Till We Meet Again

Cowboy in barn

I spend a lot of time trying to be more confident. So I really hate it when my confidence gets rattled. But that’s what happened on February 3. I was riding a horse in a gymnastics class, going over a set of poles laid out on the ground. As I rode toward them, the horse I was riding, a very sweet and very fit 24-year-old gelding named Cowboy either stumbled or hesitated, I’m not sure which. I drove him forward toward the poles and he recovered and started trotting over them, but his hesitation or whatever it was startled a younger horse that was being ridden nearby. She spooked, and her spook caused Cowboy to spook sideways, and I lost my balance and fell off, the first fall off a horse I’ve had in the three years since I started riding again.

On the way down, I was partly thinking: “Oh good. I’ve been so scared of falling off, I’m glad to get it over with. Now I won’t be so scared of it.”

Then I was sitting on the ground, catching my breath, and realizing that something around my shoulder blade hurt. I didn’t seem incapacitated, though, so as one always should, I got back on. I tried trotting again but that hurt, so I walked Cowboy around the arena for about half an hour, which he usually needs to cool down from a lesson. Dismounting hurt too.

Back home, I took a hot bath and rested for the evening but the next day was just as bad. The day after that, at the suggestion of my chiropractor and insistence of my husband, I went for some x-rays. I was sure I’d just pulled a muscle, but no. I had three cracked ribs that would take six to eight weeks to heal. The doctor also volunteered a prescription for powerful pain meds. Have I mentioned that cracked or broken ribs are supposed to be among the most painful injuries you can have? For the first few days, lying down, rolling over, or getting up out of bed were all things I had to work myself up to. So much for being less afraid of falling off.

For a little while, those first few days, I thought about giving up riding. I’m going to be 60 in a few weeks. I don’t usually think of myself as too old for stuff but I started wondering if I was too old for riding, or anyhow if I should stop now so I don’t get hurt this badly again, or worse. To my surprise, Bill, who is usually overprotective, pushed me to not quit. He even suggested I get back on before the six weeks were up, once I started feeling well enough to go back to most of my usual activities.

And then the coronavirus happened. I decided I was too nervous to go to a medical facility for my follow-up check, especially since I knew I was just about completely healed. Around the same time they decided to do almost all their visits by phone. So I had a phone call with a doctor and we agreed I should wait till eight weeks were up just to be sure and then I could ride so long as it didn’t hurt.

OK! I thought. I started visualizing stepping onto the mounting block, putting my left foot in the stirrup and swinging myself up and over into the saddle like I’ve done hundreds of times. How scared would I be? As a friend pointed out, this is a rare case where the phrase “getting back on the horse” can be used both literally and figuratively. Based on past experience, my guess is that I’ll be frightened up until the point that I’m actually in the saddle, and then I’ll be a lot better.

But it may be a while before I find out. Because the governor just issued a statewide stay-at-home order, telling non-essential businesses to close and it’s pretty tough to argue that a horseback riding stable is an essential business.

A week and a half ago, I went to the barn to visit Cowboy and feed him an apple and see my riding teacher who is also a good friend. I’m glad I went because I couldn’t go there now. Cowboy hadn’t seen me in more than a month, but he still came to me when I called to him across his paddock. After the apple, I scratched him on the tummy which is his special spot. When I stopped, he started leaning his body into me to try and get me to do it some more. That’s an annoying habit in a 1,500-pound animal so I didn’t indulge his request.

When it was time to go, he stuck out his tongue at me, an equine way of saying that he likes me and wished I would stay. “I’ll be back,” I told him. And I will, just as soon as I can.

Image: Cowboy and me in healthier days. Photo by Michelle McVey.

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