That Time My Horse Knew Better

Hola! Here's one of my favorite stories about my horse Red. I just sent it in to Chicken Soup for the Soul today, but who knows if it will be published. 

Nine. That’s how bad the pain was that day on a scale from one to ten, ten being the worst pain imaginable. I didn’t understand how a person could still be alive with this sort of pain ravaging their body, but here I was, alive, and by God ready to compete no matter how agonizing it was.

After letting a few tears shed within the privacy of my bathroom stall I splashed three hand-fulls of icy water over my face and then forced a smile for my friends and family.

Tacking up my Thoroughbred Red was an absolute nightmare, any kind of motion I made with my spine felt like stabbing knives or a raging fire. I rolled my eyes, gritted my teeth, clenched my fist—did anything I could do to deal with the pain without crying because if I cried or looked sad or remotely pained I knew I’d get pulled from the competition and deep down I had an ominous feeling that this might be my last.

Here was the thing, a little over a year ago from this moment I had a major back surgery. My L4 and L5 were fused with four titanium screws. Six months later my surgeon allowed me to get back into the saddle. While it temporarily fixed my agony, the pain slowly returned after months of riding again and not only was I riding again, I competed too! I jumped, barrel raced, leaned off the side of my horse to snatch up flags out of the ground while going full speed, and herded cows. As you can probably imagine this wasn’t necessarily the best thing for my spine, but it was something I loved doing, even with the pain. I had no intentions of ever giving it up.  

            So, despite the agony, I slipped my foot into the stirrup and mounted up. I took Red over the small warm-up jumps a couple of times and quickly began to panic. I panicked because my spine hit a new level of pain. A level that caused my temple to throb, sweat to dew across my forehead, and caused shortness of breath, but even with this torture going on I continued to conceal how I truly felt from everyone. Even refusing to take water from my mother because I was too afraid she’d see the truth in my eyes.

            “Yancey?” A lady with a clipboard shouted out.
            I gave her a little wave.
            Nodding, she told me, “You’re up next hun.”
            Here was my moment, I could have pulled out. I could have said no—part of me even demanded this. To compete, I thought, would have been suicidal. However, this other part of me—the stubborn and more competitive part—thought that to pull out was synonymous to being a failure and obviously I didn’t want that and thus I answered, “Thanks. I’m coming.”  

            My friends and family lined the railings of the covered arena as Red and I entered, setting foot on the freshly plowed bark. I collected my reins and squeezed my calves into his sides, urging him into a canter. As we approached the first fence Red began slowing down. Squeezing him harder, I asked that he go faster, but he wouldn’t. Instead, he did something he’s never done before with me, which was come to a sudden halt. Looking to the judges, I knew this would be counted as his first refusal. Two more and we’d be disqualified. He refused to step foreword, he’d only go if I pulled him to the side. I cantered him in a small circle and led him back to the jump, but again, he stopped dead in his tracks. I tried once more and the same thing happened. We were disqualified.

            As I exited the arena my friends and family were shocked. “That was so weird,” one of my teammates said. “Yeah, Red’s never done that before,” added my mom.
            Frustrated, I dismounted from the saddle, which was a tall drop from my Thoroughbred. The moment my feet hit the ground, an explosion went off in my spine, causing lighting strikes of pain to shoot down to my toes and a scream to burst from my mouth. Immediately, I began sobbing, feeling as if my world was crumbling around me.  

Later after getting x-rayed we found out that at some point after I began riding again I cracked two of my four titanium screws completely in half, meaning I had to get another surgery.

This was over four years ago, but it’s something I’ll never forget. I truly believe animals have souls and can know us better than we know ourselves. Red was my guardian angel that day and I’m so thankful that he stood up for me at a time when I wouldn’t even do it for myself. He’s been one of my best teachers in life.

Blog to you later! 


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