[Disclaimer: I’m writing this fewer than twenty four hours from a pretty good, aka bad, concussion. I’m also on muscle relaxers and have had some difficulty locating certain parts of my vocabulary in its resident gray matter. This should make editing in a few days some kind of high entertainment.]
I’ve been thinking a lot about my inner voice over recent months.
The voice that plays the running dialogue in my head, and that tells me that a situation is not right, the one that beats me up on a regular basis, the one that tells me that I’m capable or not capable of doing something, or tells me to Suck It Up Cupcake when there’s really no choice but to soldier on. She tells me what I should or shouldn’t have said, what I should or shouldn’t have eaten, what I should or shouldn’t have prioritized on a given day. I’m told that you, dear reader, have one too, or at least I hope that is the case or I have an entirely different set of issues than I realized.
I know that voice is my own. It belongs to me. I’ve come to rely on it, rightly or wrongly, to get where I am in life. For that, I’m grateful. Without that voice kicking me from time to time, telling me I wasn’t good enough or doing enough, who know where I would have ended up being?
There are a lot of reasons I have the inner voice I have, far outside the scope of what should be discussed on an endurance riding blog, but I’ve come to realize something —
That bitch can say some pretty awful things.
Things I would never say to anyone I liked, let alone loved, or whom I was trying to encourage.
That has to change.
So it is funny that yesterday I was in a good place with my voice as I pulled out of the driveway with the rig to ride my husband’s horse at Allegany with a friend.
I’ve been working out, doing a boot camp type of workout which is making me feel great and leaving me sweaty and sore and happy and stronger and proud of myself. I’m saying no when I need to, focusing on the things that I think are important, and making time for those important things, even when they are not necessarily urgent.
The mantra in my head with regard to Ace is that if he is up for it (and I’ll be the first person to back off if he’s not) we will go for the Vermont 100. I am telling myself we can do it. I actually believe it.
The sun was shining bright on me and my inner voice as we pulled out of the driveway. Mentally, we were holding hands and skipping, full of smiles and goodwill.
I’d ridden Wynne only a handful of times before but I’ve had lots of opportunity to watch him go down the trail. We have a lovely relationship on the ground and I’m very fond of him, so I was looking forward to working some DQ Voodoo Magic on some of his little idiosyncratic behaviors.
Richard often asks me to reinstall his horses’ buttons, so I thought I’d tinker with Wynne’s buttons a bit, see how they were working, and test a few things, and give them a little tune up.
I wasn’t sure I liked the way Richard’s rope hackamore was sitting on Wynne’s nose the last time I saw them go down the trail. Sometimes the little S shanks turned in to his face, and I thought perhaps some of the little bickering matches the two of them got into had to do something with that.
I know enough to know that Wynne is a lot of horse, big-moving, strong, very big for a purebred at 15.3h, looking more like an Anglo Arabian, with a carriage of head and neck that is far lower than my own horses’. The few times I cantered on him on other rides, his head remained really low (a place it only goes on Ned before he participates in hijinks) and I found myself having to really work his hind legs underneath him to keep him off his forehand despite the fact that he was perfectly content to be there weighting down the front half of his body — pretty and definitely not inverted but definitely not ‘correct’.
He’s capable of a big spook, usually a 180 type, with little warning.
So I threw a different hackamore in the trailer, one without a rose noseband but a softly padded neoprene one, with a wide flatter curb chain and shorter shanks (i.e. less leverage).
My inner voice was pretty smug as I contemplated what little things I might be able to school with Wynne, and how I sometimes coveted the horse. A part of me missed Ace since I can’t ride him until his feet are reset, but my voice told me this was a good idea.
Our ride was lovely with Nicole and Mat at first. Wynne led and I was able to ride him straight and soft and he seemed happy in the newer, lesser-than hackamore (or hack-a-less as my husband likes to call it). I could bend him left and right, he was light, he was staying forward without wanting to barge. I’d sit up and close my legs when I felt him hesitate or look around or ‘suck back.’ He was giving me such great answers. Gee, maybe I would ask to ride him more often; this was fun.
I said aloud to Nicole, my inner and outer voice full of smugness, that I thought he’d been allowed to “get behind the leg” and that I thought this was the root of his problem. [To be honest, I still do.] So my plan was to focus on messing less with his head and to keep him less on his forehand and thinking more forward. Not fast, but directionally inclined and working well underneath himself, rather than pulling himself along while heavy on his front end.
About halfway through the ride on a long gravel Jeep road that led gradually downhill, I suggested it would be “good for Wynne” to follow for a bit. He got gradually less amenable then, wishing to tailgate, to sneak in front, more difficult to rate without me really getting on to his nose (something I had set as a goal NOT to do), even though I was using my seat and leg for all I was worth.
I was getting fewer brilliant answers to my request, was running out of tools to employ.
And in a moment of lack of other ideas (key point in all of this), I employed a trick I sometimes use with the other horses. With a horse so on the forehand and not engaged underneath himself, and not wishing to do anything abrupt with the hand like an arret (which I am pretty sure is German for “yank the bit up to the horses’ molars in a skyward direction”) I opted to take both legs away from Wynne’s sides, and for lack of a more descriptive term, whomp him. This is called “boxing a horse with your legs.”
He jumped up and forward, right past Nicole’s horse (which I half-expected), and actually made me laugh. Most horses throw up their heads for a stride or two with their hind legs well under their body after being boxed so you can resume a conversation. It typically leaves you in a spot where you resume the contact you’ve given with your hands, collect the horse back up and go along happily in a better balance.
But as my inner voice will tell you (or hell my outer one writing this blog), not this horse and not on this day.
