I drove down the long windy roads, that become so familiar to me one hot summer morning. As I continued to drive I reached the barn, I pulled my car into the driveway hearing the gravel shuffle under my wheels. The barn stood tall, with large white wood panels, two outdoor arenas, and a big green indoor arena for the winter. I walked to my horse’s stall, he stuck his large head through the door, knowing I had arrived. His name was IZ, he was a huge warmblood with smooth black fur. I grabbed his halter and led him into the aisle of the barn. I groomed his shiny coat and picked out his huge hooves. I moved as fast as I could because the heat was so unbearable. It was one of the hottest summer days we have had in Chicago, the sun felt like a heating blanket over my skin as it beat down.
I lead my horse down to the mounting block as sweat went racing down my face. I grudgingly hopped on and ushered IZ to walk in the arena. When I entered there were 5 other horses in the arena with their riders. Everyone trotting and walking around in different directions. My trainer showed up shortly after and began to give me instruction. I could tell IZ was frustrated every time I told him to do something, having to use my leg heavily just to get him to start trotting. I could feel his body breathing heavily against my legs, his ribs ribs flexing out and in as he took deep breaths. We began to practice a jump course. We were going over jump after jump and IZ became irate, refusing to listen. I would push my leg to the right and he would would move his body to the left. As I was becoming frustrated with my disobedient horse the heat from the sun glared down on us. Sweat stained all parts of my clothing and all parts of IZ’s furry body.
Before I knew it IZ began to take off, full speed. I had no control, I was pulling back on the reins with all my bodyweight assisting me. IZ kept running, going 30 mph, his breath was similar to a bulls huffing and puffing out of anger. My instructor tried to align the other horses in the arena to create a wall to stop IZ from running. IZ refused to stop and I could feel my fingers becoming numb. My mind was blank, completely full of shock at what I was experiencing. My heart was beating so fast I could hear it ringing in my ears. It seemed like the world was moving in slow motion, contrary to what you would think riding on a horse galloping would be like, when I looked around I saw the many different expressions of shock. Everyone in pure panic not knowing what will happen next. At this point I had been holding on for 4 minutes, it was the longest 4 minutes of my life, going around and around the arena. I hung on for dear life not wanting to hit the ground that looked like a treadmill going its top speed. My trainer was trying to arrange all the other horses in the arena to form a wall and bring IZ’s tantrum to a stop. IZ headed full speed at the line of horses with no intention of stopping. At the last minute the horses parted ways and IZ continued to run. I tried running him into the fence, surrounding the arena, in hopes he would stop running. None of our attempts to stop IZ worked.
My body began to give up, my fingers had gone numb and my arms were starting to lose feeling. Without thinking about it my body flung off my racing horse, like a sack of potatoes. My body slammed onto the ground, but my foot had gotten stuck in the stirrup of my saddle. I remember the dust sweeping over my eyes as I felt my body being dragged by this unstoppable beast. The pain was so intense I felt nothing, my body completely numb. I then saw black and couldn’t feel anything, I had been knocked unconscious. My foot eventually slipped loose as my lifeless body rocked back to a stop. I woke up to multiple faces yelling my name and it felt like I had just woken up from a nightmare, then the pain set in. My hands were numb from the leather peeling off the top layer of my skin. My back felt like it had broken into a million pieces. My head was pounding with pain as I tried to figure out what was going on. I saw my trainer and other riders surrounding me yelling to see if I was responsive. Their voices weren’t resonating with me so I sat in silence as my thoughts ran in circles.
I closed my eyes for what seemed like a second but when they opened I felt soft cotton under my body and cool air conditioning. I was in an ambulance with EMT’s surrounding me. They were all doing different things in panic like a bunch of bees buzzing around. I could hear my mother crying, not knowing how severe my injury was. I wanted to turn to her and tell her it would all be okay and that I was fine, but my mouth wouldn’t open. In all honesty, I didn’t know if I was okay or what would happen next. It was like I was locked inside my body not able to move, speak, or think. It began to scare me even more, not knowing if it was due to my physical state or my mental state of fear and shock.
I had to spend the night in the hospital, I had a bad concussion along with a long list of other injuries. My doctors suggested I not ride for a long time, but I visited my barn a week after the accident. I had a bulky back brace on, and felt nauseous from all the medication I was taking. I walked to my horse’s stall, he stuck his large head through the door, knowing I had arrived. As I approached him my heart began to sink, remembering the horror IZ put me through. I gently placed my hand against his huge face, his head lowering down and resting on my chest. I stared into his eyes as I felt his energy rushing through my body. It was like we were having a conversation in complete silence, both of us understanding one another. Standing there is a moment I will forever remember. I came to the barn almost everyday, like I did before my accident, just walking IZ around.
It wasn't much longer after that that I got back on for the first time. I wasn't wearing my riding clothes. I was wearing leggings, sneakers, and a big t-shirt to hide my back brace. I wasn't supposed to ride for at least another couple months but I decided to do it anyway. It was a crisp night, the barn was completely empty. The only sound was IZ crunching the fall leaves beneath his elephant like feet. I lead my horse down to the mounting block as the cold air brushed down my face. I grudgingly hopped on and ushered IZ to walk into the arena. My horse was wearing no saddle, I was riding him bareback. I felt his muscles moving with the motion of his body along my thighs. I felt his spine moving side to side underneath me. I looked ahead and saw the arena. Flashbacks from my accident filled my brain like a lake after a drought. I felt my body become tense as I continued to walk onward. We walked around together in the same arena where just months before I had lost control. I could feel how timid IZ was like he had realized what he done and felt bad about it. As we walked I began to cry, the tears uncontrollably running down my cheeks. I could never imagine my life without horses, let alone IZ. Horseback riding meant the world to me and i feared i would never be able to ride the same as I did before my accident. Iz and I were jumping over 4 feet at the time, which takes an enormous amount of trust. How would I ever put my safety in his “hands” again? How would I continue my riding career to face new challenges? I didn’t know the answer at the time.
I continued riding IZ, taking small steps at a time, rebuilding the trust we had lost. I didn’t once consider getting a new horse, which sounds crazy considering IZ almost ended my riding career. IZ was the reason I had a riding career to begin with, he was the reason I fell in love with jumping. I couldn’t throw him to the side because he made a mistake, I couldn’t give up on him knowing how much he meant to me. We continued to jump, eventually reaching right where we left off before the incident. We went on to compete that next summer, and quite frankly, doing amazing! We had become a unstoppable team. We traveled to different competitions around the United States sharing our story of conquer and winning money ribbons. It was a storybook ending to a bad situation. I did not let fear overcome my desire to ride, or for my love of horses. I still, to this day, struggle with back pain. Yet, I fully understand that the pain I feel is the sacrifice I have to make in order to continue riding. My accident, through passion and dedication, has shown me that there is never an excuse to quit.