Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Horses and Pain

I have been thrown since I first started to ride. I think it's a given whenever one spends a great deal of time with horses, at least if one is riding them. The trick is learning not to get thrown, or not to fall off. I thought I would share some of the experiences that have shaped who I am . . .

My first time solo on the back of the horse was when I was six. I was riding a three year old palomino appaloosa named Muffin and owned by a family friend. I had my reins way too long. We rode up a hill behind the ranch where Muffin lived and she turned for home directly down a pretty steep hillside. I tried to stop her by lifting the reins all the way over my head, but because of their length and my size, it had zero effect. At the bottom of the hill, Muffin went up, over, into, out of and down a ditch bank covered with short, thickly grown Russian Olive trees. I ducked my head, grasped hold of the saddle horn and cried as we tore through the long, wickedly sharp thorns to the other side, leaving me sobbing in pain and covered with long, bleeding scratches. I didn't get off though, and it did nothing to dampen my desire to ride and be owned by a horse.

Thus started the relationship of pain and riding that I understand and accept as a horsewoman.

My first equine shaped animal was a shithead shetland pony sold as a "great kid's horse" to my parents by my Uncle. He was vicious, wicked quick with his hooves, a biter, and as hard mouthed as an animal can get. I was eight. The first time on him, he ran me under nine apple trees, trying to bash me against the trunks as I clung like a monkey to the twisted pad saddle. I finally let go and fell off, rising with tears streaking my face, frustration like a fist in my belly. That started my relationship with the shitland that continued until we finally sold him several years later. In that time, I was kicked in the chest, bit numerous times, thrown against a fence, broke my hand falling off, got scraped off under the clothesline and got thrown face first into a slatboard gate more times than I can count. Every time I got up, brushed myself off and got back on. Every. Time.

Then there was Sham. He was half-welsh, half-Appaloosa, and all mean from the moment he was foaled. When he was less than two weeks old, he reared up and tried to knock my brother off his mother's back, using his feet and teeth. By the time he was a yearling, I couldn't keep him in a pasture because he could jump everything we had. We tried housing him in a seven foot pole corral, but he reared up and touched the top pole with his nose, sank back and cleared it from a standstill. I tried hobbling him, tying his legs closer and closer together until the only way he could move was to hop like a freaking bunny. It didn't deter him however, since the little bugger hopped to the fence, fell into it, rolled out the other side and hopped away in search of mares to bother. I was so happy the day the vet came out to geld him. I was so angry that afternoon when my idiot father proudly announced they had proud-cut him. It made him meaner than he already was and just as difficult to house as a regular stallion. He bit and kicked. While being ridden he would yank his rider (usually me) forward and down over his neck, then snap his head up and catch said rider in the middle of the face with his poll. He broke several pairs of glasses before I figured out how to avoid his head. He would bite at my feet, legs, hands, and kicked any time he thought he could connect. He could cowkick any one standing by his left shoulder. He once kicked me in the mouth at one of the 4-H county fairs and I ended up with nine stitches. I raced to the emergency room and then back to the fair so I wouldn't miss being able to show.

I had one major accident with Queenie. It was March. I went out for a ride, bareback because I didn't own a saddle, and the weather turned nasty. We were headed home and Queenie was cantering every chance we got. The temperature was falling and it was threatening snow. As we came across the bridge a half mile from our house and moved onto the shoulder of the road I let her canter. A neighbor pulled up next to me and I turned my head to salute them. That is when Queenie went down. To this day, I have no real clear idea why she fell. I hit the road and rolled to my feet, looking over to see Queenie getting to her feet. I gathered her up and went toward the house. She seemed to be alright, but I was not. It was a good thing I had my head turned, or I might not have survived the fall. We didn't wear helmets when I was a kid, either on our horses or on our bikes. As it was,  I ended up with 37 stitches in my face, horrible road rash on the left side of my face, a badly sprained left ankle (which still gives me issues) and damage at the SI joint in my back.

I have had chronic lower back pain ever since.

I can not count the number of times I've been thrown.

On July 3rd, 2006, in Island Park, Idaho, we took a trail ride at one of the stables that offered that service. This one would let my son ride on his own horse, since he was six. I had a deep desire to share with him my love and fascination with horses and to instill in him a love of riding. He was on a small, appy horse with his cousin, his aunt and his two moms riding in the group. I was on a rangy, chestnut gelding, 16.1 hands high, with a camera bag strapped around my waist and my camera and telephoto lens in my right hand. The trail was supposed to take us down the Snake River, where there were Trumpeter Swans, Herons, Bald Eagles and a plethora of wild life. I was excited to get a bunch of awesome pictures. About 30 minutes in, I pulled my feet out of the stirrups and stretched out my legs (we were riding Western). As my heels flashed past the point of the horse's shoulder, he ducked his head and began to buck. I had a moment of clarity where I knew I could drop the camera and stay on, or I could save the camera and my brand new, very expensive telephoto lens and let the horse throw me. I opted to save the camera. As I landed, I still had a hold of my reins and the horse jerked back, arching me over the edge of my camera bag. I tore the muscles in the left side of my abdomen, partially destroyed the cartlege in my left shoulder, bruised my kidneys and ruptured the disc at my L5 vertebre. I did what I always have done. I got back up and got back on the horse. We rode for another two hours. I did it in part because I didn't want to tarnish my son's first ride. And in part because I was stupid. When I got back off the horse, I couldn't stand up. My entire back was one huge bruise and I was in so much pain I couldn't walk. I had no medical insurance and was one semester away from finishing college. I didn't go to the hospital. Instead, I went home and dosed myself on left over pain pills from a root canal, and by the time I was out of them, the pain had subsided. The ruptured disc has taken six years of chiropractic care to resolve, but still twinges on occassion.

It was after that accident that I told J I would never ride again. I didn't want to be in pain any more and most of my pain throughout my life has come while riding. My chiropractor also told me that if I got tossed again I would be facing surgery. I wasn't willing to risk my ability to walk just to ride.

Famous last words.

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