Monday, January 31, 2011


This has been a post I've been working on in bits for several months now. I hope this helps anyone else out there that may be going through the same thing.

I ended up in the hospital twice in 2009 as a result of injuries from Diego. Thankfully, while both my injuries (kicked in the face while leading him, and a broken arm as a result of being bucked off) required a trip to the hospital, and a lot of time and rehab, neither one was overly serious or required an overnight stay. However, the bruises and scars I was left with externally, were nothing compared to the rehab and time I would need mentally in order to be able to once again enjoy the love of my life, riding horses.

I went from being a cautious, but not truly fearful rider, to REALLY having to face with and deal with my fear. My past experiences with horses were not without incident. I have come off more times than I can remember, but chalked that up to just being "a part of riding." I do still believe in that sentiment. When riding horses, you ARE going to come off at some point. You may go years and years without issue, you may have a very minor incident that results in no injuries, but you cannot delude yourself into thinking that it will never happen. It's never a matter of "if", but "when". I've had times where I literally landed on my feet, and have also had a few injuries, from bumps and bruises to a fracture here or there that didn't require any sort of medical treatment (i.e. cracked tailbone). In the past, although perhaps a bit anxious, I've always been able to get right back on, or very shortly thereafter, with no lingering effects other than perhaps a bit of nervousness for the first few minutes or while the horse was acting up. However, things were much, much different for me now.

At first, I found I had little desire to get back on a horse, any horse. However, riding is such a huge part of my life, such a huge part of what defines me, that those sentiments did not last for long. I knew that eventually, I would be back in the saddle again. I was able to use my broken arm as an excuse, both to myself and to others, for several months. I truly didn't want to risk riding again while my range of motion and strength in that limb were still so limited.  I need that time to begin to heal mentally as well.  I needed to come to terms with what had happened, and remind myself that what happened (being injured that badly) was more of an exception, not a common occurrence. 

Once I was ready to start riding again, some things that really helped me were riding other "steady eddy" horses, watching someone else successfully work with my horse, and just doing the small things that I could manage. At first, even climbing up on my friend's dead-broke gelding was enough to make my knees shake.  I felt like a first time rider as I insisted we walk for nearly an hour before I felt more comfortable going any faster. I was still prone to random panic attacks (something I've never had to deal with) at just the thought of riding my boy. It was shocking to be sitting at my desk at work on day, and find myself shaking with fear and on the verge of tears at the thought of riding Diego again. 

But, I started doing it, and bit by bit it got better. When I first got back on him, I had him stand next to the panels in the corral at home and I just barely slid a leg over, still keeping one foot and a hand on the fence, and would pull myself off his back onto "safety" at the slightest shift on his part.  Eventually I got where I could sit on him without hanging onto the fence, and then we progressed to teeny bits of walking around the corral.  It was a slow process that took me a couple of weeks to work up to in stages.

When I finally was feeling comfortable at home, I made plans with Bob and Dovie to bring Diego over to their house where they had a round pen.  The plan was to do a nice easy little baby trail ride.  Instead I found that I was so anxious just in the round pen, and Diego was tense and nervous as well, we were just feeding off each other and nothing good was coming of it.  Bob offered to ride Diego for me, which I was very thankful for.  I tried to get on Caramel, a horse belonging to a young girl who Dovie gives lessons to.  I found that I was just getting frustrated and more fearful, since she was a mare used to getting her way and I wasn't up to arguing.  I watched on foot as Bob took Diego out and around the small lot at the end of their street for an easy ride. 

The blessings of having good friends, I was able to leave Diego with Bob and Dovie for about a month, where Bob rode him nearly every day and would send me updates on how things were going.  I made a point of going over there a few times and riding Diego at their house.  I was not at the point where I looked forward to riding him, nor did I ENJOY riding him very much, but it was something I needed to do.  I either needed to come to terms with my fear, or try to sell the horse.  Watching him succeed under another rider was helpful, as well as having a ton of reinforcing emails about how good he was, etc.  As a celebration to the end of training, Diego and I completed in a 10-mile 4-H "Endurance" trail ride.  I had to walk on foot for quite a while to get up the nerve to get on, and also got off and walked periodically during the ride as my nerves needed.  Bob rode one of their horses with me and provided reassurance.  However, we did accomplish our goal of the 10 miles.

