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28 August 2014

Horse Induced Injuries won't stop me Riding!

Monday I went to the physiotherapist, yet again. I kind of half live there. But what made this time so rare was that my latest injury was not from a horse! It was stupid me running in a park and hitting a patch of mud which twisted my ankle, noticing I was being watched and instead of crumbling to the ground like my legs wanted to, allowing my pride to make me keep running through the pain.
This week's injury

Anyways, like I say, its rare. Why?
Well as far back as I can remember, I have always been surrounded with horses. The story goes that my mom got 3 horses when I was just 2yrs old - apparently she used to use a kiddie harness and tie me into a horse and take me riding to put me to sleep. When I was 5, my parents started a horse riding school. When I was 9 I was competing in jumping, cross country and gymkhanas against under 17s and thrashing them (a reason I avoid competing now is that I have dangerously competitive spirit that brings out the worst in me). At 12 I began guiding beach trails and teaching others to ride. At 16 I was training young horses to be ridden. And now, I work with horses still, guiding trails and training horses mostly.

When clients ask me (inevitably they do) if I have ever fallen off of a horse or been injured by horses, I have to laugh because no one has been riding regularly for a year and not had some fall or injury, let alone 22yrs with horses. Its life, it happens, it comes with the territory, and its all I've ever known.

Many years ago I stopped counting my falls and injuries and only counted the serious ones. 
Now in no ways am I trying to scare you off, in my opinion my scars tell my story, I've always enjoyed showing off "battle wounds" (is that weird?) and comparing stories.

And you must understand, if you go horse riding and yet you never fall off, you've never learnt a thing. Its not about the fall, its about laughing about it, dusting yourself off and getting back on, learning from your fall and not making the same mistake. 

The common things are toes being trodden on and an arm being bitten. Its an old saying that "a horseman's trademark is a black toe nail", but I disagree. If you haven't been able to get out of the way of a 600kg animal in time, if you haven't yet learnt to dance with horses and get your feet away, then you're not much of a horseman. Its been a few years since I had a black toe from a horse. But in years gone by I've had more black toes and bruises on my feet than I care to remember. One that stands out was when I was about 13, a certain heavy horse stood on my left foot, right across the joint on the bridge of my foot and all I heard was loud cracking. After I got her off, the bruising was considerable and the arch of my foot was lower. I was quite happy actually, because  I had broken the foot 2 years earlier (more on that later) and the doctor had not set it properly, causing a raised arch, which made finding shoes to fit virtually impossible! And suddenly shoes could now fit.
As for getting bitten, yup that happens too, and you quickly learn to watch a horse's body language and see it coming. If you see it coming, then you can get out of the way in time, or counteract it. Fortunately horses don't bite like dogs do. Dogs bite to take a chunk of flesh, to rip you apart. Horses "bite" generally with their teeth clenched, so its kinda more like a sucker punch than a bite - most of the time. Unless you're giving them carrots and stick your hand in their mouth.

People say its cruel to hit a horse, I agree its cruel to beat a horse. But if a horse tries to purposely go out of its way to hurt me, my instant reaction is to give it a clout. I've watched horses in a herd environment all my life, if one horse is misbehaving in the group, the lead horse will literally discipline it (go read Monty Roberts "The Man Who Listens to Horses"), be it chasing, kicking or biting. When one horse kicks another, the one on the receiving side generally just flinches and walks away. But when a horse kicks a human, said human will literally go flying. Which is why when a horse goes out of his way to threaten or hurt me, I will discipline him accordingly.
How do I know a human goes flying when kicked? Because I have been on the receiving end of a horses' hoof way too often.
When I was 5 I trusted them a little too much, and walked into the paddock with carrots, at which I was literally mugged by horses and got my first booting, fortunately only to the stomach, and went flying a good 3m back!
When I was 10, I again trusted my steed a little too much (recurring theme) and didn't warn her before walking behind her to plait her tail, next thing I knew I was waking up 2 hours later under a tree at the show we were on our way to, and yes I did compete that day and came in 3rd place.

When I was 18, my boyfriend's parents came to visit for the first time, and I walked behind a certain horse at feeding time and got booted on both my knees in front of him and them. Ah so embarrassing!
Kick Mark 2010
In training a young horse on his first ride out when I was 20, I walked next to him along a piece of road (because you never know what may happen when he first sees traffic), and as a truck came by he freaked out, somehow twisting and kicking me. I literally had my butt kicked that day, flat on by not one but two hooves of a 650kg muscle machine, that bruise took 2 years to disappear!
Kicked in the eye 2012
And my most famous one was when I was cleaning out the feet of a horse, when she  stepped on her own foot, pulled it away and bashed her hoof against my right eye. I still have a slightly funny eye from it.

Then there's falling. One saying that I quote to new riders regularly is "you're not a true rider until you've fallen at least ten times", possibly its because by that time you stop counting, but mostly because by that time you've learnt what causes falling and how to avoid it. Bonus being that you also know how to land, whereas when newbies get scared and bail, they injure themselves more. 
You also learn by then that although there is a big hype about falling off, its really not such a bit deal.
Yes falling off is embarrassing, whenever I come off, first thing I do is look around in hopes that nobody saw me. Yes, you do get dirty (friend of mine once fell off into a patch of devil thorns, mean girl that I am I laughed all the way home.), but very rare is it that you get hurt. Obviously the more you ride the more likely that you may fall, and the more you fall, the more you may get hurt.
Of the falls I have had, oh there are hundreds of stories I could tell you.
From the time a friend and I raced up a hill and my horse bucked me off, landing on my head on a pole, thus getting my first concussion at 8. Yes I had a helmet on, otherwise I would not be alive to tell the story.
To the time I was doing a cross country jumping course in wet weather and my horse slipped falling on my left leg and breaking (thus the raised arch) it at 11.
Or the time I was 12 and galloping down the beach on my favorite little Arabian and she hit a patch of really soft sand, sending us both somersaulting and just missing 450kgs of horse landing on me. I might add to this that I was riding bareback and enjoyed the freedom of regularly galloping with my arms in the air.
There was the time in 2010 that I was showing off and cantered through a public area, my fantastic horse saw a child run in front of him and swerved to miss the child unbalancing me. I landed perfectly, hitting the ground running with no problem, but then I tripped and broke my leg. :-|
Getting the cast removed in 2010

The two most recent falls I've had though have reminded me that I am getting older, less flexible, and easier hurt.
They've both been in the last 6 months, one where (yet again) I was not paying attention to what my steed was doing, but chatting to the rider behind me when my steed spooked at a packet and leapt to the side. Like a bad Warner Bros cartoon, it felt like he jumped out from under me and I was left hanging in the air for a second, before hitting the ground flat on my back like a sack of potatoes. So embarrassing that I jumped up and  right back onto my steed in milliseconds. Later that same day another horse in the group fell in a deceptively deep mud pit and had to be dug out by yours truly. Unfortunately my back was hurt from it and after 3 weeks I went to the physiotherapist, who poked and prodded and then quite simply stated "you've dropped your kidney", but hey she did what "all the king's men and all the king's horses couldn't" do, she put me back together again.
Digging a horse and subsequently myself, out of a mud hole
And the one a few week ago which had me nose dive into solid ground. Unfortunately no physical evidence of that to show anyone except whiplash. With that much pain, I kinda wish I did have some decent evidence to show for it.

So, is horse riding dangerous? Heck yes.
Is it worth the risk? Absolutely!
And in case you need, give me a call, I know a really good physiotherapist.


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