Getting Back in the Saddle After an Injury
About 3 months ago, I fell really badly during a lesson. I asked my horse to go way too long and he chipped, making two different choices. I ended up going to the hospital and learned that my kidney was torn and that I could not engage in any contact sports for 3 months. The first thing I thought was “Kidney? You can tear a kidney??” At the time, I was gearing up for my last show of the year, so the news bummed me out. It was really hard for me to accept that I wouldn’t be able to ride. Riding has always been therapeutic for me, and it’s been my escape and happy place. At the time, I had never really been without it. The feeling of throwing your heart over the jump in hopes the horse will follow is something I will always love.
I couldn’t exercise and train the same way. This included trail running and other higher impact exercises. Not only was I unable to ride, but I wasn’t even allowed to train in order to keep myself in shape. Since my injury was internal, healing meant rest. After about a month, I began doing lower-impact exercise, along with hiking the trails around my house. I have a pilates reformer that I work on frequently, so I started strengthening that way. Lower impact training continued, and by the second month I started lighter core work, using a rowing machine every day as cardio, and eventually running a little bit more. By the third month, I stayed away from difficult high impact exercise and started back on my regular regiment, including stretching. Hiking, instead of running, became a bigger part of my life while I was injured. My family has always been very outdoorsy, and I’m no exception. Every Sunday, my family goes on a hike, rain or shine. I came to appreciate hiking more, as it served as my escape. Since riding was out of the picture, being able to slow down and appreciate the world around me was amazing. I've taken this perspective out of this whole experience. Learning to slow down and appreciate where you are is a valuable skill that I got to practice.
However, the hardest part of this injury wasn’t the injury itself. After a few days, my side didn’t even hurt that much. I was lucky it wasn’t worse. However, being on the sidelines for 3 months really set me back. I missed one show, which wasn’t the end of the world, but most of the off season I wasn’t able to ride. Therefore, when Thermal came around the corner, my first show of the year, I had only ridden a handful of times. This was a whole other challenge.
My comeback wasn’t going to be immediate, and in a competitive setting like Thermal, it’s hard not to compare where you are to others. Practicing this skill of just focusing on where you are is so important, and I think that it’s so easy to get swept up in a comparing cycle. For the first weekend, I was working on getting my eye back, and gaining back the trust between me and my horse. When I started riding again, I found myself doing all kinds of nervous habits that I didn’t do before. Sometimes at the base of the jump I would pull for no reason, because I was afraid. I had to learn to trust myself again, and get my instincts back. Once I gave this process more time, and tried not to rush through, I slowly gained back what I had lost. After Thermal, I began getting more in the swing of things. It took time, but allowing the process to work was both challenging and rewarding.
Another thing I took away from this experience was how adversity is never acknowledged in our culture. In general, people only share what’s going right, rarely what’s going wrong. Our culture emphasizes achievements, and never all the hard work it took to get there. Life constantly tests you, and it’s up to you to embrace it and let yourself grow as a person, or not. I’m not saying I’m glad I fell, but it took me a while to see that I needed to try and grow from it. It allowed me to have more balance in my life and pushed me to try things I never would have. This all sounds cliché, but it’s these kinds of experiences that turn us into the people we are.
TFE Ambassador Lila Gamble
Junior rider, CA, USA