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How My Horses Help Me Live With a Traumatic Brain Injury
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How My Horses Help Me Live With a Traumatic Brain Injury

On November 16, 2017, my husband and I were struck from behind by a distracted driver. Our injuries were numerous, and left a life-long change hovering over us, as I sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury. Life as I knew it had undergone a drastic and permanent change in the span of a heartbeat. As I laid in my hospital bed, thoughts swirling in my head, one question came back repeatedly: would I have to give up my horses?

The extent of my injuries made this a serious possibility. Among the issues were a broken sternum, broken ribs, internal injuries, injuries to both legs and my left arm. The injury to my brain has manifested in a variety of physical challenges- vertigo episodes and dizziness, my ability to walk and control my limbs meant a significantly increased risk of falling. A fall with an additional insult to an already highly irritated and banged up brain was an event to be avoided at all costs. The mental and emotional damage has been significantly challenging, on top of demanding physical recovery.

There have been many things that had to temporarily go by the wayside, and some on a more permanent basis. Fortunately, though, the horses that own me have not been among them. In fact, they played a significant role in my ongoing recovery process.

I had to learn to set small goals. Instead of looking at being able to go outside to feed my two wonderful geldings, the first step was making it to a window where I could observe them munching hay in the sunlight. That view gave me the desire to see more, to do more. Each day, each tiny step, brought me closer to my overall goal of being back on my favorite mount, Phat Boy.

The first day I was able to sit outside in the sun and just listen to Phatz chewing his hay, I cried. The next step was to touch him, to feel his silky coat, tangle my fingers in his long mane. Over several months worth of time, I was able to enter the paddock (with the assistance of my sons or my husband,) and run a brush over Phatz and his partner in crime, Tater. The amount of satisfaction and joy that first brush stroke brought is indescribable. Later that night, in another bout of painful sleeplessness, to combat the darkness within I was able to look back and recapture that feeling of pride. I had DONE something. That sense of hope, bestowed by my drive to be with Phatz and Tater, was and still is, priceless.

Now, a year later, I credit a significant portion of my recovery progress to Phatz and Tater. Physically, things are much improved, and I have been on Phatz a few times (and yes, I cried each time. It’s part of what I do now.) Using the horses to relearn goal setting (on what feels like a microscopic level most days,) has had a huge impact on how my brain is reworking damaged pathways. The physical benefits aside, the mental improvements are considerable. No matter how bad the rest of the day is, I can go to bed at night secure in the knowledge that yes, I have made improvements. I reached the daily goal of caring for Phatz and Tater. On the darkest of hours, they are there. The ability to get up and walk outside at any time is one I cherish. Knowing the soft muzzle of Phatz is there to rub, while I lean on his body and breathe with him, is one I do not take lightly. And one I will forever be thankful for.

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  1. Ellison Hartley
    Ellison Hartley
    I'm going through the same thing. I sustained a TBI on March 13. I still have to go to PT twice weekly. I can't walk without a walker, have balance and dizziness issues and my peripheral vision is gone. I also have had a headache that varies in strength from mild to a migraine since the day of my accident. It is a hard road for sure, it is hard to stay positive, but you are right, it teaches us to appreciate the little things we can do, and learn to strive for small achievable goals. If you ever need someone to talk to who understands,feel free to email me. Great article!
    Log in to reply.
    1. S Harrell
      Thanks, Ellison! I hope you continue to gain ground and get stronger. Same offer extends to you- feel free to drop an email anytime! Be safe and have an awesome day :)
      Log in to reply.
      1. Ellison Hartley
        Ellison Hartley
        Thanks so much! You too!
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