My friend from Thetford, VT, Ken Smith, who is a logger and land clearer, and I, were discussing the risks inherent in both our worlds. Ken said that it`s common knowledge among those who routinely use chain saws that ” it`s not a question of if you`ll get cut, but when, and how badly”. The same thing is true for those who ride horses more than just once in a while.
Luckily, most riding injuries are somewhat minor, especially for those who always wear helmets, but bad accidents can happen at any time, even in the most seemingly innocuous settings, like walking back to the barn after a work, or mounting, or dismounting. Courtney King`s bad head injury happened like that, not because she was out galloping or jumping, more of a fluke, but flukes are actually normal with big, quick horses. And, as we have all heard, she didn`t have a helmet.
But assume that for whatever reason, your number in the unlucky catagory has come up, and you`ve broken something, and it`s not permanently disabling, now what?
The “now what” will vary all over the lot, depending upon a host of circumstances, and there`s no “one size answer fits all” solution. How bad was the injury? How much left over damage is there, if any? How brave were you BEFORE the accident? How athletic and physically fit were you BEFORE the accident? What kind of temperament does the horse you will resume riding on have? How long has it been since your accident? What is the extent of your fear or apprehension? And so on, these kinds of considerations.
I can`t speak for others, but here are some strategies that I`ve used over the last sixty years of riding and competing. First, I try to get fit and strong again off the horse, before I get back on. Hike, work out, do manual labor, be physically tough, as this so often leads to mental and emotional toughness.
Second, don`t get on some unbroken horse, or a high one, or a hot one, to start up again on. That`s just common sense. Start with a plug, then graduate up as your confidence returns. Or not.
Third, the ONLY two people who really notice, or care, at what level of riding or competing you return to are you and your mother. Don`t feel the need to prove anything. Stay within your personal comfort level. Just because you might have been jumping before the accident doesn`t mean you have to jump now. Just because you were juping 4 feet before the accident doesn`t mean you can`t quite happily jump 2 feet now, and gradually build up. Or not. Do this for YOU, not for them.
The main pressures that you will feel to prove anything will be mainly self inflicted, so have little discussions with yourself about whether you may want to assume the same levels of risk as before your accident. Many of you will, but many of you won`t. But, whichever you choose, be comfortable enough that you aren`t always riding scared, because if you are, it heightens the chances that it can happen again, which means another long climb back.
Be OK with slow and gradual, get fit, stay fit, ride the appropriate horses, don`t be too stupid, and usually confidence comes back. And that`s the key, to ride within your confidence level, whether or not it`s the same as before you got hurt.