I believe in omens. The problem, though–if it is a problem–is that one doesn’t quite know an omen has presented itself until a defining event occurs to substantiate that, yes, the quietly obtrusive whisper, or the shiver up your neck, or the vaporous instantaneous image of something or someone you earlier experienced was a portent of things to come.
Firstly, a prior post is relevant. Shy – A Horse Story provides a relevant jaunt into the past; background for this missive. An update to that prior post is, however, necessary.
I was surprised that my prior post about my horse, Shy, was written in May, 2009. Time slips as sand through our fingers, huh. In the earlier post, Shy was still living in the scrubby hills above the little northwestern burg of Oak Creek. He had yet to be gelded, and was, as they say, green to the hilt. I believe it was sometime toward the end of June, 2009, when my boy was finally gelded, wormed for the first time, inoculated for the first time, and summarily, I believe on the same day as all this unfortunate but necessary trauma occurred, placed in a trailer and hauled off to Craig, Colorado, fifty or so more miles further northwest, where he would–or so I was told and certainly expected as the reasonable outcome of the $500 (x2) fee–be “gentled.” Suffice it to say, Shy had other ideas about this “gentling” business.
Long story short, I had Shy brought down to Golden at the end of August, 2009. Determined to be a “problem” horse by the trainer up in Craig, I had warned my new trainer in Golden what we might be getting into with this little Quarter Horse, who stands only about 15 hands. For almost a year, though, she and I have slowly, patiently, lovingly worked with him to the point where, in June, she sat him for the first time. In July, I sat him for the first time. The pic above hopefully provides a stark contrast to the horse I bought in April, 2009 (first pic), and what he has become.
Yes, on July 15th I sat Shy for the first time. My Facebook entry at the time reveals I had planned for this event, donning what I’d hoped would be good karma inducing talismans: “Today I sat my horse, Shy, for the first time. You’ll notice the Lucchese boots (purchased probably 15 or more years ago, when I drove Denny Doherty–the last surviving member of the Mamas and Papas who was in Denver for a performance of the reconstituted group (my brother-in-law on lead guitar)–to Sheplers to buy himself some boots; the twenty-year-old Levis; my NY Giants ball cap (Hey, Jack!); my “York Beach, Maine,” T-shirt from my friend Leesa; and, of course, my precious boy, Shy, who took the grand event in stride…no drama, no worries. This, my horse year, has today been fulfilled. A satisfying thing.”
July 20th, a Tuesday, I’d, as usual, arisen shortly past five, wrote for a few hours, completed whatever chores required my attention, and prepared to head up to the stable. This would be the third time I would sit Shy. As I opened up the back door to get the car from the garage, I felt an uncommon deep-set pain in the center of my back. I’ve known for quite some time that I have chronic spinal degenerative issue (ain’t heredity a kick in the pants!), which manifests itself occasionally in my lower back. But this pain was different..higher up, a sharp, intense pain. My thought: Christ! I can’t have any back issues today. I’m riding my horse today. Hell, I’m going to be riding my horse for a long, long time to come. Back issues be damned. Well, as I usually do with these spasms of pain, I worked it out, stretched, swiveled my shoulders. The thought, however, stayed with me as I drove to the stable: Your back goes, buddy, and you ain’t gonna be ridin’ horses for very long.
Once I got to the stable, I groomed Shy, brushed him out, picked his feet, and led him to the barn where I tacked him up. I then took him to what we call the “small” roundpen–where my trainer insisted I stay (as opposed to the indoor or outdoor arena, or even the “large” roundpen) until I’d had a few more hours of riding training under my belt. She emphasized that Shy was ready for me, but I wasn’t that ready for him. Thus her caution that as I sat him I only, ONLY walk him, perform pressure (“giving”) and leading exercises and hard stops. “The hard stop is going to be your most important tool,” she’d told me. “If he gets away from your control, the hard stop will save you.” The “hard stop” is where you move your hand down the right or left side of the reins, assure the reins are taught on whichever side, and then pull forcefully to where the horse turns his head inward, moves his hind legs around and, effectively, has nowhere to go except to, yes, stop.
My trainer had also cautioned me that when I was atop Shy I must avoid clicking. Clicking is that noise you make to get a horse moving; sucking in on your cheek and clicking your tongue at the same time. Shy, my trainer has emphasized over and over again, is a “smart” horse (I prefer cerebral) who understands and readily responds to voice commands: walk, trot, canter, Whoa. Clicking, for Shy, is simply a cue to get moving…usually at his own pace, at whatever energy level he happens to want to expend.
At this point, you may or may not surmise where I’m going with this.
(Let me slip-slide into another tense here. I know, I know. No worthy writer would do such a thing. But, I think it’ll work.)
