Every Fall is a Chance to Rise
Saturdays are busy days at the barn. This may be the only day some students can take a lesson or ride so there is more activity than other days of the week. The trainer and her assistants are especially busy as they exercise, groom, and prepare both horses and riders.
It is also a very social day as we get to see and spend time with our barn family and friends. After the last lesson of the day ends, many of us convene at the barn to talk and catch up. We can spend hours talking about our ride, our dreams, our lives, our goals. Occasionally one of the bottles of wine we keep stashed in the tack room refrigerator will be opened and passed around. Invariably someone will share something funny they found on social media like:
“As soon as you say, ‘my horse would never’, here they come nevering like they never nevered before”.
One beautiful Saturday morning, I arrived a little early to find that Mikie was helping the trainer out that day. She had Trudy out of her stall and was getting her tacked up to take to the round pen to be lunged prior to our lesson.
For those not familiar with the term “lunged”, it generally refers to exercising the horse on the ground without a rider. It is a great way to let the horse burn off some energy and gets them in the right frame of mind to focus on what they are about to be taught in the lesson.
I stood outside the pen watching Trudy start with an easy walk, ambling around the circle lazily before Mikie asked her to pick up a trot for a few laps. As Mikie asked her to speed up to a canter, Trudy complained a little, displaying some feistiness by bucking and kicking a couple of times before setting off at a more of a gallop than a canter. I was laughing at her exuberance, appreciating her zest for life and enjoying the sight of her when suddenly out of nowhere, she tripped. We watched helplessly as she fell to her knees and propelled by her speed, rolled completely over, landing on her side with her hooves against the wall of the round pen.
Mikie and I stood in shocked silence for a moment, frozen. Trudy did not get up.
Mikie sprang into action and called the trainer while I leaned in and asked Trudy to get up. Trudy lifted her head then laid it back down. I asked her again, “Trudy, please get up.” Again, pleading, “Trudy, come on.” Finally, I raised my voice and yelled, “Trudy! You push yourself off that wall and get up!”
She took a breath, and with a bit of a flounce, pushed herself away from the wall and got to her feet. She shook to get the sand off her and then just stood looking at us as if to ask, “What?”. We checked her out all over and other than a skinned knee she appeared to be okay, the only real injury perhaps to her dignity.
Only then, once I knew she was okay, could I take a couple of steps away. I dropped my head between my knees, trying to catch my breath and keep from throwing up.
We took off her saddle and pad, cleaned out the dirt and put it back on her. I could not help but notice that my overpriced beautiful saddle was badly scratched from her rolling over on it. I groaned as I inspected the damage. But then I shrugged and smiled, thinking about something my brother-in-law said to me once.
Ain’t nuthin’ but a thing.
Trudy was okay and that was all what mattered.
The following Saturday, I arrived for my lesson and did what I always do, stood outside the round pen to watch Trudy being lunged. She launched into her feisty run, bucking and being a clown. It was clear she was having fun. But I couldn’t enjoy it. I had to step away. The image of her falling flashed through my head and that queasy feeling returned.
Though I went ahead with my lesson and rode her, I was tight, stiff, anxious, and fearful.
Later that afternoon we convened at the barn, taking off saddles and cleaning up our horses and one of those bottles found its way out of the tack room refrigerator. In the comfort of this community, my barn family, I could share the fear and anxiety I was feeling. And as everyone began to share their own stories, their own fears, I realized I was not alone.
Here we were a week after the fall, Trudy was fine, I was fine. And yet this image of her falling kept popping into my head and every time brought back the shock, even the nausea I felt on that day.
When Trudy fell, I was not on her. She was not reacting out of fear to anything. It was just a stumble, an accident. She did nothing wrong that made it happen. Somehow my fear didn’t seem completely logical to me, but we all agreed that when it comes to fear, logic does not apply.
One story that really stuck with me was about a horse this woman had ridden for years and who had always been so calm and dependable, a trusted partner. Until one day when the horse erupted into a frenzy of bucking and running, panicked by something that seemed innocuous. With heroic effort, she managed to stay on her horse, suffering a hand injury in the process.
Ultimately, the injury was not the problem. The problem was the trust she’d had in that horse was now broken. A year went by before she could bring herself to ride the horse again and even then, the memory, the fear still haunted her.
Her horse that would never…..done nevered.
Every story was different. Some had to do with an incident riding or handling a horse, some struggled with anxiety after experiencing a serious illness as they came to understand their own physical limitations, or even just the effects of aging on the body and mind. Every story was different, every event unique, but there was a common thread that I began to see running through each of them. Every story was about something that had been lost.
Can I trust that Trudy is sound, that she can carry me? Can I trust myself, my skills, my fitness as a rider and my ability to react quickly?
Looking around at other areas of my life, I can see where my trust has been, if not broken, sorely tested. There are days I feel so knocked down I wonder if I’ll be able to rise again.
I want to believe in government and society, in family, in my employer, and friends. I want to trust the people and institutions in my life. But the truth is, everyone has their own agenda, and I can’t trust that the right thing will always be done, or that my feelings or interests are anyone else’s priority. I have been so disappointed in others, in their fallibility. And perhaps even more so, in my own.
The truth is horses and riders fall, society fails, people hurt each other, dreadful things do happen. There really is no such thing as never. The only thing we can control is how we respond. We can’t turn away from what we find terrifying. Strength is not pretending that it didn’t happen but accepting that it did and finding a way to carry on. The only thing we can control, that we can trust in, is our own resilience.
It is tempting, and normal, to want to shut everyone out, to always be on guard, to never be vulnerable and never open your heart ever again. But what pulled me out of my fear that day was the connection, the talking, that cold bottle of wine from the fridge, and the mutual sharing and support. The ability of the community to help me right size my fear, to put things into perspective, to find the good along with the bad. Being with others who have been where I am and come through it to the other side gives me hope.
So, I don’t hide myself away. I reach out a hand and we pull each other up. We rise together.
At the end of the day, I lift my saddle and hoist it up onto the rack. I run my hands over the dings and scratches and think to myself how much like that saddle I am. Damaged but unbroken. And this Saturday I’ll go to the barn, and perhaps for a moment I’ll be fearful. But I’ll carry on and I'll be grateful as I remember how fortunate I am to be alive, to be here, to have the chance to do what I love.
And I will ride.
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