Riding For My Life: Part One

I just turned sixty.  Can you believe it?  Neither can I.

I look in the mirror.  My face hasn’t changed much, except for a few creases in the jowl line that I’d rather do without, but hell, since I only look in the mirror to check whether I’ve brushed my hair today, I’m not bothered by it.

On the other hand, my skin has gone all weird.  In some places it’s loose and jiggly, and in others it’s tight and thin and fragile.  If I scratch an itch on my forearm, for example, I’m rewarded by a big red-purple splotch that takes weeks to go away.  If I bang myself there, which happens all the time because I still crash through the world as if I were sixteen, my skin sometimes also rips and then I have a dreadful mess that requires bandages and ointments for a couple of weeks, and then I have a scar to remember it by.   Yech.

And then there’s the skeleton.  I’ve trashed most of my joints through overexertion, as I will explain below; and those that managed to survive my athletic excesses are slowly being eaten up by the arthritis that runs in my family, on both sides.  Couldn’t dodge that bullet.

So even though my weight is exactly the same as it has been since 1985 when I had my first and only baby–well, I mean after I lost all I was going to lose afterwards, not WHEN I had him, because in the days preceding his birth I looked like a small house–my body looks just like you would expect a body to look if no one took care of it.

Before I launch into a maudlin description of why my body is in such deplorable shape at the moment, let me tell you some of the back story.

I have always been bipolar.  Unlike many, who discover their bipolarity in their teens or young adult years, I have always had symptoms of depression and passive suicidality on the one hand, and racing thoughts, extreme restlessness, and a feeling of being out of my body on the other.

I managed to funnel my depressive gloom into poetry and art.  Since I came from a family of depressed artists I just thought it was the “artist’s temperament” and considered it normal.  So I did get a lot of good art done, and a lot of bad poetry and maudlin writings.  

I am a rapid cycler.  Even as a child, I would find myself catapulted from states of near-suidical melancholy into a state of restlessness that shot through my body like an electric current, demanding physical and mental activity, the more rigorous the better.

My first and only love was for the equine race.  My parents would not buy me a pony, citing countless reasons: mainly that we never had a permanent home and moved 19 times by the time I left home at age 16. This, coupled with the abject poverty that we lived in.  But I never felt that we were poor, because, well, that was how I grew up.  In fact, I thought that most other people lived lives of shameful excess.

So wherever we moved, it was always somewhere rural because that was what my father liked, and we could always have a garden to feed us.  And for me that was fine, because there was always a neglected pony somewhere in the vicinity: one who had been bought as a Christmas present for the children who enjoyed it for a few months or a year and then ignored it after the shine wore off and all that remained was the constant work of upkeep.

I was thrilled to muck out stalls and sheds, clean and polish tack, clean and polish and feed the pony, doctor its thrushy hooves, and do whatever would convince the owners to let me ride it as much as I wanted.

Pony after pony, wherever we moved, I poured my roaring excess energy into making it spiffy again, spending hours untangling matted manes and tails, getting bitten and kicked in the process.  I didn’t care.

In my depressions I would go and bury my face in the current pony’s neck, inhaling the comforting fragrance of eau d’equine, which is still the most intoxicating smell to me, to this day.  My tears would make a wet place in the unclipped winter coat, and for reasons unknown, the pony wound stand still, snorting but unmoving, and let me embrace its neck, absorbing my sobs.

We moved again when I was 12.

I was beginning to develop then, got my period, and started getting chubby.  Despite the fact that everyone in our entire family on both sides had been chubby at puberty, my mother began a campaign to get me to lose weight by means of verbal abuse.

“Fat-ass” became my nickname.  I was a silent, isolated child then, having no friends since we had just moved, and I had no where to go except into the woods behind our house, to lie in the mossy glades and cry.

Then I discovered, not a pony, but a horse, about a mile away.  His owner had gone off to college and left him in his stall.  A hired man cleaned his stall and fed him, but otherwise no one paid any attention to him.

The owners of the horse had a daughter my age, who weighed about 200 lbs, didn’t care who knew it, and menaced anyone who gave her any crap about it.  She kept a pair of parakeets and derived sexual pleasure out of watching them mate, and from surreptitiously watching her big sister and her boyfriend “doing it” on the couch.  She was not interested in the horse.  I was not interested in the parakeets or the boyfriend, but I courted Caroline until she introduced me to her mother, at which point with bated breath I asked her if I could take care of the horse in return for riding him.

