In all candor, I debated whether to even do this blog. But given the subject, and the intensity with which it has grasped my riding, I came to two conclusions:
First, the only way I would ever be able to conquer my fears would be to bring them into the light of day. Say them out loud. Write them down. Admit to them. All of them. Then I could begin to figure out how to take charge of them so they didn’t run the show.
Second, if I was experiencing this, I probably wasn’t the only one. This is a high intensity sport. And we’re all a lot more “average” than we like to admit. Which means at some point we’re going to fall off. So my purpose here was to help someone else realize that they weren’t alone in their journey through this surreal head space. And perhaps we could conquer our mutual demons together.
A few months ago, Charlie Brown and I went to a clinic. Both the facility and the instructor are well known. If I told you the names, you would recognize them, but I won’t because that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter where or how or with whom, but I fell off. Badly. In fact, I got knocked unconscious. When I came to a minute later, there were half a dozen faces all hovering over me.
My first thought was complete embarrassment. All these people had just seen me commit the cardinal sin of clinic attendance — falling off. Your horse can be a bonehead and do every stupid thing in the book, as long as you don’t fall off.
Then came my auto-pilot response of wanting to get back on the horse because that’s what we’re supposed to do when we fall. But I knew I couldn’t because I had been out cold.
Then came my rational response of “How am I going to get to the Emergency Room, because if I was unconscious, then I’d better get checked out medically, but obviously I shouldn’t drive myself.” That was followed closely by the panic of “How am I going to get my truck, trailer, and (most importantly) horse re-packed and driven the hour and a half home?”
Mercifully, I had the brilliant thought of bringing someone from my barn with me to the clinic — Lauren, a former eventer who now teaches where we board. As soon as my carcass hit the ground, she became my rescue battalion in a whole lot of ways.
First, she was dealing with the horse. Charlie Brown stopped about 30 yards away from where I came off. At that point, it dawned on him that I wasn’t still in the saddle, so he paused to see where I had gone. When he saw me on the ground, he waited, sheepishly, for someone to tell him what to do next. Lauren got him quickly untacked and put back in his stall.
Then she was on the phone.
She called my husband, who was at parent-teacher conferences with my daughter at her school. Curve ball! Not exactly the call he expected to get in the middle of a discussion of 7th grade math.
She called my barn manager, Amber, who enlisted Suzanne to drive her up to where I was. Together, they re-packed all my tack and supplies, loaded my horse, hitched up the trailer, and hauled the lot home for me.
Lauren drove me to the local emergency room and sat with me as the doctor went through the inevitable questions, answering those that I couldn’t. As is normal for these kinds of things, my initial memories left a big gap in time, which closed as the images and thoughts came back to me. But there were still things I didn’t know, like “How long was I out?” Or when I said the back of my calf hurt like I had been kicked, of the two of us, only Lauren knew for a fact that I had been kicked but not stepped on.
She even stopped for my favorite passion fruit tea at Starbucks and drove me home.
At the Emergency Room, I got a neurological exam, and several X-rays. My diagnosis from Dr. Rachel was a mild concussion, with no fractures or breaks. Yeah!
I was to follow up with a visit to my regular physician, Dr. Alan, four days later. Alan said I was very lucky. The total tally was a mild concussion, a bruise to the back of my right thigh, a bruise to the back of my right calf, and two massively pulled sets of hip flexors.
The concussion was from smacking my head against the ground. Thank goodness for helmets! The bruises were the result of Charlie kicking out in joy at the completion of our jump course. And the hip flexor damage was from when I pulled my feet sharply out of the stirrups in anticipation of needing to be free of them. The general soreness was from being chucked to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
My orders were:
- No alcohol for 30 days
- Take it easy on the caffeine for the same 30 days
- No riding at all for two weeks
- Walk and trot only for the first two weeks back in the saddle
After that there were no restrictions — at least from the doctor. My mind had a thing or two to say about it.
The fact that I couldn’t immediately get back on became a problem. I appreciate the need to get back in the saddle right away in a way I didn’t before. I’ve always stuck to that rule, but I now know first-hand exactly why it has to be done.
The damage your imagination can do is incredible, in a bad way. You start thinking about why you fell, and why you might fall again, and what you could have done differently, and why you didn’t do those things, and it all swirls around in your head. These thoughts move with the force of a hurricane. But if you get right back on, then that genie is back in the bottle before it ever really gets out.
When you fall off, you tend to think you’re stupid and a bad rider and undeserving of your equestrian goals. But sometimes, stuff happens, and it has nothing to do with you. All you can do is get back on your horse.
In this case, that was going to be a challenge all its own…