Sunday, December 7, 2008
When Horses Hurt Us
Several blogger friends have been involved in horse-related accidents recently so I thought it might be opportune to swap war stories. Could this innocent looking face ever have scared the daylights out of me, to the point where I could not bring myself to even put a saddle on his back let alone think about riding?
In a word, YES.
When I had owned my OTTB Montana for about 6 months, I felt confident enough to ride him all alone in the arena. So one day as I was doing this, trotting along all brave and proud of myself, a barn girl chose to run by the open arena door in a flash of white: white t-shirt, white sweatpants, white shoes, and a flying blonde ponytail to top it off.
This white vision Montana caught out the side of his eye and it obviously unnerved him so off we went at a sudden gallop, with sharp turns to avoid hitting the walls. I lost the reins and got them back, lost both stirrups and never even tried to get them back (no mental ability at that point), and eventually was thrown off on a sharp turn.
To her credit, the all-white girl came running back and caught him which was not hard, he was just standing around with his eyes bugging out. I had landed on my shoulder and head, tore a cruciate ligament in my right shoulder, and was shaken up to the bottom of my soul. Tears, fear, knowing I had to "get back on", nausea, desire to sell horse immediately, bitter regret that this is what my lifelong dream of horse ownership had come to, all boiled away inside me.
I got back on and we walked a little, with me no doubt telegraphing my emotions to him quite clearly. He looked like he felt sick too.
This was not the end but the beginning of my problem, because I had lost the desire to ride. Completely.
I went to the public library and got books on basic riding, and on riding after an accident, and on sports psychology. Being a book person, reading is always my safety net. I continued to visit Montana almost every day, but instead of riding I just sat outside his stall (sometimes crying if no one was around, sometimes singing to him), and with his door open so that he could reach out and snuffle my hair when he felt like it.
I decided to set myself the smallest goals possible, and count it as a huge victory if I achieved them. So, being able to saddle him and lead him into the arena, perhaps even mount up and sit there for a few minutes, was a huge victory. Being able to walk him in a circle: even more huge!! Kudos to me!! Ice cream time!! And that's how we worked it out over a longer period of time than I would like to admit. He was fine as long as I didn't seem nervous. I also decided that although horses are sensitive, they aren't psychic; it's OK to be nervous if you do everything in your power not to project. La la la! Laugh a little, even if it a tad hysterical sounding.
One device a sports psychology writer described was this: Build a mental space called "My Riding Resource Room". Imagine a room with everything you enjoy: it's your favorite color, has a comfy chair, has your favorite snacks and tea, nice lighting. Into this room you will permit only the positive things about horses and riding: a favorite photo on the wall, your favorite saddle. The horse himself may or may not be allowed to poke his head in the window, depending! In this room is your horse-related joy. Visit this room often in your mind. Visit your Riding Resource Room before you come near your horse. Visit it after a ride and see if anything good has been added.
I painted my R.R. room burgundy, and put an overstuffed chair in it, and an espresso maker, and pictures of beautiful thoroughbreds on the walls. The saddle made it but not the horse, not for a long time. Finally he was allowed to peek in the window.
These wonderful animals -- we love them to bits, and when they hurt us it goes deeper than physical pain. And the fear can be very hard to manage. I still visit the R.R. Room 7 years after my worst fall and having had a few other falls which weren't so bad. It still comforts me. And the idea of getting/staying in touch with the basic joy of horses still seems to me the most important thing.