An Aging Equestrian’s Journey Back To Horses After Injury

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

BY SUSAN GILSTRAP

On my 44th birthday, I decided to take the day off and have a riding lesson to celebrate. I mean, I’m a full-fledged adult. I can make my own decisions, right? I never get to ride during the week, so that Tuesday in January was extra special.

The tires crunched on the gravel path as I pulled into the driveway. When trainer came out to greet me, we talked about goals. We decided to do a lunge line lesson to work on balance and being deep in the seat. Mounting outside the arena, we walked over to the round pen next to my trainer.

But as soon as we passed through the gate, I must’ve given off a really bad vibe because he went forward when I wasn’t ready. Fumbling without reins and unable to grab mane, I lost my balance and fell on my right arm. I slowly sat up in the dirt, but it became apparent that I could not put any weight on my arm to stand up. This aging equestrian has fallen off many times before, so I really thought I was going to be ok. I just had to give it a minute. Minutes slipped away and

my trainer finally said to me, “You’re either going in my car, or I’m calling an ambulance.” We went with option B.

Once the ambulance arrived, I winced in pain as I tried to get up. One of the paramedics said, “Yeah, it’s broken.” I heard, but I didn’t want to believe.

My trainer asked, “Do you want me to go to the hospital with you?” I did. I was afraid to go alone.

One x-ray later revealed a mid-shaft humerus break. For those unfamiliar with medical terminology, that’s the longest bone in your arm in between your elbow and your shoulder. Mine cracked in two like a twig.

My husband met me at the hospital as my arm was wrapped up in a splint. I was crying, in so much pain, but I wish I could say the journey ended there.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

In the beginning I couldn’t sleep. I would walk around the house at night because I just couldn’t get comfortable in bed, but even walking around was painful. I was taking pain pills around the clock, and my husband had to cut my food up like I was a 5-year-old. I was off work on short term disability for two weeks. I couldn’t drive my car.

Before the fall, I had bought riding clothes online and dreamed of the day I could get back on. Each time I went to the doctor, I had expectations that my arm would be better. Each time I left feeling defeated. It felt like those riding clothes would never get worn.

As the hot summer days went by, so did my dreams of ever getting back on a horse. Every time I walked into my closet, I would just shuffle through those riding clothes further back while a little part of my heart broke. The idea of getting back on began to slip further into the back of my mind. I began to forget I ever was an equestrian.

By the end of July, my arm had healed about 80% and I scheduled my first lesson back. At first I was excited, but a few days later I cancelled the lesson. I was too afraid. My arm wasn’t 100%, and mentally I wasn’t either. It wasn’t until the end of September that I made another appointment, but I honestly wasn’t sure how I felt.

While I waited for my lesson day to arrive, something inside me just clicked. I needed to get back on. If I didn’t, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. What was I willing to live with? In the nine months it took for my arm to fully heal, I had a lot to think about. Was the horse to blame? What did I do wrong? If I felt like such an awful rider, should I even bother getting back on?

Photo courtesy of Susan Gilstrap

The answer: no one is to blame. Being around a 1200-pound animal is inherently dangerous. We all take risks when we get on. Falls happen no matter how talented you are. They happen to all of us.

Thinking about all of this, I finally got back on in October. I gently patted my mount, and just remembered, “No regrets.” I will love horses again, even if the journey isn’t in a straight line. So I swung my right leg over and walked into the arena with the biggest smile on my face.


Susan spends her time riding when she can as an Adult Ammy and lives in Dallas, TX.