Not the Clinic Experience I Expected

Not the Clinic Experience I Expected

By Nicole Miller
Spring 2022 SEDA Scholarship Recipient

It’s been awhile since I’ve ridden in a clinic, and I was delighted to be selected as the recipient for the spring SEDA Scholarship. I wasn’t quite sure which direction I wanted to go with it – go away somewhere and work on just me, or go to a clinic with my horse, Peter, and work on our specific issues. Truth be told, I needed both.

However, when the Laura Ashley Killian clinic came up, I was excited to have the opportunity to ride with her. The last time she saw us was at the SEDA Schooling Dressage Championships, and Peter was less than good: something (a donkey) had rattled his brain and he had limited capacity to handle anything ‘different’. I was hoping for redemption: we’ve actually done a lot of positive work since early in the year, and a recent bit swap was proving to be a game-changer in his self carriage. I was really looking forward to this opportunity to progress in some of our sticky areas.

Peter was a bit looky and uptight to start with, convinced the far end of the arena harbored a horse-eating tree, so we took a few minutes to move him forward. Laura said I needed to sit a bit deeper and give him space to move into the contact. We worked our way down the arena again when I assume the tree moved (I’m not entirely sure) resulting in a sidestep and a spin.

I felt myself lose my seat, so I kicked myself free of the stirrups to land on my feet and begin again. Only somewhere between actually landing just fine and lightly on my right leg and the following milliseconds, my left femur was snapped. I ended up sitting on the ground looking at a leg that was clearly wrongly placed. I rolled it straight, called for an ambulance, and lay back in the dirt.

Insert deep sigh.

Five. Minutes. I lasted five minutes in the clinic.

Everyone was very attentive in taking care of Peter and comforting me as best they could. The EMTs arrived quickly and stabilized my leg. I’d like to say ‘painlessly’ … but that was not the case. Intense leg spams on a broken limb are off-the-charts painful, in case you ever wanted to know. But, they got me loaded into the waiting ambulance as carefully as possible, and I got to experience my first-ever ambulance ride. (Why not mark the ‘firsts’?)

Within two hours, I was X-rayed, operated on, and out of the recovery room. It was pretty incredible! As I write this, I’m shuffling around with a walker, putting weight on a broken limb held together by a shiny new rod (my brain says I shouldn’t be doing that), and spending a lot of time contemplating ‘what’s next’?

Backing up slightly, the clinician decided to ride Peter for me after I was evacuated from the arena. According to the videos I saw and her post ride communications, she really likes him, thinks he has a lot of potential, is a good match for me, and enjoyed her ride very much. She did have to longe the shenanigans out first, but sees a lot of hope for us in the future. He really IS a nice horse. 

Peter IS a nice horse. He’s usually fun to ride. I love his personality. But, I sit here wrestling with the idea of riding again.

I understand this is a typical response to a serious injury. The last time I was laid up like this, I was in my 20s and not getting back in the saddle wasn’t an option. I’m in my 50s now. Things are NOT the same. My life is NOT the same. My initial inclination as I lay in the dirt in the arena contemplating my life choices was to sell everything and take up knitting. Then I thought crocheting might be a better option because I was likely to poke myself with a knitting needle. Or trip and fall on it or something. No joke: these thoughts ran through my head. The thought of getting back on a horse at that moment was terrifying.

I wasn’t foolish enough to make that decision right then (even though my husband would have been ALL for it).

Since I’ve been home from the hospital, I’ve been spending a lot of time analyzing myself and thinking about what I want to do. (There’s not much else I CAN do right now.) I posed the question of coming back after a serious injury in an online forum and literally got hundreds of responses. This was good for my psyche. Many have gone before me. Many are joining me right now. It’s OK for me to feel this way and question things.

From what I’ve read of others’ experiences, this is going to be a long process. When I feel comfortable getting back on, it may or may not be on Peter.  I’ll have to evaluate at that time. Rides will start very short. It’s going to take time to regain my confidence. Probably more time than I think. As soon as I’m strong enough to walk and feel comfortable leading him around, I think I’m going to spend some time doing some groundwork – target or clicker training or something similar – with Peter to get his attention on me and help our bonding. He has a tendency for the equine version of ADD, so I’m hoping to find something that will help him focus on me and trust me, first, before making the decision to save his skin.

I’m going to have to work on my own confidence, too: I tend to be lacking in that department, and I’m not sure which book, therapy, or method is going to assist me in overcoming or managing the fears now rearing their ugly heads. I’ll start with one and work from there. I owe it to myself and Peter to deal with this so we can come back from this unfortunate chapter a stronger pair.

While I did not get what I wanted to out of this particular clinic, I’ve been offered an opportunity for a reset. It’s going to be a long road back for me. I’m grateful to SEDA for the scholarship to ride with Laura … even though it turned out way different than planned.

And I’m especially grateful for the friends in my horse community who have rallied around me with friendship, meals, visits, calls, texts, riding my horse, and countless other things … I’m blessed to know so many wonderful people who will make this journey a better one for them being part of it.


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