Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Addressing Fear - Part III

Previous posts in this series:
Addressing Fear - Part I
Addressing Fear - Part II

When Bombay was still very green (inexperienced at carrying a rider), I most often rode him alone on my property. I never had any formal riding lessons, but had ridden horses on bareback pads and in Western saddles at summer camps as a child. I did make arrangements to send him off for more advanced training and for me to get some riding lessons on him. However, before we could get those lessons, disaster struck.

I had taken a week off from work specifically to ride Bombay. My mother decided to come to visit, which was going to eat up a few days of my vacation. I spent the first two days getting caught up on chores and errands. I was desperate to make time to ride my horse. Just as I was headed out the door to ride Bombay, my husband said he wanted to take a family bike ride through the foothills. I said I'd like that, but I need to ride my horse first, and off I went.

Upon saddling Bombay, I discovered that his weight had changed and the latigo (cinch strap) needed a new hole, but I didn't know where the tool was to do that. I really didn't have the time to search for it without forfeiting our bicycle ride. I settled for the looser setting. That was mistake number one.

When I got Bombay out to the paddock, I saw that the sun was low in the sky and I worried that we would run out of daylight and not be able to go on that bicycle ride. Normally, I longe a horse before mounting to get him listening, to check his mood and his stride, to get the air out of his belly so I can tighten the latigo, and to work out the kinks. However, I was in a hurry, so I decided to hop right on. That was mistake number two.

I was also bored riding in the round pen, and decided to ride in a more open area. That was mistake number three.

I had neglected to float Bombay's teeth that year. That was mistake number four.

I was carrying a riding crop and adjusted my grip. Bombay saw the crop swing out to the side and, thinking I was going to tap him with it, broke into a lope from a walk. It had been a long time since I had ridden a horse at that pace, and I panicked. That was mistake number five.

Guess what I did? I pulled back really hard on the reins. That was mistake number six.

Bombay did a full 180-degree turn in one great leap, and then launched into a bucking frenzy. I mean, this equine fit rivaled the most violent broncs you see at those rodeos. (Or at least that's how I perceived it from the saddle.)

Guess what I did? I continued to pull back on the reins, thus causing him even more pain in his mouth. He probably had cut up his cheeks and gums with those sharp points that I didn't have filed down out of ignorance, and pulling on the bit was probably breaking open those wounds. They say to keep a horse's head up if you don't want it to buck, but in my case it would have been better to pull his head around to one side and move him forward in circles. Unfortunately, I hadn't educated myself on what to do when a horse bucks, so I was reacting out of pure fear. That was mistake number seven.

It seemed as if his bucking went on for several minutes and the whiplash was causing me to have neck pain. All I could think of was getting back down on the ground where I could stand on my own two feet. However, that was easier said than done. Bombay had managed to lodge us between a chain-link fence and a metal railing. There was no room to jump off without either getting skewered by the sharp points on the chain-link or cracking a bone on the hard railing. To top it all off, the saddle was starting to slide down his side. I no longer had the stirrups to help me dismount.

The horse was getting more and more out of control, and I saw images flash through my mind of him falling to the side and crushing my leg. I felt I had to find some way to get off him.

Eventually, the saddle slid all the way under his belly, which only added fuel to his fire. He was now bucking even faster and harder than before. People tell stories of flying off their horse in one buck, but I stuck to him like glue and couldn't get off though I tried once we moved into a more open area. I flew up into the air and came right back down on his back repeatedly. I decided to just fall like a rag doll and pray that I don't get stepped on or kicked. That was mistake number eight.

I probably would have been better off to ride it out. The horse would have eventually settled down. However, at the time it felt like the nightmare would never end. I closed my eyes and leaned to the side. This is the part you won't believe. I heard my deceased father's voice tell me to stay on, and felt hands pushing me back up. When I opened my eyes, I was still on the back of that bucking horse. Had I been in a rodeo, I would have won the grand prize.

I closed my eyes again and leaned hard to the side. Again, I felt the hands push me back up. I thought, "Let me go!" and threw myself hard to the side. Everything after that was blank. I don't remember the fall. I don't remember hitting the ground. I awoke to darkness and heard my horse's hooves clattering around nearby me, still bucking to get that saddle off his belly. I opened my eyes and noted a little bit of pain in my knee as I stood up. I limped to the gate and raised my hands to open it, however only one hand came up.

I instantly knew what had happened and hesitantly looked down at my left arm. Though I didn't feel any pain in my arm, it was in the shape of an "S" and the bottom half of my forearm was spasming and swinging in circles. I nearly vomited. I somehow managed to get the gate open with one arm and approached the second gate. There was no way I could get that one open. My husband and son were playing ball off in the distance. I yelled to my husband multiple times until he heard me. When he approached, I was holding my shoulder in an attempt to stop my arm from spasming. I told him I needed to go to the hospital, but first he had to catch my horse and remove his tack. I had never shown him how to do that, so the process seemed to take hours.

While waiting to go to the hospital, I began digging through our woodpile. My husband asked what I was doing. "I'm looking for a splint," I said. That was when he looked at my arm for the first time, let out an expletive, and managed to rip that saddle off the horse in no time. He previously thought I had injured my shoulder, since that was what I was holding. I was also trying to hide my arm from my kids. It was such a greusome sight. Once I was in the car, we set my arm on a pillow and it stopped doing gymnastics.

