Well, sometimes things take a turn that we don’t expect. It’s my turn to deal with injury and confidence problems. So many of my students, as well as so many other riders, have had injuries or struggle with lack of confidence. This year will be my attempt to mix my love of teaching and training with my own limited physical ability. Along the way, we will continue studying Baucher, as we have for a little over six years now. It has taken us on trail rides, to jumping shows, to the racetrack, oversees to study in Germany, and through many discussions with health professionals in both human and equine fields. Much is left to be learned and explored, especially when considering the rider.
To explain what happened will take a bit, so bear with me. In January 2014 I shattered my right tibial plateau in a skiing accident. This caused massive bruising in the bones and soft tissue, and intense pain that lasted for the next two months. I was unable to move my lower leg at all for the first month. I was also unable to walk on it for eight weeks. Losing my ability to walk was scary and frustrating. Learning to walk again was painful and slow. On top of all of it, I had a horse training business to run. Without the help of friends, my business and all of my horses would have fallen away, to be replaced by a new career and new hobby. It required a lot of team work and new ways of running a horse business in order to stick it out.
In March 2014, I had my first ACL reconstruction due to a torn ACL sustained during the fracture. My first return to riding was easy. I started on my older horses before progressing to some of the horses we had in training. Despite six months away from riding, an atrophied leg with poor neurological control, and some lack of confidence, I regained my old riding skills within a few days. It was exciting to be riding again.
Then, in December 2014, I rejected the ACL graft. It was like breaking the tibia all over again. I didn’t want to walk or ride at all because of the pain and instability. In January 2015, I had my second surgery to put bone grafts into the tunnels and remove the old graft. It meant yet another year of knee rehabilitation, constant pain, and limited ability to move. This is when we became active in Thoroughbred racing. We ended up learning a lot about the management of equine athletes, as well as bringing horses home from the track that summer.
In August 2015, my third ACL surgery seemed to be a success. We spent the fall working on little problems on the racehorses in the hopes that we could help them race better the next season. We ponied them to work on their fitness, which was something I could do even without being able to ride. Racing was a way to stay involved and enthused about horses. We also were accepted to compete in the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover in October with Hammy and Chuckles.
This is where we get to now, May 2016. My return to riding this winter has been much tougher. My knee hurts all the time, my back hurts from compensation, my lower leg burns and itches from lingering nerve problems, and I have no confidence. My seat feels great when I am in the saddle, but my confidence does not. Our new indoor arena is unfamiliar, so I am scared to ride in it. If everything is not perfect, I would rather not ride, which is a frustrating and new experience.
To make it much more difficult, my ACL failed again. This time it stretched, but the pain and instability is there. There is nothing further to do surgically, so I am experimenting with different therapies to restore my strength, neurological control and confidence. This is where Chuckles comes into play. He is a nervous horse. He is also kind and careful, which makes him a great fit for me right now. He pays attention to where I am and makes sure to match my pace. He never walks too fast. I lean on him if the footing is slippery or uneven, and he tolerates it. It also helps that Chuckles has problems of his own. He cannot train very quickly, so we are a good fit. Chuckles and I are still going to go to Kentucky to compete, but it may only be in-hand work. My hope this next year is to show how I rehabilitate myself, Chuckles, and build up my confidence to ride again.
We will continue to discuss developments in the Baucher experiment, but we need to include the rider’s body and confidence, too.