Of Horse

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Another Perspective on Helmets
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Another Perspective on Helmets

The story of my life is the story of the horses in it. They taught me what to do, what not to do, and gave me the experiences that made me who I am today.

I’m 33 years old and I have seen the horse world from many perspectives. From my first lessons in a local lesson barn to being a working student at a breeding and training farm. I have ridden with many clinicians and tried many disciplines.

I’m lucky enough to have a family farm to work out of and have been teaching lessons and doing summer camp for 18 years.

I had my first pony at 3 years old and started lessons at 7. I have been blessed with a life full of horses. Now though, I’m seeing the horses and horse world from yet another new perspective. I'm seeing it through a set of lenses that I would have preferred not to.

On March 13 of this year, I was helping a student tack up her pony for her lesson. This particular pony, Lily, is known around the barn for being a little ear shy. It had never been a huge issue, just something that you kept in the back of your mind when using her. I would try not to touch her ears or maybe just slide the bridle over her ears as quickly as possible before she realizes it. Sometimes she even wears a bitless bridle that just clips behind her ears like a rope halter would.

On this particular day, I was putting on her normal snaffle bridle, the normal way that I always did it. There was nothing odd or unusual. It was a normal lesson day and I was doing normal lesson stuff.

The student needed help with bridling. I went to help her. It was second nature, nothing to it, I didn’t even think twice about it.

Unfortunately, Lily, the pony did not feel the same way as I did, about it being “just another day at the office.“  She took the bit really easily, but as I reached to slide her right ear into the bridle she reared up and hit me in the head with her head. The impact knocked me backward, and I fell into the metal bars of the stall behind me.

I was knocked out briefly, but don’t remember much else. All I remember about getting in the car to go to the ER was that I threw up twice. Everything else I just know because I was told. Evidently, I didn’t know where I was, what day it was, or where I lived. Oddly enough, the only question that I could answer was who the current President was. Donald Trump evidently is hard to forget, even with a bruised brain!

I spent most of the night in the ER. My CT scan was clear. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t feel that bad the next day. I had a bad headache but managed to go out to the barn and work.

It wasn’t until later that week that I started going downhill. I blacked out twice and started randomly falling. I had dizzy spells and nausea and suddenly felt like I had no balance at all.

I eventually ended up back in the ER, where they did an MRI, which only showed a small spot that they said was from a previous concussion, so not the cause of my symptoms.

I started having trouble with my vision. I was seeing double. My peripheral vision was shot and my depth perception was way off.

I went to a bunch of doctors before I found the right place for me. I found a TBI program at a local hospital, so now I have multiple doctors working on relieving my symptoms and getting me back to where I was.

There, I was diagnosed with Post Concussive Disorder, which basically is when the symptoms of concussion are prolonged past a couple weeks to a month, and some symptoms can become chronic.

The doctor explained that my history of having multiple concussions throughout my life is probably the reason for it. It is widely known that concussions build on each other, and this being my fifth, evidently meant my brain and body have had enough of being abused by thousand pound animals.

Fast forward to today, over 4 months later, I’m still rehabilitating. I go to physical therapy twice a week and still cannot walk without a walker. My endurance is shot and I’m tired all the time. I have had a headache since the day of the accident. Anywhere from a dull annoying headache to full on lights flashing, seeing spots migraine. My vision difficulties are also still persisting.

The most frustrating thing about post concussive disorder is that the doctors and therapists aren’t able to give a timeline of how long it will take to get back to normal or if all the symptoms will go away.

I have good days and bad days, not just physically but emotionally. Being hurt like this after being so active has an emotional toll as well.

I’m lucky that I have found the right doctors and physical therapist, and even though I have a long way to go, when I look back, I know I have come a long way from where I started from.

When people hear I had an accident with a horse, they assume I was riding and are always shocked when they find out it was on the ground with a horse where I got hurt. I wasn’t the rider that day so I didn’t have my helmet on.

I was raised always wearing a helmet to ride from a young age so have always worn one while in the saddle without question. Naturally, I insist my students do the same, but like me, until recently, putting the helmet on was the last thing they did before heading out to the ring to ride.

This accident has given me way too much free time to think and relive what happened over and over again. Could I have done something different? Did I not notice something? I have to stop and tell myself it was just an accident, and accidents happen when working with horses, whether you are in the saddle or not. As well as we think we know them and think we are safe, you never know what might happen.

I never considered wearing a helmet when I was grooming and tacking up horses or having my students do so before this accident. If someone would have told me I should, I probably would have laughed at them or given them a weird look.

Now though, it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. If I had been taught as a little kid at my very first lessons that I should put my helmet on whenever I was working on the ground with horses, maybe it wouldn’t seem like such an extreme precautionary measure to take.

I know some people don’t wear helmets at all, and that is their choice, but if nothing else, maybe this story will make them consider it. If nothing else, remind them that you can get just as hurt on the ground with a horse as you can in the saddle.

Sometimes I think we take for granted that we are safe around our horses. We have to come to terms with the fact that with horses, you can never be entirely sure what they might do in a situation. You just never know what might happen.

My whole perspective has been changed. My old perspective of being always in the barn or the ring and living life surrounded by horses is a whole lot better than the perspective I have now, watching my horsey life go on without me while holding on to my walker.

Better safe than sorry. Just wear the helmet! It won’t hurt you but it could save your life!

More about Horse, TBI, safety, Helmet, Riding

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  1. Of Horse Support
    Of Horse Support
    We're so sorry to hear this happened to you. Thank you for sharing your story.
    1. Ellison Hartley
      Ellison Hartley
      Thank you very much !
  2. Maria Sorgie
    Maria Sorgie
    Thank you for sharing and sending prayers and good thoughts for a full recovery!
    1. Ellison Hartley
      Ellison Hartley
      Thanks so much !
  3. AbbyRayRae
    Thanks for the article! I am always telling my horsey friends that they should wear a helmet. Some listen, some don't. I ALWAYS wear my helmet. BUT, I haven't worn it tacking up. Maybe I should. There's been a couple of times in my life that I've bumped my head on the wash stand rails and saw stars! I gained a whole new perspective on horses about 10 years ago. I was at a horse show standing beside my horse, holding the reins, while talking to a friend. An incident occurred in the arena, which caused my horse to spook and bolt. My friend had walked away for a minute to use her phone, putting her right in his path. He just ran over her. Knocked her to the ground, broke ribs, stepped on her arm, and her head slammed into the gravel. (Of course, she did not have on a helmet). She suffered Post Concussive Syndrome just like you. It was awful. And I have never viewed the horse world the same since. I still have my horse, but we don't go to shows anymore. The fear is just too great. It's bad enough when it happens to those of us who ride, but for an innocent bystander to be so seriously hurt...well, it just changes things. I still ride and take care of both of my horses, but I am now more aware of where other people are (and myself) while around my horses. And I always wear my helmet. Again, thank you for the article. I have shared it on my FB page.
  4. AbbyRayRae
    I am sorry that you are going through this and I hope that you are going to make a complete recovery. :)
    1. Ellison Hartley
      Ellison Hartley
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience also ! I have read a lot of accounts of Post Concussive Syndrome, but never any directly related to horses. As much as we all love our horses, we can't forget about the fact that even the best horse isn't 100 % predictable and we should all do everything we can to stay safe and encourage our other riding friends to be safe as well !
  5. Momwiz720
    Thanks for sharing your story with us. Praying you make a full recovery. I know you are deeply missed in the barn.

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