We had Buzz for years before I fell off the first time.
I did so, in spectacular fashion, at our first (and only, thus far) cross-country clinic.
The ditch crept up out of nowhere, you see. One minute, we were trotting-with-purpose behind a very competent fellow-clinic-attendee, the next minute the gaping maw of certain death appeared beneath his hooves.
I was already committed to crossing the ditch and so became a victim of inertia.
Mildly embarrassed, but otherwise not terribly hurt (until the next day, of course) I re-established myself and off we went to complete the clinic.
Something changed between us, though.
I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic — and believe me, I’ve given this probably more thought than necessary — when I say that I think Buzz must feel like I betrayed his trust* in some way. Perhaps he felt deceived, or tricked…perhaps he felt I wasn’t looking after us well enough (because why inthenameofallthatisholy would I point us at a Ravine Of Death?!?!) and so from that moment, took it upon himself to be In Charge of Risk Management and Health and Safety.
We spent the balance of the clinic closely inspecting each fence before he’d jump it. How much of that was me, too, communicating my uncertainty, I don’t know. I suspect I contributed more than my fair share of emotional baggage over the Ditch Incident. Truly, though, I think he stopped trusting my judgment.
Fast forward to July 2017 when an oddly-coloured clump of grass loomed just ahead as we were trotting around the edge of a hay-field. I felt him hesitate but insisted we continue. At the last moment, he executed what has now become something of a signature move involving a prop-suck back-and-duck maneuver that, once again, relies upon that most irrefutable Newton’s First Law of Motion. I landed in a heap and dislocated my shoulder.
This was the THIRD such dislocation of that shoulder – all horse-related. Naturally.
I can’t even.
Bearing in mind, I’ve birthed two children au naturel, the pain of a shoulder dislocation tops the pain of childbirth. At least when you’re giving birth, you know there’ll be something good at the end. Depending upon the speed of the ER staff, the pain of a dislocated shoulder is ongoing and unrelenting. This time, I was about four hours slumped in a chair with the head of my humerus on the wrong side of its socket.
Let’s just say, I experienced morphine for the first time and found it wanting.
Because it was my third dislocation, the orthopedic surgeon kept me immobilized in a sling for 6 weeks. Apparently, “at my age”, it’s better to let my ancient ligaments knot themselves up into a rigid sort of stabilizing unit, rather than bother with surgery. I imagine he was being kind, in his own Doogie Howser sort of way.
Long story short, I don’t fancy doing that again.
It was a long, slow, recovery — both physically and mentally.
I used to be the person who rode mad racehorses; whose favourite mount of all time used to come out of the barn on his hind legs. I lived for that stuff. Suddenly, I found myself with a fear of being hurt.
On the racetrack, once you lose your bottle, you might as well quit. That’s what B did. His last fall ended it for him — he knew he was done and so he walked away. Granted, he was badly injured and probably wouldn’t have been able to continue, but he’d been badly hurt before and went right back as soon as he was healed.
It was my turn to lose trust.
Then, earlier this winter (granted, he was high on alfalfa cubes), he did it again. He did his prop-suck-duck at a ray of sunshine coming through a crack in the arena door.
I landed on the opposite shoulder, thanksbetogod, but it still hurt like a bastard. The second I hit the dirt, I had the fleeting thought,
I don’t know if I can get back on
I have. Never. Ever. Thought that. Ever.
Obviously, I got back on and have continued to do so.
Some days, though, I have to talk myself into it.
So now there’s the Corner Of Doom.
It’s the corner of the arena where the jump standards and poles are stored. Obviously, every time someone uses them and puts them back, they look different.
Buzz knows these things.
He deeply distrusts what may be lurking in and around those jumps.
It doesn’t matter that he JUMPS the bloody things.
It’s different when they’re in the corner.
And so I find myself unwilling to go into that corner — to make him go into that corner. He wants to veer away and will do little starts and ducks and so sometimes, depending on how cowardly I’m feeling that day, I don’t make him. We cut off that end of the arena and call it no big fecking deal.
Then other days, I get pissed at both of us and we do 10m circles right beside that corner. And he’s fine with it. Then we go long and as we approach the Corner of Doom, he’s convinced we’re about to die horribly.
I know I’m contributing — I’m telegraphing my fear of him doing something sudden and violent and leaving me in a heap. If I relax and focus my attention elsewhere, we stay the course. G has told me that if I’m making him work, giving him something to think about, he hasn’t got time to be spooky, and of course she’s right.
But that doesn’t change how we’ve changed, does it?
And so I wonder if we’ll ever get back to the place where we marched blithely onward towards every new adventure, without analyzing the likelihood of doom or disaster.
I wonder how I’ll face the idea of riding cross country again.
I wonder if I should alter my goals and do combined training shows where you can opt out of the cross country.
I give myself a list of excuses designed to justify my reluctance – I’m too old, I have too many responsibilities, I can’t afford to get hurt and lose three months of work, do I even want to pursue this anyway…..
And then I self-flagellate for giving in to my fear.
Fear that I never used to have.
My latest, immediate solution is to ride with music playing. We don’t have a radio in the arena, unlike the last two places, so I’m going to download some music to my phone and play that instead. I’m hoping it’ll take our collective mind off things.
Mostly I just need to stop thinking and start riding.
*I don’t think I’m anthropomorphizing here. I firmly believe that we can develop mutually trusting relationships with our equine partners and the benefit of hindsight and reflection traced our issues back to this moment. Before then, he was completely unflappable and rarely, if ever, spooked and certainly not violently enough to dislodge his rider.