Having an Attitude of Gratitude

Even the most mundane of chores becomes a cherished action, when you are suddenly unable to do the things you've always done.

Think about the last time you carried a five-gallon water bucket down the barn aisle. Did you do so without thinking twice? How about the last time you put a foot in a stirrup and swung a leg over a good horse. Was it with a grateful heart? Living a life enriched by horses is a gift. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget that. I’m here to share my personal experience with a horse-related accident, how it caught me off guard, and what I learned from it.

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I have been fortunate to avoid major injury, even after a lifetime of riding. Right up until I wasn’t.

It Can’t Happen to Me

In 2019 I broke my back after I came off a horse. Not just any horse, mind you. My good horse. The solid one. In the blink of an eye, it all went south, and I came off over his head. I a mid-air somersault (didn’t know I could do that), and hit the hard ground in a seated position.

The pain that shot through my body was unlike anything I have ever felt before. I collapsed onto my back there in the arena dirt, not sure how to escape the blazing pain. I stared up with blurry eyes at the bluest sky I’d ever seen and thought to myself “what if I never get on a horse again?”

After that it was all a blur. Lying in a hospital bed is an immensely boring thing and I couldn’t do much. I wasn’t allowed to sit up, roll over, and definitely not allowed to try and walk. So, I just laid there, thinking about all the things I wasn’t going to be able to do that summer. I had a show the following week. My horses needed exercised. I was supposed to travel for a work trip in three days. It was haying season. These thoughts just ran through my head on a continuous loop.

After a week in the hospital, I was fitted for an immensely uncomfortable full-back brace. Then, under strict orders from the doctor to not twist, drive, ride, bend, squat, lift, or breathe wrong, I was sent home. Along with the warning that if I even looked at a horse before being released to do so, I could re-injure myself drastically.

I did discover that hospital food really isn’t all that bad.

I, like many of you, live a very active life. Filled with carrying full water buckets, moving hay, climbing on and off horses, lifting heavy objects, operating equipment, shoveling, scraping, pulling, pushing, and everything in between. Suddenly, I found myself incapable of doing these things.

I came home during summer when the hay had just been cut. We don’t have a stacker, so it’s on us to pick it up out of the field by hand. That summer, I wasn’t even fit enough to drive the truck. The bumps in the field sent shockwaves of pain through my back, so I sat in the shade and watched my 73-year-old father buck hay.

We had help, sure, people were quick to pitch in. But that feeling of not being able to do something I’d done every year since I could lift a bale, was completely foreign to me. I hated it. That summer when I should have been accomplishing projects, fixing fences, working horses, and doing everything else I normally do, I was just trying to re-learn how to get out of bed without hurting myself.

I Am In Fact, Mortal

Throughout those warm days I watched my horses get further out of shape, and the work pile up. I couldn’t carry a bucket. Shoot, I couldn’t even put my own socks on. I knew that I was going to heal, and I was grateful for that. Trust me, I know it could have been worse. But it had set in that things really could change in an instant. One day I was loading horses and driving to the fairgrounds, and by that afternoon I was lying in a hospital bed.

Could I have pushed myself beyond the doctor’s orders? Sure. But for once, I figured I wouldn’t be so hard-headed. I knew that if I messed up this recovery I could be left with life-long pain or issues that manifested down the road. Even after following those orders carefully, I still have residual pain and probably will all my life. Every now and then I get a whisper of pain in my spine, reminding me that I am in fact, mortal.

When I was finally released from my restriction’s months later, I asked the doctor about riding. He told me, that technically I was allowed to ride now. He followed that up with, “I don’t know why you’d want to, after what happened.” I appreciated his concern, but it was time to get back on the horse.

Attitude of Gratitude

My story isn’t an uncommon one. I’ve been in the horse industry all my life, and almost everyone I meet has a traumatic experience or knows of someone that does. My dad always said that when you work with horses or livestock, “it’s not if you get hurt, it’s when and how bad.”

However, the point I am driving at here, is that we must be careful not to fall into the trap of complacency. It’s so easy to take it for granted, isn’t it? It’s easy to grumble about having to go out and do chores in bad weather. Or swing a leg over a horse without a second thought, not realizing what an incredible privilege that is.

Almost everyone I meet that owns horses or is in the industry knows how fortunate they are to work with these animals. I’m not saying there aren’t hard times where we sure think about doing something else. Or winter’s where we dream about tropical vacations. All I’m saying is that even in the middle of mundane chores or sitting atop a horse that we’ve ridden countless times; we can stop and find an attitude of gratitude.

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