She was ecstatic and immediately called the hired man (did I mention that this was a huge estate that encompassed an entire small mountain?) and ordered him to show me around the barn.  I had my first real horse to care for.

That horse became my passion, my savior.   The moment I got off the school bus I would race upstairs and change into barn clothes, jump on my bike and roar off to meet my paramour.  After turning him out into the paddock, I cleaned his stall down to the floor, fluffed it up with new straw, then brushed him out thoroughly, combed his mane and tail, picked out his shod hooves, and swabbed his entire body down with citronella-smelling fly repellant that I can still smell to this day.

I would tack him up with his flat English saddle and double-rein bridle–this I have to give my parents, that they had started me in English riding lessons since I was six, on tall Thoroughbreds, so tall that I resolved that since I must instantly be killed if I fell off, then I would never fall off.  And I didn’t.

And off we would go, down the dappled lanes through the New England woods, all acrid with leaf mold.  The estate covered acres and acres, and I had no restrictions, so we criss-crossed the property for hours every day.

One day we were ambling along one of the many areas of bare granite, scraped clean by some glacier, when he pulled up lame.  I jumped off, wondering how I was going to get back on, since at 4’11” I required a mounting block or at least a fence in order to mount the tall Thoroughbred.  But he needed help, so off I hopped.

He was holding his left front foot as if it hurt him, and when I picked it up I saw that one of the many oval granite stones that populated the area had lodged in his foot, so I dug my hoof pick out of my jeans pocket and went to work.

The stone was wedged in between the two sides of his shoe, so I had to lever it out.

Now, normally a person who is working on a hoof stands with their back to the horse’s head and the hoof securely held between their knees; but the last time I had done that I had been dumped upon my head, so I stood to the side facing the horse’s shoulder and held the hoof in my left hand, working on the wedged stone with my right.

Finally the stone flew out with a “pop,” but it must have hurt the horse because he snorted and stomped his foot down hard on the rock we were standing on.  But my foot was between his iron-shod hoof and the rock, and first I heard CRUNCH and then I felt my tall riding boot start to fill with something warm.  I knew what that was.

Luckily it was my right big toe that had been crushed, because I needed my left foot to mount with and I don’t know what I would have done if it had been my left. Horses get used to being mounted from one side, usually the left, and they are skittish about the other side, and I had enough problems already.

I found a stump to mount from, and had no little trouble getting him to move alongside it and stand still; but I finally got on and back to the barn, untacked him, rubbed him down, and rode my bicycle home.

Then I tried to get my foot out of the boot.  It had swollen so that it filled the inside of the boot and was stuck.  I had to cut the boot off, shedding many tears, because I knew it was unlikely that I would come by another pair.  They are very expensive.

I was relieved to see, after gingerly and painfully soaking the foot in the bathtub, that the source of the bleeding was that my toenail had come off; but there were no bones sticking out. I thought that it would be better not to tell anyone, because that might result in my being forbidden to ride.   So I wore roomy sneakers for a couple of months, and it healed without incident.

To be continued……..

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32 Comments

  1. Terri

     /  October 14, 2013

    I am lucky enough to have a dressage horse at the age of 48. I’ve been around them all my life. Without horses, I think I would not be here……..
    Yes, you get many ‘stories’ and now my joints and muscles are screaming from all the ‘accidents’……..I think back and I could have taken many Hawaiian vacations…….but my horse if my savior.
    Looking forward to the continuing story and thank you.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Terri! Lucky you! A warmblood? You must tell me! You know the old saying, “What’s the quickest way to lose a million dollars? Buy a horse.” I don’t know what kind of billionaire I could have been if not for my horse addiction….but, you know…

      Reply
  2. “The owners of the horse had a daughter my age, who weighed about 200 lbs, didn’t care who knew it, and menaced anyone who gave her any crap about it. She kept a pair of parakeets and derived sexual pleasure out of watching them mate, and from surreptitiously watching her big sister and her boyfriend “doing it” on the couch. She was not interested in the horse. I was not interested in the parakeets or the boyfriend, but I courted Caroline until she introduced me to her mother, at which point with bated breath I asked her if I could take care of the horse in return for riding him.”

    OMG, LOL! You are a great storyteller and writer. I am now wondering what happens next. That bit I quoted above you wrote is hilarious! Thank you for sharing your story with us 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you so much! I’m thrilled that someone besides me was amused by it 😉
      You are providing me with much-needed motivation to forge ahead with this story….it gets even more insane….But I do look back at the bit with Caroline and shake my head, thinking what craziness I put up with in order to get to the horse part….!

