It’s been years since I last posted on this blog which I’ve dedicated to sharing information about how to stay healthy with Ayurveda and yoga. While recovering from a traumatic life-threatening injury in 2019, I got inspired to blog about my healing journey. What follows is a series that accounts what happened, my recovery, and continued journey back to health through both traditional Western and holistic systems of medicine and healing.
Horses have been a passion (perhaps an addiction) of mine since I was old enough to yell “horsie” out the window of my parents’ car at two years old. Thanks to years of riding and showing, I’m confident on a horse, often more so than on my own two feet.
It was a sunny afternoon in late September, 2019. Just as I did nearly every Friday for the past decade, I went horseback riding. That week, I was traveling for work and almost skipped riding because my flight home landed late the previous night. But tired or not, I decided I couldn’t miss horse time. There are few feelings that match looking into a horse’s big, gentle eyes or the adrenaline rush I felt when galloping over a big jump.
While I don’t currently own a horse, my ride that day was of the barn’s young prospects: a four-year-old off-the-track-thoroughbred bay mare. Though the horse had only been under saddle for a few months, she proved to be responsive, fun, and slightly frisky while we warmed up and jumped.
We took a break during our lesson while my trainer went to the barn momentarily to check on one of the new horses that had arrived that day. I started trotting around the ring and doing a few exercises to keep the mare warm and engaged.
As prey animals, horses are constantly assessing their environment for danger. When they feel threatened, they will buck, bolt, evade or even stop in their tracks. Experienced riders can pick up on the subtle cues horses give: a flick of the ears forward or back, the slight tensing of muscles, a momentary distraction. Some of these subtle cues happen before a bigger reaction or “spook” that elicits a dramatic flight response.
It all happened so quickly…
When a young rider on a speedy pony galloped towards me, there wasn’t enough room to pass her on the inside, so I sharply turned right to make a circle. This time, there wasn’t so much as a subtle cue and the next thing I knew, I was flying through the air.
In slow motion I watched my gloved hands move up and away from the horse’s neck. After what felt like 10 seconds in the air, I landed headfirst in the sand arena with a muffled thud that resonated through my riding helmet. I could hear a disjointed scream come from an observer outside the ring as I collapsed to my left side.
To prove the fall didn’t faze me, I propped myself up on my elbow. I recall my face flushing with embarrassment and thinking that the other trainer in the arena would be annoyed that I had disrupted her lesson. (It still amazes me that, after such a dramatic fall, I was more worried about disturbing other people than my own welfare, but that’s another post.)
One of my barn friends entered the arena on foot to check on me and I quickly outstretched my right arm towards her. She took my hand and helped me up. (The EMT would later say that was the worst idea — that you should never move someone who may have a head or neck injury.) As I got to my feet, I still felt too shaky to walk on my own, so put my arm around my friend, hobbled out of the ring, and trudged gingerly to the couch in the barn’s office.
My barn mates kept popping their heads in periodically to ask if I was OK, but I was too stunned to respond. I recall feeling dizzy and a searing achy pain at the top of my neck. I tried to lie down to reduce the dizziness, but that only generated a worse searing pain. So I cupped my hand on the back of my neck and gently lifted myself back to a seated position. “Don’t panic,” I whispered to myself knowingly. Then someone came in and put a hand on my shoulder to comfort me and I heard my own disembodied voice snapping, “don’t touch me!”
Finally someone asked, “Should we call the paramedics?” I sat for a few more minutes deciding what to do, eyes glazed and fixed on the wall of saddles in front of me. After a few minutes passed, I felt the sting of tears, not because of pain, but because I didn’t want to call my husband and worry him. Never mind the fact that I’d been away from him for four days while I traveled and was looking forward to a Friday evening of Netflix and pizza. Mostly, though, I didn’t want to worry him. He knows riding is dangerous and I’m always quick to reassure him that I know what I’m doing.
Of course, despite my experience, riding a horse is still 20 times more dangerous than riding a motorcycle. Anyone who rides, and even those who don’t, know it’s risky. But I’ve been riding for most of my life and my only injuries had been a sprained ankle, bruised ribs, and bruised tailbone–never anything significant enough to warrant a hospital visit. So why start now?
Later, my barn friends would describe my fall as terrifying to EMTs. They watched the horse I was on jump straight into the air which set me loose and launched me up into the air “like a lawn dart.” One of my friends said she saw me tilt my head back midair looking back to find the ground before I landed directly on my head. Riders are taught early on how to safely fall and roll away to avoid injury. But when a horse suddenly dislodges you in this way, there’s no time to think, let alone tuck or roll away. Someone gave me a bottle of water that I sipped slowly. (I would later regret not chugging that entire bottle.)
Making the call
“OK, call the ambulance,” I told one of my friends somberly. She leapt into action, stepping outside the barn to get better reception. All that was left to do as wait, with a lump in my throat and twinge of dread that made my hands clammy. I could faintly hear my friend describing her account of the accident to the 911 dispatcher.
Then I asked my barn friends to remove my tall black riding boots. I’d heard stories of riders getting their boots cut off in the ER and didn’t want mine to see the same fate.
Thinking about practical matters proved a worthy distraction for the moment. Until I heard the blare of sirens.
- If you missed the first post in this series, go back and read it. The approaching sirens wailed into my consciousness. I thought about hiding, but it was too late. From where I was sitting, I could see my friends pointing out my location to the paramedics. Within moments, a…