From there, things slowly got better.  I found I was able to more successfully manage my fear, and use getting off to walk as an outlet when I needed to.  I tried to put Diego into new situations, riding with various people, doing ground work bomb-proofing, going to a Formation riding clinic, and various despooking and obstacle clinics.  As we successfully completed each of these scenarios, I found myself starting to trust both in my abilities and Diego more and more. 

Perhaps one of the biggest turning points was actually coming off again.  On Friday before the Washoe Valley endurance ride, where Diego and I did 25 miles, I was pre-riding with a friend when a dad and his two children came bombing through the sand-dunes on their horses.  It was a bit too much for Dig to cope with and he spun and set to bucking, and I came off over his shoulder.  I landed in the soft sand and was totally fine, a bit sore, a bit shaken, but overall okay.  Diego galloped laps around us for about 5 minutes before allowing himself to be caught.  The next day we did the ride with no behavioral issues.

This last month, I've discovered something very special:  I LOVE RIDING MY HORSE AGAIN!  He can be a dork, he will still jump and buck, he's still like a coiled spring for the first few minutes when I get on, but I'm okay.  I'm not longer nervous and fearful.  I no longer need to get off and walk after any slight issue.  The more I regain my confidence and reassert myself, the better he does.  Now, his antics are more of an annoyance than a concern; they're a training issue we're working on, not the center of my focus.  Now, instead of dreading the ride, I find myself looking forward to each one, and reveling in the glory of being out with my horse for days afterward.

For this, I am so very truly thankful.


Dom said...

It's so awesome that you were able to overcome your fears like this. That is something to be truly proud of.

I had a bad accident in high school in which an OTTB fell with me at a gallop. I broke my collar bone on impact and he stepped on my face when he tried to get his feet under him, shattering my jaw. I must be out of my freaking mind because I was arguing with the medics to let me get back on for a quick walk around, and was sneaking out of the house to ride hot horses before my mom was ready to see me back in the saddle.

Caitlin said...

Reading about others figuring out how to get over their fear after an accident is very encouraging. I'm always worried that my accident last year is going to keep me from riding the way I used to, without fear riding passenger behind me. While I have no idea where to find bomb-proofing clinics near me here my barn is working with me to create our own version. I'm glad to be reminded its very possible.

Micki said...

I was thrown off my sprited 14 yo arab mare 2 days ago and was lucky, no injuries, a bad bruise on my back. But this is the 2nd time in 4 months, and it comes with no warning, and we were on mile 16 when it happened. You would think the bad spooks would be gone after 16 miles. Anyway, I do not have fear, but I do have a concern about how many times do I get before I really get hurt? I am 50 with 4 kids and a job. Can I afford a major injury? Or should I make the hard decision that this horse is just too right brained all the time, and I need to find one more calm? I rode my foxtrotter mare for 6 years, including LD races, and NEVER came off. You have a responsibility to yourself, your safety, and your get back on a horse that bucks, I don't know. Just presenting the other side of the coin I guess...

Red Hot Ruby said...

I just read this post on mugwump and can really connect. My gelding, Socks, has brought out some fear issues in me that I am really struggling to deal with. I'd love to know how you two are doig now!

Becki D said...

Thanks for sharing your story! I am currently recuperating after being bucked off my 4 year old gelding last week. No broken bones, but it was definitely the worst fall I've had in my 20+ years of riding.

I'm working on the mental rehab while my body mends...part of me can't wait to work with my horse again to see if this was a fluke...and the other part is terrified that I just taught my young boy a very dangerous new trick.

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