      Reply
      • You’re very welcome! I am very amused by the way you tell the story. It’s great to inject humour into stories when there’s pain because it can get quite heavy otherwise.
        Provided you aren’t triggered writing it I would encourage you to forge ahead! 😀

        Reply
        • Actually writing has always been one of my best coping mechanisms.

          I have a writing mentor who is a master at taking horrific situations and making them convulsively hilarious. I mean, I was reading his book “On Rims of Empty Moons” on a plane and got to a part where his abusive father had fallen off a windmill and was at death’s door and he, the author (John Patrick McAfee), then a boy of about nine, was trying to load him into the farm truck all by himself, and somehow he made that so effing funny that I was laughing so hard I almost puked, and next to me in the plane was this very dignified black gentleman in an impeccable suit who just kept edging away…..I long to be that funny.

          Reply
  3. D'Alta

     /  October 14, 2013

    I am always struck by the comfort horses give to the ailing–whatever the ailment be. So many wounded find hope and healing in these noble beasts. I am glad that your life has been made more habitable by their presence. I, too, find their perfume intoxicating and have been gratified to find two big dogs wearing that same perfume. I wish I liked to ride but am satisfied to feel the velvet of their noses, the tickle of their mouths, the rough nibble at my elbow, the hard warmth of their heads, the coarseness of their manes, and to breathe in the aroma with which they are enveloped. The perfume brings me safely home.

    Reply
  4. Hi,
    When I was a kid I remember being horrified at the way my moms’ hands aged. Bony and thin with lots of visible veins. Then, magically, one day I was getting dressed and out of my sleeve pops my mothers’ hand. Damn genes. Doc.

    Reply
  5. I can’t wait for the next installment of this story! I, too, was a huge horse lover in my youth, took riding lessons, rode horses at camp, etc. I could smell those smells right along with you. I still love horses but have been unable to ride for many years due to fibromyalgia and chronic pain. My son and I got to pet and feed some horses not too long ago while he was at a friend’s birthday party at their home…it was like a little bit of Heaven being close to them again.

    Reply
    • Oh, so sorry your pain has kept you off the horse’s back. Sounds like you can still get equine therapy in other ways…velvet nose….apples and carrots….horsey perfume….does your son ride?

      Reply
      • What a great idea that is, Laura! My son has ridden some. He is now 23 and has Autism, ADHD and MR….such a wonderful young man he is and he touches so many people’s lives in a positive way. Everyone loves Luke ❤ but not as much as I do! He has ridden off/on over the years and really loves them, He is an animal lover, period, and the animals love him right back. There is therapeutic riding somewhere near us…I need to look into it and set up some times to go so we both can reap the benefits and give the horses some love in return. I appreciate your mentioning it!

        Reply
        • How wonderful! I had a therapeutic riding facility at my farm (another chapter) and saw many miracles. The healing energy of horses, combined with the gentle rocking motion that seems to kind of massage the spine and the nerves, can lead to transformations beyond imagining. I wish you success!

          Reply
  6. Do you ever regret not being a jocky or a vet? You need to post some of your drawings!
    What grand memories, I loved horses when I was young but no opportunity. I just plastered unicorns on my wall…LOL

    Reply
    • Well yeah, I dreamed of being Velvet (“National Velvet”) and sneaking my long hair under a jockey cap, but even at 78 lb my hips were never boy hips…and in those days there had never yet been a female jockey. Veterinarian, yes, I wanted desperately, but I had dropped out of high school, and for some reason decided that since there were less than 30 vet schools in the country at that time, and many many more medical schools, that (deluded thinking) I could never possibly get into vet school. So I applied and was accepted into med school, after skipping the high school part and going to college instead. Long story, in my book. Then I had planned to be an OB/GYN, but after my med school OB/GYN rotation I realized that they were living in the stone age…sorry, anybody who is an OB/GYN….and when I was handed my first newborn in the delivery room, I knew that these little creatures needed me, so I became a pediatrician, which was the closest I could get to a vet. Little creatures who can’t speak for themselves, and have crazy owners….!

      Reply
      • Beautiful Laura, and I totally see the journey! And each kiddo was blessed to have you. But horses are always out there you know, and those rides that take your breath away and make one forget time are still achievable….did you ever break anything from all the falling? Agree about OB….blech. I lost my taste after the 24 year old with the 7th child, the crackhead with the IUGR preemie and all the insane screaming. Not for me either!

