So my two weeks of physician-induced exile from riding were up. It was time to get back in the saddle.
I could work through the physical part pretty well on my own. The hip flexors were the most troublesome. Whenever I got up from a chair, I looked like Frankenstein. It was awful. A stranger would have thought I was twice my age.
I came across as a decrepit old woman, and I hurt like hell — way more than the Advil could get me through. I hate the feeling I get from the 20 megaton pain killers, so those were out. Plus, if you’re taking stuff that strong, you’ve got no business riding a horse.
At work, I garnered more than a few raised eyebrows, so I tried to just stay at my desk. But at the barn there’s not much room to hide this kind of stiffness and soreness.
To combat the tightness, I went back to some yoga stretches that I’ve collected as being good for riding, and particularly good for the hips. I’m still working on it, but I can finally stand without looking I’m 112 years old. And even that has taken six weeks. Make no mistake — I’m not 100% by a long shot. But I can at least get up and start walking without needing help to get out of my chair.
Then came The Day — the day I was to get back in the saddle again. My daughter, Rachael, had already taken her lesson on Charlie, and they had done beautifully. Now it was my turn.
Charlie was waiting in his stall, munching happily on hay. I went by to check on his tack, and give him a hug. When I put my arms around his neck, he flung his head up. Nothing malicious, just normal horse behavior. A little rude maybe. But it was just enough to set me off. I got scared. Not just a little. I was terrified.
The only thing I could think to do was find my trainer, Deysha, and have her talk me in off the ledge. But I couldn’t locate her. I couldn’t find my daughter or husband, Bob, either. So now, on top of being scared, I felt alone. I stood in the middle of the driveway, trying to hold myself together, and failing miserably at it.
After the five minutes from hell, that felt like five days, my husband and daughter reappeared. I was shaking badly, beginning to cry, but still trying to hold it together. All I could croak out of my throat was a request for them to find Deysha. Rachael scurried away to bring in the reinforcements. Bob stood there, rubbing my back, trying to understand. I began to lose it.
By the time Deysha made her way over, which was just a few minutes, I was a full blown basket case. I told her what happened. And I admitted out loud that I was scared. That only made me feel worse. I love Charlie, and the idea of being afraid of riding him was soul crushing — not to mention confidence crushing, and the bar wasn’t very high there to begin with.
Deysha offered to help me tack up. Trying to be the tough one, I insisted doing it myself, but she was there to soothe the rough edges. Typically, our class goes out a few minutes early, and we take a 10-ish minute walk on Pony Trail to warm up. My feet were shaking as I walked up the mounting block. She saw that, and offered to walk with us on the trail. I quickly agreed.
Trail was uneventful. We rode around to the indoor arena for the hour long lesson. I was grateful for the smaller, more contained space. I was also grateful that it was a flat lesson because then I wouldn’t be a distraction to the rest of my classmates, who didn’t know what I was dealing with, and that I was banned from jumping again for another week.
The class started to trot, and I felt the blood drain from my face. I pulled into the middle of the arena, and told Deysha I wasn’t up to it. Instead of letting me off the hook, she convinced me to stay with the class, and just walk around for the rest of the hour. Not wanting to give up, I stayed.
I felt like a complete beginner. Actually, I felt more like an idiot. I couldn’t remember any of the aids to tell Charlie what to do next. But we managed to walk around while everyone else trotted and cantered. Slowly, the tension in my body and mind began to let up. I can’t say it went away, but it lessened enough to notice some things.
Like Charlie. It seemed he was checking with me every few strides to make sure I was okay. It’s like he knew I had to work through some things, and that I wasn’t my usual self. But he announced very clearly that he was going to be gentle, and take care of me while I figured everything out again.
At the end of class, we went to walk Pony Trail again to cool off, and Deysha repeated her offer to walk with us. And while I wasn’t up for an hour of trail ride, I was at least comfortable enough to go back with my classmates, without an escort from the instructor. It sounds little, but for me it was a major step.
After the group class came the challenge of schooling rides on my own, before my next class. Since my husband, Bob, isn’t a horse guy, I felt the need for someone more familiar with riding to be with me, just in case. Graciously, my barn manager, Sarah, said I could ride around in the indoor arena with her class, while she taught them.
I had been cleared to walk and trot, and I had already ridden in my group lesson, so this time, I expected to do both. After all, I had already done the group lesson, albeit at a walk. This was going to be where I shook all the cobwebs and dust off myself, and returned to being the rider I was before my fall. But as soon as I stepped into the arena, and the rest of the class started to trot around me, I knew we were going to spend another hour walking. And we did.
It felt like I had failed because we hadn’t done any more than we had done the last time. But it turns out that was wrong. I’ve found there’s a continuum of confidence at each gait. And I have to work all the way through each one before I move on to the next. There’s a good deal of overlap, so I can trot a little bit before I’m completely up to snuff at the walk, for instance. But I have to go all the way back to the beginning and start again.
As people found out about the situation, I got lots of support — from HJU friends, barn friends, instructors, staff, classmates, fellow boarders — the whole crew. That’s really when I decided to own this fall. I’m not going to be able to pull this off by slinking around and hiding either my injuries or the basics I need to work through again. I have to embrace them and master them. Only then will I be able to move on.
So on this road back, my goal is to be bored:
- Groom until you’re so bored you have to lunge.
- Lunge until you’re so bored you have to mount up and walk.
- Walk until you’re so bored you have to trot.
- Trot until you’re so bored you have to canter.
- Canter until you’re so bored you have to jump.
That way, the next step will be a relief, not something to be dreaded or feared.
For now, we walk. And boredom is a great measure of progress.