I am atop Shy. We walk around the roundpen, turning, giving, doing laterals. I’m working on my balance–straight back, bellybutton touching your spine–and keeping my weight in the balls of my feet, boot heels down. Shy stops on his own. Just stands there. I click. I immediately realize my mistake, as Shy moves to a trot. Okay, I think, I know how to post (moving your body in concert with the horse) and I am doing just that–posting. But he keeps moving faster, faster. I am not so much afraid of what’s happening as I am genuinely fascinated by the moment, the sensation, the energy I feel surging from magnificent animal beneath me. But we keep moving, faster, faster. I grab the horn with my left hand. The hard stop. Yes, I must stop him. I inch my right hand down the reins. I know I am not balanced correctly. I know he surely feels me wobbling atop him. I pull hard on the right rein. I see his head turn toward me, his eyes stare at my own. I know, right now I know I am coming off my horse. Still, there’s little fear. Just the acknowledgment that I’m falling. I feel the intensity of enormous pain first in my lower back and left hip, my head pops back. I can feel the top of my head oozing, seeping. I utter an “Ahhhggg…” I put my hand to my head. Wet. I cannot stand. I prop myself up a bit. I see Shy staring at me from across the roundpen. I look back toward the barn. No one is in sight. I turn back to Shy. Still he stands stone-cold still. Staring. Staring. I again look to the barn. There is a girl, maybe ten, eleven, with a riding helmet and breaches on. She sees me. She steps one way, then another. I hear her yell, “Somebody is hurt.” She is asked a question. She turns to me: “What is your name?” “George,” I say. Then I see them running. Help is coming. Two, three, four of them are running toward me. I try to stand again. I can’t. I remember that moment before I left the house, standing there with that pain in my back; standing there with the implications of that pain being logically examined with the inevitable conclusion: No more horse riding for you, buddy.
(Tense change. Sorry.)
A couple things. I suspect that Shy accelerated to probably no more than a canter. I imagined a gallop. But, then, it was quite a surreal moment; like a witness to a crime who is asked to later relate the details of that crime and, understandably, skews details, relates perception that may or may not have had anything to do with the actual crime. Another thing. Because of my loss of balance atop Shy, because of my perhaps slow-witted response to what was happening, I suspect Shy freaked a bit, unsure of what it was I–that bobbling lump on his back–was asking of him.
I won’t bore you with the immediate aftermath. Everything you’ve seen on T.V. with regard to real life trauma is true. The medics, the firemen, the initial triage at Lutheran Hospital, then the transport to Good Samaritan Hospital in Broomfield. (Thank GAWD it wasn’t to St. Joe’s. Good Samaritan is wonderful hospital…so different from my experience at St. Joe’s.)
Okay. Here’s the damage: 1) Six staples, two or three stitches in my head; (directly from the hospital report), 2) Fractures of the left L2 and L3 transverse processses (those spindly things that stick out on the ends of vertebrae); 3) Linear fracture involving the mid portion of the left side of the sacrum (that part of the vertebra that is attached to and makes up part of the pelvis ), approximate 2mm of displacement; 4) Subcutaneous hematomas in the lower back and left buttock regions. Hematoma along the posterior lower lumbar paraspinal musculature. (The pic shows the hematomas on my back, that extended from my waist to the tops of my thighs. That clear area at the bottom of my spine is, I assume, where by sacrum resides. That area is swollen, puffed out in such a way that a profile view looks somewhat hideous (I’m reminded of Quasimodo); the area is also numb…totally numb. )
Prognosis: At least six weeks of initial recovery. Meds: Dilaudid (which eases pain, but keeps me awake with very, very strange dreams during those little bouts of sleep I do manage to get; Valium for muscles spasms. I have quit taking the Dilaudid and Valium. Advil will do just fine, thank you. Other crappy stuff: I can’t drive; I used a walker for about three days after coming home. I now use a cane. Good stuff: I’m walking about two blocks every day now, and I’m able to go with David to the stable to see Shy, help brush him out, and hobble behind them as they “go up the hill” to Shy’s favorite grazing spot.
Coulda been worse, huh.
Omen or coincidence? As I said, I do believe in omens. As I also said, problem is, how do you know it’s an omen until after the event it foretells occurs? If I had that particular cosmic key, I’d be rich, famous.
Anyway, that’s my horse story for today. And–in case you’re wondering–Shy remains the most loving, intelligent, gentle soul to have touched my life in a very long time…besides David, of course. And Sarah, Melissa, Jessica, Calvin… Ah, but those who know me know about the dogs already. That will never change.
Oh, almost forgot. Yes, I will sit my horse again!