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Getting Back in the Saddle After an Accident
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Getting Back in the Saddle After an Accident

If you are anything like me, as a horse person, you share almost all of your emotions with your horse - good, bad, tragedy, joy. I know I’m not the only horse person who feels like their life can almost be defined and documented from their saddle. What happens when your fear of riding overcomes the joy?

When I was 17, I was bringing a horse in from the pasture for my barn owner. This horse had not been out of the pasture in quite some time, which I was unaware of. As I was walking towards the gate, we were only a few feet away when the horse bolted, knocking me down and ramming me forward in the process. I ended up with a great deal of facial trauma, losing muscle and skin, and having 52 stitches put in my forehead from the middle of my eyebrows too deep into my hairline.

After four days in the hospital, I was anxious to get back to the barn to see my horse and ride. Due to the immense trauma I had experienced, I was not allowed to ride for two weeks because I ran the risk of splitting my head open again if I got in another accident. Two weeks later to the day, my heart said RIDE, RIDE, RIDE! My head was a little bit more skeptical.

I ended up riding that day, but I remember for the first time in my life, being scared to do so. I remember holding on to my horse and jumping at the smallest, awkward movement. They always say, if you fall off you have to get right back in the saddle, but what if you didn't fall? What if you just had a bad accident? The brain is still wired to have fear. How does a horse person, who experiences all of their emotions including fear through horses, conquer that fear when their coping mechanism is now the problem.

Moving forward from my accident was scary. I had a hard time finding the same joy in riding and found it difficult to spend time with my horse like I did prior to getting hurt. As the years have gone by and time has passed, I've grown more cautious and tried to be intelligent about my practices with not only my horse, but all horses. Not scared necessarily, but cautious. So here are some of the steps that I took to regain my equine joy as opposed to living in fear.

Ground Work

Before I was in my accident my horse did not always have the absolute best ground manners, good, but certainly not great. Moving forward, I would jump and be frightened every time he did anything, which ultimately caused more problems because he sensed my tension. We worked on improving his ground manners. I trained him that I always get to walk through gates or doorways before he does and that even if he stall door is open he stays inside. Eventually we worked up to doing all of these things without a lead line, and sometimes even without a halter. This small step helped my trust grow exponentially. Step by step, day by day, we moved forward, growing our relationship and regaining trust.

Wear a Helmet

As a 4-H raised youth, I always had to wear a helmet whenever riding, but I never had when doing ground work or when working with horses on the ground. Part of my road to recovery was wearing a helmet and taking extra precautions around horses that were not my own in an effort to stay safe. From that point on when I brought in other horses from the pasture, I always wore my helmet.

Ride With a Buddy or Tell Someone Where You are at All Times

When I was in my accident, I ended up having to scream for the barn owner to come and help me while holding my bloody, gashed, open head. If I had lost consciousness - which all the EMT's were amazed at the fact that I didn't - I could have bled out there in the pasture. I got very lucky that people came to help me quickly and I was able to get to the hospital. From then on, I've always ridden with a buddy, told someone at the barn I was going to bring in horses, or on the rare occasion I’m alone, I tell people a time that they should receive a phone call by and if they don't receive one they should call me. If I don't answer it means I’m hurt and they should call for help.

If you are anything like me, you are heartbroken by the thought of never saddling up again, never finding the joy and release that happens on a ride with your very best friend. Don't let anything come between you two! Don't let fear overtake your joy, use these steps, and maybe some of your own, to overcome your fear and get back in the saddle!

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  1. jst4horses
    This is a nice article. A young rider, who experiences what all of us sooner or later will experience. My best mentor ever, a Native American veterinarian, special care horseshoer who has been in many movies was training a filly that HE from all his experience failed to remember was a back up aholic. She went over, he no longer was young enough or agile enough to jump out of the way and the saddle horn came right down, with horse on top of it, on him. He was seriously injured. Even HE, at his age, with all that experience had to sweat and get blurry vision and get over it. My worst accident ever was training out a horse for someone who while telling me she bucked, failed to tell me she did not like to tie...............we got through a rough afternoon of saddle bronc riding, and groundwork, and starting over and doing really well. Bareback, got the saddle on, got things going, and said, great positive place to end for the day. Threw the saddle on the fence, was using just a training halter, and tied her, brushed her, she was fine. then went to clean her feet. One tap on the front leg and she went up, over, hit the line and came down on me, it was so fast, and I had her foot in my hand, I was just underneath her. One leg stretched out one way, the other the other. I broke my pelvis and tore my hip and thigh ligaments, etc. I did not even know for some years when I got in a car accident and they did an MRI about the pelvic bone fracture. It had healed, but after the car accident flared up in inflammation and helped keep me on crutches and braces for some years. And I knew better. A new horse, start at start, and move on through everything, do not EVER trust a horse someone else says is an angel. I got on an angel one day at a clinic, to help the woman understand what the head trainer could not seem to get her to understand. I had been watching her go through all the steps, and games...............flexion, up, down, claustrophobia, everything. As I gathered the reins, and went to vault up, I just had a feeling as if that horse was a fire breathing dragon it was so hatefilled and intense in its rage. I jumped down and started ground work over. It came to be admitted much later, that this woman had a really bad temper and OFTEN beat the hell out of this horse, especially from the saddle since she had had one of those trainers who told her to NEVER get down, it lets t he horse win. Better a winning horse than a dead rider..........and always make the getting down YOUR idea, not an unscheduled flying lesson as Pat Parellli calls those not fun, bone breaking landings that often result from thinking it is NOT time to get down. That horse was retrained, and learned to trust the owner, who learned to trust her without beating her half to death. But, I knew better than to not go over every single thing with that horse. Failing to take five minutes to make sure for myself how safe that horse was when tied, or when you touched her legs..........cost me a broken pelvis, and many torn and ruptured ligaments, and tendons. As far as jumping back up..........on a ground injury such as this article discusses..............groundwork was the perfect answer. For riding accidents, and your own sanity, IF it was not the horses fault, and you CAN get back on, get back on, if just for a few minutes to force yourself OUT of that path to fear. Whether a car accident, or any other fear, I work in the safe streets programs with gangsters, you are the only one who can train yourself to handle your own fear, otherwise, like a horse out of control, it can seriously harm you..
  2. traci
    Very good article. I'm recovering from a severe horse injury, 2 major surgeries. I needed to read this. Thank you
  3. Teresa Ray
    I have been riding 15 years just had first bad accident My fault decided to lope a green horse Horse started bucking and running Decided to emergency dismount Was knocked unconscious 5 fractured ribs Complication after complication I'm still trying to recover Ribs not healed Two of the five are displaced It was my fault Hard painful lesson to learn I'm so ready to get well and ride but I wonder how I will be ? Will I be scared ? Probably .. But will always go back to the safety I had always used I won't get over confident again Hanks for article Believe in prayer and will be back in the saddle and hopefully Stay in the saddle Lol
  4. DSL3
    I broke my wrist a little over a year ago. Haven't ridden much since. Doesn't help that I'm getting up in age. Things don't heal as quickly as they used to.
    1. Teresa Ray
      Yep I agree I'm 54 and still on the mend
  5. Thundersmist
    Great Articles and comments! Thank you for sharing. I've been there too and can relate.

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