls were covered with horse pictures from magazines, a couple of medical machines were humming and sighing, and there was a stuffed horse-toy on the bed. She was lying facing the wall, quietly crying. I asked if I could come in, and as she turned- I was surprised to see she was half my age. I’d expected an elderly person. I forced a smile and asked if she liked horses.
In the next few minutes she repeated the same story several times; she had a horse, he was beautiful, she had ridden all her life. Sometimes she remembered her horse’s name, sometimes not. Again- she had a horse, he was beautiful…. She continued to cry off and on. It was hard tell if her pain was physical or mental, or if that even mattered. There was no doubt she had been a serious rider. And then she would remember again, she had a horse…
I don’t know the extent of her injury, but it was severe,chronic, and the result of a riding accident. I don’t know if she was wearing a helmet. She had been there over a year; her young husband came as I was leaving.
I’m not sure this tragedy is mine to tell but I know I’m haunted by the visit. The truth is that she reminded me of myself as a little kid. Like her, I stared at pictures and longed so deep for a horse that I moaned. I was possessed with my desire, it ruled my days and nights. Once she was just like me- we could have ridden together. Now she is held captive in the hurt of wanting and not having, with a child’s mind that doesn’t comprehend.
Until I met her, I didn’t understand there was something worse than losing a horse.
Riders know all too well the risks that come with horses- every day, every ride. We weigh desire with risk and we don’t like to think about injury. I’ve written about the helmet issue before, but there’s has been more talk recently on the heels of the Riders4Helmets Helmet Safety Symposium. While opinions rage on both sides of this debate, I have been remembering the trip to the nursing home.
I can’t choose for you, but I know me- I will never be okay with not riding; that pain would never leave me. I may end up in that same nursing home room eventually, but in the meantime I’ll use every brain cell I have-to be safe as possible in my world of risk. If wearing a helmet might buy me more time on my horse, then it buys me freedom.
(Photo: Standing in the Light of a Horse.)