What he did next was not what I expected.
He cantered faster and faster (or so it seemed, I realize my judgment may have been skewed) down the hill, head now firmly back between his front legs again. He just plain ran.
You might imagine what my inner voice was saying.
I tried to stop him with my left rein, my right rein, but the footing was hairy enough that I was not inclined to do anything too drastic, lest he fall.
I could not get his head up.
My inner voice told me to sit up, that I could ride as fast as he could gallop, but my inner voice also had some sense that there was an upcoming creek, and an upcoming gate and if that were open, an upcoming paved road.
My inner voice also asked me —
“What if he spooks?”
“What if he slips going down this hill in the mud or on the rocks?”
I had time for this chatty conversation with my inner voice because Wynne went straight down that hill without slowing for a good half mile, by Nicole’s and my calculations. That is a long time to be going down hill without brakes.
At some point the trail leveled a bit, I braced against my stirrups and pulled back hard with my right rein. He slowed a bit, my saddle started to slip off to the left, and I bailed off or fell off or some unattractive combination of the two. I remember telling myself to be sure I kicked my left foot out of the stirrup because he was still cantering.
My inner voice told me this was going to hurt.
Not quite as abruptly as I. On my left hip, mostly. On gravel and rocks on the jeep road (no mud in this spot). Nicole caught up quickly and said I also had dirt on my shoulder and scuffed the left side of my helmet. I knew I was bruised but I waved off any concern. “I’m okay.” Nothing seemed broken.
Nicole is the best type of friend in these circumstances. Concerned but not a worry wart, keeping things light, helping me get back on. We finished the ride and I was pretty sure I would just be bruised up and seriously sore today. We took our time and I was not sure, but Wynne made a couple of thoughts about a repeat performance along the paved road, but twice I had him spun around so fast that I think we were both surprised.
Nicole mostly kept my inner voice entertained and quiet as we rode the five or six miles back to camp, but she still had some things to say.
“That was SO stupid.”
“Now you are going to be afraid again.”
“Why on earth did you antagonize that horse, you fool?”
My inner voice is a consummate horseperson and knows such things are never the horse’s fault. That leaves only so many options.
That was the general theme.
We hand walked the last mile or so into camp. I noticed some odd “auras” of bright lights as the sun came through the leaves. I drank some water but mostly kept it to myself, wondered if it was just how sunny it was and how mostly shaded the wooded area where we were hand-walking.
Nicole offered to haul us home, but I opted to slam some water, eat some nuts, take some ibuprofen so I might be able to get out of the truck without a lift-assist when I arrived and hit the road.
About ten miles from home the nausea and headache hit. I knew what that was. I wasn’t dizzy, faint or light-headed, just not right.
Fifteen years I go I suffered a pretty significant fall off Ned under not horribly different circumstances and so I know head injuries are nothing to mess with.
Rich agreed when I called him from home. Head to the rural hospital an easy ten minute drive away, stop and call 911 if I felt worse.
Long story short, I was treated by an ER doc who had sustained somewhere between 13 and 16 concussions himself, one from a horse but mostly from mixed martial arts. (It made me want to stop and have a couple of beers with him, but perhaps yesterday was not the perfect day, what with me in my riding tights and all, smelling horsey, and him on duty and all.)
He asked me some questions, ran me through some tests and I think the one where your eyes are supposed to focus quickly after following his finger was one I failed. I might have been brain injured, but I was still pretty good at non-verbal cues. The CT scan went quickly and thankfully no brain bleed, but definitely a concussion and as a bonus, I got some muscle relaxers for my bruised bum.
While I was waiting, I was texting with Nicole and my friend Anita. Brain injuries are fascinating. Besides having trouble texting (the eye/hand coordination part) I was having a horrible time “finding my words.” I noticed that when I called Rich when I got home; I kept getting frustrated as I tried to describe what happened. When texting to Anita, I had a terrible time coming up with the word “recklessly” as in “I hope Rich isn’t driving here recklessly fast. I’m fine.”
My friend Anita replied with the line of the day.
“Stand to my left because, girl, you ain’t right.”
It still makes me laugh.
Getting my own voice out yesterday was not so easy.
Now I am trying to have a little chat with my inner voice.
She woke me up last night. I think we are both afraid.
We went over what happened again and again, each time with the scolding.
“You shouldn’t have changed his tack.”
“You shouldn’t have boxed him.”
“Why didn’t you use a pulley rein right away?”
“Why didn’t you tighten your girth?”
“Why did you drive home?”
I need her to tell me the things I hear other riders tell one another when they have a fall. The things I tell other riders. The things people say when they actually like you.
“If you ride long enough or far enough, you’re going to fall.”
“You just get right back on that horse, young lady.” (This one from my cowboy instructor when I was seven. “And don’t you DARE hold onto that saddle horn.”)
“It can happen to anyone.”
Or from George Morris: “You either go to the hospital or you get back on. Hospital or on?”
[Okay, maybe my inner voice doesn’t need any coaching from George!]
What my friend Randi innocently suggested when I sat fairly paralyzed in fear on Ned on one of our first trail rides after he landed me in the hospital — “Why don’t you try RIDING him?”
Or my personal favorite, which Carla wrote to me this morning, one which cannot be denied, “Shit Happens.”
So I am trying to coach my voice into thinking this is just a hiccup, a little bump in the road, and telling her to take it easy on me, so we can restore a healthy dialogue.
One hundred mile rides are largely about that inner voice, all on top of everything else. I need that voice healthy and ready to go and constructive and positive.
She is me.
We can do this.
I just need a piece of duct tape and/or a two-by-four for that voice.