by Katie Woodburn 

* This sounds pretty outrageous, but I promise it’s 100% true!

CAUTION: NOT riding horses can be very detrimental to your health!


Has anyone ever discussed the dangers of not riding?

Everyone, whether horsey or not, is aware of the dangers of riding. When a friend of mine, an extreme downhill mountain biker, was asking about my own sport, I told him that eventing is “just like what you do. Except my bike weighs over a thousand pounds, has a mind of its’ own, and no reliable brakes.” But has anyone ever discussed the dangers of not riding? With 218 days left on my sentence (AKA “recovery”) after my knee surgery, I am experiencing serious physical, emotional and mental pain.

A few days ago, I awoke to a very swollen, aching eyelid. I called my dad, who just happens to be an eye doctor. He told me to go to the Emergency Room right away because I had Perceptal Orbital Cellulitis. Keeping in mind that my dear father almost always dismisses my health concerns with a “Nah, you’re fine,” I was quite alarmed. I figured I must be dying or something. I hobbled as fast as I could to the hospital, where I was given antibiotics. “I’m tempted to put you on an IV and keep you in here, but I think we can get away with oral medication,” the doctor said.

More concerning, I was told that cellulitis spreads quite quickly, and that the infection was less than an inch away from my brain. If it did reach my noggin, I would get Meningitis. I was quite stunned. People still die from Meningitis, and it can have terrible aftermath such as deafness, epilepsy, and “cognitive deficit.” Here’s the kicker: my kind of cellulitis is caused by stress. Stress. I’m usually quite a chill person (I save stress for events of actual importance, such as horse shows), so I was puzzled. Yes, it was getting towards the end of school, but my exams were over. I had school projects due, but deadlines never wig me out.

Then it hit me: the horses! Riding has always been my best way to unwind. The saying “The worst day riding still beats the best day at the office” rings particularily true in my life.  After my surgery, I tried to replace it with working out, but I never got the same relief. On a horse, I forgot every single worry in my life, my mind be consumed by the complexity of riding. Let’s face it, exercise bicycles don’t take very much mental concentration. In fact, I probably did most of my stressful thinking at the gym.

And then there were the nightmares. Let me point out that I don’t ever have vivid, meaningful or coherent dreams. I never dream about people or animals whom I know. But my last few nights have been rife with horse-themed terror and disappointment, starring the lovely big grey horse I leased last year. The common plot was that I had the horse back, but couldn’t ride him for various reasons: missing tack, missing horse, someone else was already on him etc, etc. Last night, I spent hours searching for him (we were late for our dressage test), only to find him in a garage with his legs bandaged. Upon removal of said bandages, his hind leg fell off. As you can imagine, I awoke crying and borderline hyperventilating.

So, on my way home for the weekend on doctor’s strict orders not to work or do homework, I strategized. Perhaps I could have a “therapeutic” ride? Not to sound like a drama queen or anything, but being led up and down the driveway a few times on a pony may very well save my life.

Katie Woodburn