Cheap Thrills


I get days sometimes when I feel like I’m “less than” or something because I don’t do anything special or unique with my horses. I don’t show. I don’t rein. I don’t cut. I don’t jump. I don’t do dressage. I “just” trail ride. Granted, the type of trail riding I usually do isn’t a walk in the park on a carefully groomed bridle path, but it’s not extreme cowboying  either. Well, unless you want it to be. And for the most part, I’m not wanting it to be anymore.

Ever see Man From Snowy River? Everyone has. And most people will say the most memorable scene is the one where horse and rider go flying over the steep embankment after the Brumbies. Well, I’ve done that. Today, when I show people the very spot where I went “over the edge” they look down, then slowly turn and stare at me, a look of stunned shock on their face. (Yawn) I’ve done a lot of wild and crazy things on a horse, none of which I’m particularly proud of today. But I did them all the same. Most of that stuff was just part and parcel of the kinds of rides we did back then. We jumped stone walls, crossed dangerously high rivers, galloped wooded, moonlit trails, traversed narrow paths carved into the sides of steep ledges. *Shrug* At the time I didn’t think anything of it. I was young, fearless and I rode predominantly with men. There wasn’t a challenge I wouldn’t meet because those who hesitated got left behind.

Today I’m a different rider. First of all, I’m disabled, which changed the playing field considerably. Fifteen years ago when I was trying to recover from three spinal fusion operations that went horribly awry, it was “suggested” I give some serious thought to giving up some of the ” high-risk” activities I did. I had a lot of infected metal in my back and my surgeon reiterated that it wouldn’t bode well to break that hardware or do anything that would necessitate it’s removal. I understood that concern, but as damaged as I was I still didn’t take my surgical team’s advice to heart. They didn’t seriously think I would give up riding, did they? Given I wasn’t allowed to even begin physical therapy for a year, my spinal doc wasn’t very thrilled when I called eight weeks after the third surgery to ask if it would be OK if I rode my horse. Nothing fancy, mind you, just a leisurely amble down an open trail. The reply (in no uncertain terms) was, “Absolutely not!” So being the good patient that I was, I saddled up.

Unable to lift anything over a couple of pounds, I swapped my regular western saddle for a lightweight, synthetic model. Tia was small, but getting on her could only be achieved with the help of a large rock. I eased down into the saddle and sat for a moment, trying to reacquaint my broken body with the familiar sensation of sitting astride a horse. Tia waited patiently for my next cue while I struggled to hold my emotions in check. I thought about all the weeks I’d laid in the hospital wondering if I’d ever ride a horse again, the doubts and fears of even just being around the horses again, afraid that in my fragile state I’d get bumped into or knocked off my feet. It’s hard to imagine going from being so strong and capable to so weak and helpless, but that was my new reality and I was overcome with relief and gratitude that I could summon the physical and mental courage to climb aboard a horse.

We only rode a short distance that day, but it was incredibly healing for my battered soul to be capable of doing something …. anything …. for myself again. After months of being dependent on others for every little detail of my life, it was cathartic to feel like I was in charge of my own destiny, if only for a brief moment in time. I remember it was the first time in my life that I’d ever sat on a horse with the vague concern about what could happen if something went wrong. And to be honest, because I’m still physically compromised I’ll never feel that carefree, cocky confidence I used to have when I rode. That’s gone forever, lost with the strength and physical prowess I once took for granted.

Tia took good care of me and slowly I regained my strength and balance enough to spend a couple of hours at a clip in the saddle. I never got my doctor’s approval; too many risks for his liking. But the more I rode the less I worried about the consequences and I refused to abandon the freedom riding offered. Oh, there are restrictions. Many, in fact. But I can still get out and enjoy the company of a good horse and the beauty of nature. And while that might not be anything spectacular or thrilling to write home about, it’s good enough for me.

6 thoughts on “Cheap Thrills

  1. Isn’t it awesome how horses can heal? I’ve had a few broken bones from riding, and it seemed like every time I was ready to get back in the saddle, my horse understood that I just needed some time with him and nature in order to heal emotionally. Good for you for getting back to riding, there is nothing better for the soul!

  2. Reading the first paragraph, my thought was – who cares what you do with a horse, all time riding is special. I think if/when a rider loses that perspective, things go awry.
    The quote from Winston Churchill (I think) about the outside of a horse being good for the inside of a man, definitely applies here.
    I’ve had a slight glimpse of life in your shoes… all I can say is that many doctors don’t understand the mental and emotional component to healing we gain from horses. I say, if I can get my boots on then I can ride. For me that meant waiting three weeks post accident/surgery/trauma. Instead of the three months the Dr suggested.
    Psh, doctors, what do they know!?

    • As a seriously (and formally) competitive person, I’d have to disagree. I didn’t just compete in one sport, but in several. Competition was my strength and I was well suited for it. When I lost the ability to perform in all the sports I did competitively, I lost interest in several. *shrug* For me, the thrill was rooted in competition I guess. (Not the I’m-out-to-beat-everyone ego stroke, but the be the best you can be thrill) The sports that stuck were the ones I didn’t walk away from. The amazing thing (for me) is that I never find myself even trying to achieve that level of performance anymore. You see, contentment is elusive when you compete. One of the cogs that turns the wheel is telling yourself you can do better or you can achieve more. I don’t miss that cog. For me, just getting on and getting out is it’s own reward. Based on the number of hardware failures my doc sees I suspect he knows a lot better than me what activities are the most risky for my situation, but I guess that means he knows human nature, too! 😉

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