        Reply
        • Actually, I never did fall off a horse. Ever. They are too tall, and I was not about to. I did have one serious horse wreck, when I let someone else tack her up with a new saddle and did something else stupid (I will probably write a post about this) that made her start bucking the instant I mounted…and the saddle flew off, sling-shotting me onto my back on a frozen surface. I suffered a compression fracture of my pelvis, but went to work anyway that night in the ER….you know the drill….

          Another time I was fighting with an Appaloosa about a hoof issue and ended up with my left wrist disarticulated, has been reconstructed twice. My left pinky doesn’t work too well anymore. Another post.

          And….eventually I ended up with 32 of them, so riding was all in a day’s work….another post.

          24 year old, 7th child…who was the MALEfactor? Usually a close relative, I have found….

          Reply
          • Thirty two FRACTURES? What interesting xrays you must have….yee-ow! I cannot imagine that much trauma. Do you still have effects from all of them or just the worst ones? Amazing how the body can…and cannot…repair itself. I had one stress fracture once, and it was horrible (foot). The docs couldn’t do anything for it, so I just had to suffer. Hard to do at 14 when I had already started with bipolar and FM.
            The 24 year old, I just couldn’t figure her out. She loved her kids though, I do remember that, so I guess it had some redemption to it.

            Reply
            • Whoa, Nelly! Not 32 fx’s, 32 HORSES! Not that they weren’t a heap o’ work and a pain in the ol’ bohunkus at times, but I loved most of ’em and they were a sight better than the ostriches.
              I had a thiteen year old girl delivered twins by her grandfather, who was her legal guardian. Rather than emancipating her and putting her in a safe group home social services sent her back to him. I think that might have been my first ulcer.

              Reply
              • HAHAHA on the fractures. Although 32 horses sounds like a lot of heartache as one must either have given them away or watched their demise.
                Sickening and so sad. And hard to imagine that this would not be a no brainer for child maltreatment of the worst kind. How this got through the system is horrifying.

                Reply
                • About the 13-year-old: this was the first time I LOST IT in a Social Services meeting, when the smug bitches told me that their placement decision was final. I screamed at them that they were going to burn in hell for their decision!!! Oy.

                  The horses were a total delight. Nineteen of them belonged to other people and stayed with us as boarders. They were a lot of work, but I must say I can’t have too many horses. The rest were mine, and stories about them will out. We had a few tragedies, yes, and those were very painful. On the other hand, the therapeutic benefits of being around and connecting with (uh, bad choice of words?) my equine buddies made it all worth it. Just ask my son LOL (at the time he thought it was all thought up just to torture him with barn chores, but now he looks back at it with nostalgia)!

                  Reply
  7. For some reason my replies are not taking. LOL about the last sentence, yes they are akin to furry friends aren’t they? I totally follow your reasoning path to pediatrics. And AMEN to OB, ick. I lost my taste after the 24 year old with her 7th child and the crack mom with the twitching IUGR preemie. Too much screaming also isn’t good for my psyche 🙂

    Reply
    • Oh no, crack babies, poor things, they haven’t got a chance in the world. Really makes you wonder. The good-hearted souls who adopt them, I feel for them so….if I ever hear a success story I will be grateful, but I haven’t yet. Now it’s meth babies. I am convinced that these drugs are sent from hell along with bedbugs, fleas, cockroaches, etc….

      Reply
      • Your bedbug story has freaked me out. I had to check all my beds and now no one is allowed to put luggage off of my entry.
        I may return to the “old days” when people “aired” mattresses and brought their own linen for bedbug control when going to an inn. In any case, all my sheets are now going to always go on high heat in the dryer! Gotta get bigger sheets……

        Reply
        • Oh NO! I’m so sorry. And where did I write The Bedbug Story? I can’t remember writing it. This damn concussion has addled my brains even more than usual. Sorry I shucked my bedbug PTSD off on you 😦

          Reply
          • Heck no, glad to know it! It was on your I fell on my head post I think a few weeks back, about how you had to move three times and all you did to get rid of your pesky friends. Then I read an article talking about the worldwide bedbug infestation, and I was Moved To Action! LOL

            Reply
            • It’s really the pits for people who are already OCD. I’m debating whether to write that story. Of course when I got invaded I researched the topic thoroughly, so I have a wealth of information that people may or may not want to know! What do you think–should I write it? ???

              Reply
              • Yup! Do it! Im writing lots of useful stuff this month on Elderberry extract et cetra. Useful information at the hands of blood sweat and tears saves people a lot of hassle….and we feel for your pain!

                Reply

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