BY INTERN KAITLYN YOURKOSKI
After an injury, it is hard to gain the strength to go do what you love. Especially (as many of us equestrians argue to non-horse people) when you are not fully in control of a 1200 pound animal.
This past November, I fell of my horse and injured my knee. After months of physical therapy and time off, you would think I was itching to go back to riding. But, I found myself caught between a rock and a hard place. My injured knee jarred me, but I had also previously had four concussions. The recent accident and knee injury really made me more afraid of another fall and possible brain damage, and I was afraid to get back on.
But after about six months off, I made my decision to begin riding again. It was something I couldn’t live without. What I learned is that there is no perfect solution to when and how you get back on, but here are some steps to help make your decision of when it is the right time.
Does This Injury Define You?
How does the injury impact your life? If it led to serious trauma or may effect you permanently, you should weigh the pros and cons. Through making a list, you can physically see what is pushing you forward or what is holding you back. If the injury doesn’t define you, yet still scares you, think to yourself: Why am I scared? Being scared is only natural. Whether you are scared for your first soccer game back or after being on leave from work for a while, when you feel vulnerable (or not on the top of your game) it’s natural to feel scared.
Talk To Your Trainer
I sat down and talked to my trainer, showed her my pros and cons sheet and we discussed the game plan for getting back on the horse. When she heard my goals and fears, she understood my situation a lot more and could create a program for when I was done with physical therapy. She understood what I needed involving building back up by stamina and my confidence. I was very timid and nervous, so we slowly built up to everything. First a lesson at the walk, then one trotting, eventually leading up to cantering and jumping again. If your trainer understands what you need, it will make the experience of returning the saddle less frightening and more enjoyable.
Wait Till You Feel Comfortable
Being confident and comfortable is one of the most important steps, because these two qualities produce the best ride. I took a couple months after physical therapy till I felt ready to get back in the saddle. A way to gain a bond, or even help you feel comfortable, is going to the barn and spending time around the horses without riding. Whether it is grooming to helping little kid lessons, being around the animal will help you feel safe when you decide to return. Grooming is therapeutic for anyone, but it will help you feel more comfortable around the animal while debriefing from your stressful day at school/work. Grooming helps build trust with a horse which will only benefit you in the future. Trusting the horse you riding and having a bond with them will positively impact your ride significantly.
Find a Horse Who You Feel Comfortable With
It is most important to feel confident after you have spent some time off and aren’t as fresh as you were before your injury. Confidence is key because it will leave a good impression on the ride. Having a good memory of your first ride back will help getting back into riding easier. Trusting is one of the biggest assets in riding. It is hard to trust a 1200 pound animal, but when you do it creates a winning ride. Whether you are looking to get back in the show ring or just ride a couple days a week, trust is a necessity especially when you feel most vulnerable after an injury.
Following these steps helped me get back in the saddle and after three weeks of riding constantly, I have found trust in my trainer, from talking to her about what I need in a program, trust in my decision, after making the pros and cons list, and trust in my horse, after spending quality time with him. Of course there is no perfect science to getting back in the tack, but it is important that those around you know what you want when coming back from an injury. There is no perfect time to get back on until you feel it is the perfect time. Coming back from an injury or time off is naturally stressful, so do not feel as if your crazy if you are nervous. Injury is difficult to physically and mentally combat, so making it smooth is the key to an enjoyable ride.