I've been worrying about this day for more than two years. So in a perverse, Pollyana-ish way, I'm glad it finally came to pass.
Two years ago, I fell from my horse and hit my head hard enough to wipe out an entire day. I'd hit my head before from previous falls during my 40 years of riding but never lost that much time or memory.
So that August 2010 fall not only got my attention, but also gave Mr. Anxiety a nuclear weapon to use against me. This new-found head injury fear burrowed into the super-sized worry compartment of my brain and refused to leave despite all the confidence-building exercises and voodoo I threw at it.
It didn't help that shortly after the fall I stupidly read an article about a football player who wiped out his entire life after falling in the shower. This was a possibility I hadn't even imagined, and I have an extremely well developed imagination.
Armed with the specter of forgetting my children, my husband, MY HORSES, I had as much hope of evicting this new head-injury fear from my mind as a landlord has evicting someone from a rent-controlled apartment in New York City.
So truth be told, despite all my bravado in these columns about how I've gone to this show or that show, marching around courses atop Katie or Woody, or chasing cows with my Paint, Jimmy, always at the back of my mind was the image of my two grown sons appearing as strangers to me, trying to coax me back into their existence by saying things like, "Don't you remember how you always made us carrot cakes because you thought that could keep us away from chocolate?" And me looking at them blankly, wondering who those two handsome young men were.
I've spent the past two years worrying about the next fall; my anxiety fortified both by research that shows head injuries are cumulative and my heritage. (Woody Allen made millions off Jewish anxiety.) Every time one of my horses spooked or I got left at a jump or a horse tripped or—and we all know there are a thousand “ors” when it comes to riding horses—Mr. Anxiety hijacked the rational part of my brain (kind of like shooting fish in a barrel) and screamed "I told you so! Get ready for the ambulance ride and don't blame me when you can't remember that you love anchovies."
Then I'd get re-situated safely in my saddle and beat back Mr. Anxiety into the dark, dank dungeon where he belongs. And I'd snark back a few I Told You Sos of my own: "See, I can ride a spook," or "See, my horse takes care of me and politely waits until I extricate myself from her neck." But clearly I needed to erect soundproof walls in his dungeon because I could still hear the menacing breath of Mr. Anxiety, just waiting for his moment to pounce.
The Dreaded Day Arrives
Which came a few days ago. My normally quiet Thoroughbred mare had bucked like a banshee the day before on the longe line. So I longed her to see if the aliens had released her yet, which they had. She seemed fine, or fine-ish. She was a little distracted, but rideable until she turned the corner and saw the overturned trough/dragon in her pasture. She spooked hard and bolted. She's spooked maybe twice in the three years I've had her, so this was a surprise. Even more surprising was her reaction when I landed on her neck. Woody, the Doctor of Confidence and bonafide saint, would have stopped and reached around to grab me. This mare is not in saint contention. She took off even faster, heading directly for a jump. Just as I wondered if she was going to jump it with me clawing at her neck, scrambling to get back into the saddle, she darted right.
I slid down to her side, then off, in that sickening slo-mo where you have time to contemplate all the horrible things that await you as you smack into the earth. Mr. Anxiety was roaring in laughter.
Before I hit, I remember thinking, "How much will I forget this time?" I landed first on my shoulder, then felt my neck snap to the right, sending my head into the sand. I actually felt my skull bump against the helmet's padding. I lay there for a split second waiting for the blackout. It never came. I looked around. Nothing was blurry; nothing was confused; I was fully cognizant.
So take that Mr. Anxiety. I came off a horse, and it didn't require an ambulance. It didn't even require a trip to the hospital. However, I did call the doctor to see if I should go. She assured me a CAT scan was not in order, and I wouldn't be given one since I wasn’t knocked out, dazed or confused (at least any more confused than I normally am).
"Sometimes its good to come off just so you know you won't shatter." Those are the words of Anne Gordon, a rider and, like myself, a woman of a certain age who has had her share of falls.
I couldn't agree more. I fell, I didn't shatter, and I remember exactly how much I love anchovies. It was oddly liberating to come off, to realize that not all falls have to be catastrophic or even damaging. It quiets Mr. Anxiety a little, sort of like putting half a sock in his mouth. I know I will never silence him, but that fall makes his dungeon walls just a little more soundproof.
An Ode To Charles Owen
Still, I'm not an idiot. Riding is dangerous. Period. When the fear starts outweighing the pleasure, I will stop. Until then, I will arm myself with the best defense against injury: good horse decisions and even better equipment. Which brings me to helmets and my love letter to Charles Owen. I felt my head slam against the inside of the GR8 Charles Owen helmet and nothing bad happened.