I originally wrote this 9/24/2010. Once a year I repost my story for those of you who need to read it.
I wasn’t going to write this story because I don’t have any photos to go along with it. But today, as I was walking my horse along a riding path, I thought about how far I have come since the accident. I thought maybe someone else might need to hear my story.
Mind you, I don’t ever really even think about the accident itself. I was fine and it doesn’t replay in my mind, ever. Having said that, it effected me tremendously. Here is what happened. First of all, I made several mistakes that created the perfect stage. I was riding an equine I didn’t know. I was using someone elses too large, slick saddle and I was using a bridle that I didn’t inspect. Luckily, I was wearing a helmet. Now, I am not a fearless rider but I was pretty darn close to that. I would gentle all of my babies. I gave the first ride and most of the training to all my trail horses. I’d ridden miles and miles of trails over many years and had bred and raised World Champion Morgan Horses. And to me, I was always safety conscious. Just not this day. I “forgot to put on my seat belt” as it were. And that was the day I got into the accident.
It happened a ways into the ride. My mount started to get a bit jumpy and I was circling him to keep him busy. Mid circle, he whipped his head around and took hold of the bit. In a flash, I was being “run away with”. This had never happened to me before. I had the presence of mind to pull one rein and stick his nose into my leg. POP! The bridle broke. Not just the pinging of Chicago screws, the actual leather was rotten under a buckle and it snapped apart. I didn’t realize what had happened at the time. I just couldn’t figure out why my reins had so much slack. At this point, we were running straight towards a hedgerow of towering blackberry brambles and dense oak brush that rimmed a steep descent. To me, if we entered that, I was a goner. So, we did. I remember thinking about the movie, Man from Snowy River, as we crashed through the entrance to the brush.
Vaguely I can remember hearing my friend screaming my name. Everything on the outside became very sloooooooow. My mind was thinking about my life. It did pass before me. As I was clutching the neck of my equine and bearing as low as I could possibly put my body, I thought of what a stupid way this was for me to die and that my Mom was going to be really mad about this at the funeral. In slow motion, I felt the branches thump along my back. I felt my helmet bash against everything. My legs, tight around the gut of this raging animal, were being ripped yet they felt numb. I felt numb. I felt nothing. Down. Down. Bang! Crash! Snap! The sounds of horrible bending and snapping, wild ripping and tearing all around me. I heard it all but it really felt like I was under water and it was all happening to someone else. And then, in an instant, it all stopped. In a moment I went from clutching and gripping onto my tormentor to sitting upright on the only 1 foot square patch of clean grass in the entire hillside. I swear, and I have a witness, I was sitting perfectly upright with crossed legs as if I was about to start a yoga class. When I realized that I was no longer on the equine but sitting in a patch of grass against a tree, I couldn’t fathom what had happened. I checked to see if I was alive. Yes. I think I am alive. I checked to see if I could move everything. Yes. Then, faintly, I heard my friend screaming my name. I heard myself feebly call back. Yes, I was alive. My friend couldn’t actually get to me. She hacked her way into the thicket and stood there shaking with me. I was alive. I was OK. Unbelievable. We both started crying.
HOW DID I NOT DIE?
Now, I don’t know what I really feel about angels or God. What I do know is that I have no idea how I survived that without any significant damage. Looking back on the path we took, you could see where my helmet cracked branches and dented limbs. You could see all the lethal broken wood daggers. It was impossible to get through that without more than a few scratches. Yet, I did. What was even more strange, is that the gear had no scrapes. The only scrapes were on the animal from about shoulder down. He had tons of scratches all over his shoulders and legs. But, nothing above his shoulder, just like me. So odd.
That night, I had a dream — a very vivid dream. I felt as if I was being told to watch and listen… As I rested there, a movie played. It was my ride happening in front of me. As I watched, I see the horse decide to bolt. I see me start to react. I see the bridle break. I see me respond by releasing my stirrups and grabbing on in a very primitive fashion. Then, with my face buried in the side of his neck, I see a huge pair of white wings surround me. I see us all crashing through the intense and barbaric brush, going straight downhill. I then see myself being scooped up in a nanosecond and dropped gently on the grass. The winged creature looked right at me, in my eyes, and told me, “You’re alright.” I felt his words like a warm rush of strength through my body. And then he/it left. That was my dream.
