Today is an interesting anniversary. Ten years ago, I had a serious fall from my horse, Farletta. I was thirty-one. I broke seven ribs, tore my right hip flexor, damaged my left rotator cuff, nearly fractured my left shoulder blade, and partially collapsed my left lung (actually, the impact of fall was so hard it blew a small hole in my lung). It was kind of a big deal. I spent the night in the hospital and the next few months in my recliner, unable to lie down, to drive, or return to work at the horse farm where I’d been employed for the past couple years.
For the first couple years I rode a lot. I showed Farletta in dressage and we were fairly successful, unless you count the part where I turned into to a panic-stricken, crying, shaking wreck every time I went to mount her. I suppose it’s all in how you define success.
I also had a lot of riding (or more accurately, mounting) rules then. My tack had to be adjusted just so. Farletta had to be exactly in the right spot. The mounting block couldn’t be too high or too low. The stirrups had to be just right. A change in saddle pad, girth, or reins would fill me with fear and trepidation. With every passing month, my obsession with having everything exactly right increased. My pre-mounting ritual negatively impacted my horse, increasing her anxiety, which exponentially increased my own.
Within three years of the accident, I’d gained nearly 100 pounds. Where once I rode 5-6 times a week, I barely rode that often in a month. By the fifth year or so, I was riding maybe 20 times a year. Then, one day I just stopped. For over a year, I didn’t ride Farletta or any other horse, not once. How had it slipped away so easily? How did something that at one time practically defined me turn into something that paralyzed me with fear? I gained even more weight. I missed the person I believed I once was. A rider. A horseman. What was I now? Who was I now?
A month shy of the eight-year anniversary of my fall from Farletta, and more than 14 months since I’d last been on a horse, I stood on the tailgate of my truck, holding my breath and trying not to cry. Farletta stood quietly next to the tailgate, saddled and bridled, waiting for me to decide what to do. I’d been here before in recent months and given up. Apprehensively, I swung a leg over the saddle, withdrew it, then swung it over again. Farletta shifted her weight and worked her bit in her mouth, she was getting nervous. I pulled my leg back again. Stroking Farletta’s neck, I told her what a good girl she is. I thanked her for her patience, not just now, but for the past eight years. Tears welled up in my eyes. I prayed. I swung my leg over the saddle, and slid on.
I still don’t ride like I used to, rides are short, not very challenging; they are calm, satisfying. I still struggle with nerves when it’s time to climb aboard. But much has changed. I’ve worked hard on myself, uncovering, processing, and healing from the events of my past that, while seemingly unrelated to my riding, very nearly robbed my of it forever. I’m still not back to my pre-accident weight but I’ve lost nearly sixty pounds. I’m taking yoga. I feel strong again, capable again, empowered.
Farletta is fourteen now, and I’m thirty-eleven (ha-ha). I trust her. I know she did not then, and would not now deliberately hurt me. But it’s me I still need to learn to fully trust. Trust in my ability to evaluate a situation, to read people, to keep myself safe. It’s all intertwined. I think my biggest mistake was my belief that one part of my life was not affected by another. I am, after all, one person. What happened in my past is part of me, part of the story that makes up who I am. And it is through the lens of that story that I view my life today. We all do this, whether we are aware of it or not. The secret is to sift out truth from all the lies we tell ourselves (I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve this, I have no value) and the lies that others have told us (you’re stupid, you’re not worthy, no one will believe you).
It’s hard work, sifting out those truths from among all those lies but I’m going to keep working at it. You can too. Let’s do it together. We’re worth it.
Cheryl L. Eriksen, MSW - EAGALA Certified, author, horse midwife, artist...not always in that order...