If you ride long enough, you’re going to fall. This is an inevitability the same way being human means you will at some point trip. I try not to ever be a know-it-all jerk about riding, but when a newer rider smugly proclaims she’s never fallen off, I can’t help myself. I shrug and say, “Then you haven’t been riding long enough.”
I remember my first fall as a completely untrained seven-year-old (bareback on a Standardbred, on the backside of a racetrack), and most of the ones that came after. A time or two they were scary, but most of the time they’re just a simple twist of fate. Your balance goes one way, and your horse’s goes the other. You can be an Olympic level rider, and you’ll still fall. It probably won’t be bad, but every once in awhile it is terrible.
I’m going to jump on a soapbox for a second here and then promptly get off. Please bear with me. WEAR A HELMET.
When I get backchat from my feelings on this, I bring up Courtney King-Dye. Olympic dressage rider and someone who felt that helmets were not something a high-level dressage rider needed to worry about. Her horse tripped. No buck or bolt or any kind of nastiness whatsoever, he just tripped while training and fell. King-Dye came off and landed on her head. She was in a coma for a month and suffered permanent brain damage. She is a very staunch supporter of helmets in all disciplines now.
But I digress…
The 22nd had the potential of being Star and my first show together. She’d been off and on in the weeks leading up to it, so I determined that our Tuesday lesson would be the deciding factor one way or another. If Tuesday she worked well and we managed to connect a few jumps together, than I’d take my chances with her on Sunday. If not, then we’d work through the winter and hopefully be a stronger, more cohesive team for Trillium next year.
Tuesday she was pretending to be a hunter schooling horse, calm and collected. My coach, B, actually questioned, “Who is this horse?” at one point. It’s literately the first time we’ve ever trotted over a jump and not dug in to canter (gallop?) on the other side. So we used the good attitude and did a building gymnastics exercise. First the crossrail, then a vertical, and than another. B is still working on getting the “sit up and back” concept ingrained into my brain. I have a tendency to want to hunt-seat hover forward. I also just like to go fast; fine when on a well-schooled hunt pony, but perhaps not the best idea when piloting a Thoroughbred bred for racing. Star also has a hard time taking smaller jumps and ground poles seriously.
Regardless, Star and I managed to do the triple combo well enough to get the, “Once more like than and you can walk.” I gave myself a half-nod thinking that come what may, we’d try the show and see where we ended up on Sunday.
Star tripped out of the first X. I probably could have helped more, got further back and tried to bring up her balance, but I didn’t react fast enough. Through her forward momentum, I felt her shoulders drop and knew things were going to get bad. I looked at the next jump, thought I could get under it, and launched myself into a superman dive.
I’m still not sure if it was the back of the pole hitting my head, or just the impact of the ground, but I got a flash of blue light, blacked out for a second, and then just focused on catching my breath. Then Star rolled. Our heads faced opposite directions, so her back end came across the left side of my back/arm and pancaked me into the sand. I looked over and saw her back hooves flailing and thought, Please don’t hit my head. She didn’t, got to her feet and moved away.
B was already there, tossing a blanket over my back and getting down to my level. Was I okay? I was, but I couldn’t catch my breath to tell her. I think I said, “Breathe.” Eventually we went through the full protocol. I could move my toes and fingers. No pinching or numbness. I actually didn’t feel that bad, but I know myself and adrenaline makes me a bit superhuman. I realized Star was shrieking, and it occurred to me that she could be really, really hurt. B said she was fine, just scared. She was taken back to the barn for some Bute and a cooldown. I sat up and started going through the “am I okay” questions again. I found that My left shoulder/collarbone area wasn’t feeling great and my vision blurred a bit if I moved my head too quickly from side to side.
B and I laughed a lot during this whole process. I think part of it was probably relief. I wasn’t dead or too broken to fix. I was hurt, but that’s okay. Part if it is also that I like my coach and find her funny. I demand to have a coach that can make me better, but I’ve never really cared about whether we get along as people. It’s been nice to have one that is both.
It became easier to laugh when one of the barn cats decided to come over and give me a kneading back massage when I was prone, then hop into my lap when I sat up (see header pic). I’m highly allergic to cats and this particular one had seemed very offended by my standoffish attitude. So whether concern or revenge, he decided to look after me. B, her husband, the cat and I made the best of the situation; them keeping me company until I could get up and walk around myself.
Star gave me a good sniffing all over from head to toe before she allowed herself to be led back to her paddock for the night. It’s nice to think that she wanted to make sure I was okay before heading off to bed.
I decided to error on the side of caution and go to the hospital. Looking back, it seems stupid that I would have even considered not going. I basically had full body X-rays and concussion protocol. I left knowing that I had no broken bones, a mild concussion and what the ER doctor considered “severe soft tissue damage.”
I’m recovering, spending another week with family to help me handle my rambunctious daughter. My family physician wants me to give it another week before I try to ride or pick up anything. Lots of big lovely bruises, but I’m better than I probably should be.
I never had a second thought about not getting up again. I’ll ride when I’m able and we’ll come back into it carefully. I am mostly fine with missing the show, but I did get a twinge or two of regret watching the results posted throughout the day. I like to win, of course, but more than that I like to compete. To see where I fit in with all the other riders working at my level and to see what they can teach me to further improve myself.
This fall has now become one of my handful of worst falls ever. But, much like the others, it taught me quite a few things. Not to rush. Not to forget I’m not fifteen anymore, and don’t bounce as easily as I did then. Not to for a second stop being thankful for the life I have.
Because of my equipment, coach, and training I will ride another day. Because that’s the thing about a simple twist of fate, it only dictates as much as you allow it to. Eyes up and leg on, folks. I’m not going anywhere.
Christine Sharpe is a Canadian who grew up riding Hunter/Jumper in the Southern USA. Now living in Toronto, she is a thirty-something who is recently back to riding after four years off and having her first child. Christine is aiming her new Thoroughbred mare, Star, toward the Trillium Jumper Circuit in 2016. She struggles daily to juggle family, work, and her equine lifestyle, with occasional success.