The next day, I thought I was fine. And, I was — physically. But, as soon as I went to the barn to saddle up, I knew I was very hurt. Fear the size of New Jersey erupted inside of me. I couldn’t get on a horse. I could barely be around a horse. I would jump out of my skin if they so much as sneezed. I had lost my trust in myself and in my horses. I was a mess. I have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Diagnosed. This is not a term I use lightly.
So today, almost 6 years later, as I’m walking my horse, Finn, along a trail, I thought about how far I’ve come and the odd way I journeyed through it. What I mean is that when you’ve been rattled to the core, others who haven’t ever been that frightened, cannot possibly understand. All of a sudden you become a “baby” or “not a good rider” or many other terms of not understanding. “You just need to get back on” and “It’s all in your head” would come across my hearing often. They had no idea and I really couldn’t fault them for this thinking… They simply didn’t know. This wasn’t getting the wind knocked out of me or having a nasty fall. This was I knew I was going to die. What was really difficult for me was that I had just moved here. No one knew me. No one knew that I could ride. No one knew how brave I’ve been. No one knew that I wasn’t just a baby. All of a sudden, my identity was confused. I was “that lady with too many horses who doesn’t know how to ride.” I would hear them whisper that I should just sell them if I wasn’t going to ride them. Or, I was the lady who has really nice horses as pets and what a shame that was… Of course, I didn’t understand it either. What was wrong with me?? Why couldn’t I just relax? It wasn’t going to happen again…! Just ride, already!
If any of you readers have ever been through the kind of terrifying experience that handcuffs your brain into PTSD, you know what I mean. I was so frustrated with myself I decided to do what I thought was best. I understood that my only way out was through. So, I started with the sole horse I felt would never hurt me, my Aladdin. I only worked with him. For a year, only him. Everyone else just had the year off. No matter what anyone said, I just focused. He and I walked (me on the ground beside him) the trails we used to ride. I let him garden with me (he grazed), we bathed and clipped and did feet and every possible ground work exercise out there. Eventually, I got on. We rode all the trails at a walk, alone. Finally! Yay! I was OK on him. I felt safe. Now onward.
After three years of Aladdin only, he got sick so I had to ride someone else. I picked my crazy Morgan mare because at least she and I knew each other well since she was born here and I had taught her to ride. In hindsight, it was a great choice because I hadn’t realized that she had matured. Getting to know her so closely again was a gift. She and I became hiking buddies. We took every trail around here. People would laugh at me and say, “What, you walkin’ your hawse??” Yup, I was. Eventually, I started riding her. If I got frightened, I’d get off and walk. I never let her forget her manners; I just got off when I felt that awful grip on my throat. But, it happened less and less. I was getting better.
That same year, I forced myself to do the same with Finn, my TWH who I had purchased about a month before the accident. He had sat, not being used for 3 years. And, again, we walked everywhere together. Around my house, around the neighborhood, to the mailbox, whatever I did, I took Finn. I realized that for me, if I really knew my riding partner, I felt much more at ease. And, it worked. Last year, I taught my Icy filly to ride.
This year, I am determined to ride my 7 year old TWH filly who was a yearling at the time of the accident. She has sat around here for 6 years. 6 years! (She has all her groundwork, just not much riding by me.) So, she is my challenge. And, I’ll do it. But, even with as much progress as I feel I have made, I still won’t do cliffs, I won’t ride with a horse that rattles mine and I won’t ride on anything narrow or confining. Maybe in time that will change, too. But for now, no matter what anyone thinks, for me, this is what partnership with my horse is all about. They patiently wait and help me when I need it. I patiently wait and help them when they lack confidence. We are a team. After all, I already know I can ride… now I’m learning that I can heal.
As an aside, when I do get unsettled in the saddle, I just imagine big ol’ white wings around us. “You’re alright.”