My husband dropped me off at the emergency room sliding doors and I walked up to the receptionist. She and a nurse were chatting. They turned toward me with bored expressions. I said, "I broke my arm." Their eyes slowly traveled downward until they saw it, and the expressions on their faces were priceless. The nurse came running out into the waiting area with a pillow, wrapped it around my arm, and pulled me into the examining room. I thought they would just put a cast on it and I would go home to clean stalls in an hour. However, I had to be transported to a different hospital and have emergency surgery. They informed me that my bones were sticking out the back of my arm. I was out of commission for months.

The silly thing about all of it was that I was too embarrassed and had too much pride to admit to anyone that I broke my arm during a horseback riding accident. I feared that if people knew, they would prevent me from being able to ride, or they would insist that I sell my horse, or they would hover about and try to supervise me when I ride. So, whenever anyone asked how I broke my arm, I gave them the same bland response: "I fell." Because I refused to give anymore detail, guessing the circumstances in which I fell became a game at my office that went on for months. Some people thought I fell off a roof, some accused my husband jokingly of breaking my arm, some were adamant that I had to have fallen off my horse. To this day, I never told them. Obviously, if they read this, they will know.


BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Oh sister-what a wreck!!!

Twinville said...

Wow.....just wow.
After reading this installment, I could only sit here trying to absorb everything you wrote.

Before sitting down to read, I gathered up a bowl of yogurt, some toast and a cup of cocoa. I just knew I was in for a wild ride....
You had me sitting on the edge of my seat every second.

I saw myself in you a few times, and learned a bit about myself and what not to do in certain situations.

I know I would have evaded the questions of how I broke my arm, too. I would have hated how most people would say, "I told you so, horses are dangerous"
They just can't understand.

I can't wait for #4 in your series.

Twinville said...

After reading your blog post in this series, I trotted over to Fugly Horse, and saw that she posted a very similar post as yours (and mine)!~

Must be that there are alot of us who deal with fear and horses.....


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Twinville - Thanks for steering me toward that post. I see in some of the 300-and-something comments to her post that there are a lot of individuals who grew up training horses and being fearless, only to develop fear later in life. Maybe we have more to lose when were are older and have loved ones who need us? Or maybe we just become painfully aware of our weakening bones? As kids we literally bounced back from falls, because our bones were so soft and elastic. Now I have to take Calcium Citrate horse pills everyday just to try to prevent any bone breakage. My mother is 70-something, and when she broke her leg, she simply took an awkward step and obliterated the top of her tibia. The surgeon had to graft the tibia of a donor onto her remaining bone since hers had turned to dust. I should have warned you not to eat while reading this post. I hope it didn't ruin your appetite.

Callie said...

Geezus, What a wreck!

Victoria Cummings said...

I'm so glad you're still here to tell us about it. And you've obviously given lots of good thought as to why it happened. This is a really honest, courageous series of posts - hopefully, it will help some other people stay safe with their horses. Thanks for stimulating us all to think about our fears - An old cowboy that I know once told me, "A little fear can be a very valuable thing."

Lulu said...


Unfortunately, I can identify. All too well, really.

Through all the broken bones and a miscarriage, the worst wreck I had left me with a ruptured bladder.

Fear. Yeah....I've got lots of that stuff.

Rising Rainbow said...

I'm with callie! What a wreck! Don't you just hate how hindsight is 20/20 and we have to do stupid stuff to get it. I know I do.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Browneyed and Callie -- It was an interesting wreck. Fortunately, it was the only one that's ever sent me to the hospital.

Victoria -- Thanks for saying it is a courageous series of posts. I think it is more effective to say "I did this and these were the consequences" as opposed to "Don't do this and don't do that."

Lulu -- You mentioned some injuries and consequences that some of us don't consider -- the miscarriage and ruptured bladder. I'm so sorry you had to suffer through those.

Rising -- When you are new to any activity, you have to make those mistakes to learn, especially if you don't have an ever-present mentor.

Jamie said...

Wow - what a wreck I agree.
Two of my accidents have caused black eyes and I always get the questions if my hubs did it...
Yeah I have the fear and my horse knows I said I need a beer or six..LOL...or some kind of pill to knock that right out of me. It has definitely come since I reached the 40+ point. I guess I know my bones won't heal as fast. I also have RA and take shots twice a knowing being hurt will just make me hurt more. Blah!!!
I am trying....getting some lessons (which is funny since I have been riding for 35+ years), but I like having another perspective and we can always learn more.
Thanks for these keeps me thinking that I can do it...

Anonymous said...

Oh, my goodness, what a horrible wreck! I'm so glad you, and Bombay and you're relationship with each other, survived. I look forward to hearing how you overcame this. I have my own wrecks and issues with fear that I am finally overcoming with the help of my wonderful, safe horse who has taught me to trust and to have fun riding again. Some people never seem to struggle with fear, I'm not sure why. Even though they've had wrecks, it doesn't shake them. But, I'm glad to know, I'm not alone in the fear.


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Jamie - I know! I saw that picture you posted of your face banged up. Your expression gave me the impression you were fearless though. I am amazed that you are riding with RA. Brave girl.

Ann - Though I wouldn't have called Bombay unsafe, I did take a step back and ride a school horse before riding Bombay at the faster paces. Sometimes riding a different horse is what it takes to get past that fear. It's always better if we can ride a horse that makes us feel like it is taking care of us, or is at least our partner, as opposed to some alien creature that we don't understand.