“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”
Once again, my daughter has become a pretty talented writer. In this creative writing assignment for school, she recounts her fall of a horse two years ago and the journey she has been on since.
By: Catrina Byrne
Flashes of the white wall zoomed by me. I heard my trainer yelling for me to turn. Everything was a blur. I was going too fast. The horse, Feyo, turned the corner much too sharply. I flew off my horse and slammed into the rail. I hit the ground with a thump. I felt intense pain in my right ribs. It was then that I realized what had happened. I had fallen off my horse.
As I laid flat on my back, panic creep inside me. I was breathing quickly. I couldn’t focus on anything but the pain. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I cried out for my parents. My dad tried to comfort me. Everyone tried to sit me up but somewhere in my back hurt. The trainer who had been teaching me called 911 and was asking me questions. I didn’t want to answer them, I wanted the pain gone. Despite the tears and the pain, I managed to answer her questions. Every now and then I would cry out, “ It hurts!”
The ambulance arrived and the paramedics managed to get me on the stretcher, then into the ambulance. My ribs felt like they were on fire. I wanted my mom. The paramedics told me that she couldn’t be in the back with me but she’d be up front. That was not what I wanted to hear. The situation worsened when they had to put the IV in me. I despise sharp objects being pushed into my skin. Everything else was a blur until I got the pain meds in my system later. I was told I had fractured five ribs and a small bone connected to my spine. I remember little about what happened between the accident and my dad taking me out of the hospital in a wheelchair. Nor do I remember much of the weeks that followed, except a few visitors and hobbling around the house like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The real struggle was not recovering from the fractured bones, the real struggle came after I healed. The real struggle was to get past the emotional barrier my accident had caused.
The doctors had informed me that 8 weeks after my accident I could ride again. But I did not ride in 8 weeks; it was 14 weeks before I rode again. Not because I was physically unable to, but because I was unsure if I ever wanted to ride again. My dad sat me down and told me, “Catrina, I don’t care if you stop riding but you have to get back on a horse at least once.”
I knew he was right. So I scheduled a lesson to ride again perhaps for the last time. My lesson came all too quickly. So many thoughts filled my head as I took Hogan, a chestnut draft thoroughbred, out of his stall and into the crossties. I shoved those thoughts aside and began tacking Hogan. I tried to put my brave face on as I led Hogan into the arena. I mounted and realized that from the top, Hogan looked exactly like Feyo; shivers went down my spine. No, I was not going to go there. I focused on the voice of my trainer, Veronica, as she instructed me, reminding me of the things I already knew.
“Are you ready to trot?” Veronica asked. There it was; the question I had been dreading. I did not respond. My eyes fell on Hogan. But I wasn’t seeing Hogan; I was seeing Feyo. The accident replayed in my head. Cueing Feyo forward, Feyo mistaking my cue, and going into a gate I could not control yet. The speed. The turn. The rail. The pain. I began to cry.
“I can’t.” I sobbed.
“Thats okay. We can just walk today.” Veronica smiled encouragingly. I wiped my tears and walked Hogan forward. We focused on the walk.
That was not the last time I rode. I rode many more times until I was confident enough to trot again. But trotting again was not the end of my trouble. I struggled to regain my confidence at the trot. I also made it my instinct to lean forward at the trot and could not fix it. I was constantly told to sit back, put my heels down, look up and be the boss. It was hard to go so slowly when so many of my friends had advanced on to new levels while I was stuck behind because of a habit I could not break. I never gave up; I was determined to overcome my habit and move on to the canter.
In August 2013, a full year after the accident, I made a goal to canter by my 15th birthday. I told my parents and Kindra, one of the other trainers I ride with, and they pushed me harder than ever. It payed off. It was December 26th, 5 days before my 15th birthday. I was riding Wrangler, a brown and white paint, in a group with my favorite trainer, Courtney. The other people in the group were beginner canterers and I was an advanced trotter. Courtney was having the group take turns cantering. I expected to trot when it was my turn but I was wrong. Courtney turned to me and said,
“I heard about your goal to canter by your 15th birthday. When is your birthday?”
“December 31st.” I answered.
“Would you like to canter today?” Courtney questioned. My mouth fell open. Courtney explained, “I think you did well today and are ready. Do you want to canter?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed. Courtney then told me what to do and I listened, careful not to miss a thing. She told me not to hold the horn of my western saddle but it was ok to grab some of Wrangler’s mane. Once Courtney was finished she told me to go. I took Wrangler out to the rail, cued him to a trot, then made a kissing noise with my mouth and squeezed him forward with my leg. Wrangler went into the canter obediently. I felt a new sense of freedom as the wind blew against my face. I loved everything about the canter. I loved the feeling it gave you, the connection created between horse and rider, and even the speed. Wrangler did not canter long but I loved every second of it. I cantered again, loving it even more. My dad came out of my house and grinned, pride all over his face. He took pictures to remember the moment when I let my fear of cantering go. I had done it! I had cantered! I felt so joyful and so free having known I had succeeded. It felt so good to finally be free of the past and move on.
It has been almost a year since I cantered for the first time. Cantering for the first time started a new chapter in my life. A new riding level in which I continue to advance. There are times when I struggle but I overcome whatever troubles arise. My fears no longer control me. I’m not afraid to fall because I am a courageous cowgirl standing tall.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.