Five years ago, while I was in Chicago, Illinois, I had an opportunity to ride with my trainer, Sarah, on a very lovely, crisp fall day. I was riding a “seasoned citizen” with upper level dressage training, to try to fix a habit with my leg. We decided to ride in the indoor arena, since I would be doing A LOT of 20 meter circles! (Yes, even us trainers need a tune up from time to time!)
I’d ridden this horse many times before. He was a 17.1, KWPN gelding, and had been there and done that. I was warming up at a rhythmic walk when Sarah came in to start the lesson. We chatted about what I was looking to fix, and started out at a good working trot. It was then that the unimaginable happened; my horse tripped over its front legs and started to fall.
Ever have one of those slow-motion moments when your brain takes in everything, processes it exactly, and then provides a solution? That was this moment. I could feel the legs get tangled as soon as it happened. I leaned back trying to pull him up through the shoulders so he could get his legs underneath him, but he kept falling. I yanked my feet out of my stirrups and prepared for impact. His knees buckled. My foot slid between his shoulder and the ground. My leg and his side hit simultaneously. My hip hit the ground. My shoulder. My head. We kept sliding across the arena, and I could feel the hot, searing pain of nerves being stretched and torn under my tall boots. When we stopped sliding, some 30 feet later, I remember being pissed that I couldn’t keep him from falling, and wanting to get up to make sure my furry friend was ok. I let my handsome stead get up, so that I wouldn’t get tangled in the tack, and went to get up after him, when my trainer yelled, “STOP!!!!”
I obeyed immediately, thinking it was a danger to my horse, when Sarah told me to lie still. I called out, “Is he ok?!” Sarah said yes, and ran over to where I was, telling me to be still. She asked if I could move. “Yes,” I said, becoming a little agitated. “What’s wrong?!” She asked if I could move my feet, and then my fingers. “Yes!” I said. “Will you please tell me what’s wrong?!” She stood over me, and asked me to track her fingers as they did patterns above me, and she asked me about my head. “It’s fine! It’s my leg that is on fire.”
“I’m going to help you sit up, but first unbuckle your helmet.”
I sat up slowly, and looked down at my helmet. It was in three pieces. It looked like I had had a 2500lb horse fall on me. I hadn’t felt a thing.
The ending of the story is a little less exciting. A trip to Illinois Bone and Joint illicted comments of ” Impressive” and “Go big or go home” from the bruises that formed on my left leg under my brand new Vogel boots. (The doctor said I was lucky to have them on, because they acted like a cast, thereby saving me from a broken leg!) I found a wonderful tack store that sold an exact replacement for my shattered helmet. And lastly, the horse made a full recovery.
So what’s the takeaway? WEAR A HELMET! I don’t care if you are sitting bareback in the middle of the ring. WEAR A HELMET! The recent games in Rio showed some of the top Dressage riders wear helmets instead of top hats. A perfect example for everyone who sits upon the back of one of these wonderful creatures! It’s not a cure all or a talisman, but it is common sense!
I’m including this link to an article by Courtney King-Dye. An Olympic rider, Courtney’s accident happened 6 months after mine, with eerily similar circumstances. She’s alive, thank goodness, and has an amazing story of hope and rehabilitation.
The second link is from Horse Collaborative, and tells the tragic story of Lara Dewees. Her family could still use the help, if you’re interested. Just follow the GoFundMe link in the article.
Thank you for reading this all the way to the end! No matter what the circumstances, protect your noggin! You are worth it!