Sometimes you don’t realize how much you use something until it’s taken away from you. For example, your left wrist.
It was Valentine’s Day. Filled with the spirit of love, sugar and Red Hots, I decided to spend the Hallmark Holiday with my horse. I have been horseback riding since I was nine-years-old and was thrilled when I found Starla in a barn in Sun Valley at the beginning of this year. She was available for lease three days a week, stood a perfect-for-me 15 hands high and had a face that made her look like a Christmas pony. Oh Starla, you looked so innocent and unassuming.
Starla had a perky trot, a smooth canter and was a bit of a challenge to ride. The owner of the barn didn’t use her for beginner lessons. She was a horse who made riders work. If I didn’t keep after her during our jaunts around the ring, she would slow down, stop, or simply do her own thing. I had to get it right if I wanted to ride her.
I loved the challenge and spending time with Starla in and out of the saddle. After a day of writing, editing and reporting all over town, it was a relief to unwind just before sunset at the barn. It was also the perfect way to spend my Sunday.
Riding Starla on Valentine’s Day started off as the greatest ride we had since I started leasing her. But it quickly turned into the worst ride I’ve had – ever – since I picked up the reins in elementary school.
We were alone in the outdoor ring, as usual. We picked up a canter and circled around two times. It was so smooth that I decided to circle around once more. If only I had returned to a walk.
As we rounded a corner next to a group of trees, Starla started bucking. On the first buck, I slightly lost my balance. On the second buck, I made a futile effort to slow her by saying “woah.” On the third buck, I knew I had to pull the reins back and down, but everything was happening too fast and I lost my grip. On the fourth buck, my butt was out of the saddle and the reins were too loose to control. And on the fifth buck, I went flying in the air, over her right shoulder.
While I was airborne, I remember thinking do not put out your right arm, you will land on it and break it. I tried twisting my body around to land on my back and perhaps roll through my fall. Instead, I had flipped my entire body over in the air and landed on my left wrist instead.
My head smacked on the ground but not enough to cause a concussion- I was wearing my black velvet helmet. Then I scrambled up out of the dirt to avoid getting trampled on by Starla’s hooves. As I righted myself and caught my breath, I saw Starla standing in the far corner of the ring.
The owner of the barn happened to look up from cleaning out the stalls, saw me on the ground and came over to ask if I was ok.
I wanted to be ok. I, like every rider I had ever known, had fallen off before. I'd even gotten bucked off before and walked away unscathed. I tried to ignore the throbbing pain in my left wrist. I even moved it back and forth a few times to try and convince myself that I wasn’t hurt.
The owner walked me up to the barn and gave me a bag of ice to put on my hand.
“Why?!” I cried.
“There may have been a squirrel in the bushes, and that combined with the changing light might have spooked her,” the owner said.
I didn’t reply. I kept replaying the incident in my head, trying to figure out what went wrong.
“Maybe it’s just jammed,” she said.
“I think it’s broken, I can’t lift it,” I replied.
“You would be in a lot of pain if it was broken,” she said.
“I am in a lot of pain,” I said.
“You should go to the emergency room then,” she said. “But I can’t take you.”
Navigating my car out of the sticks of Sun Valley to an emergency clinic in Glendale, one-handed, after dark, while yelling out every minute or so to try to deal with the pain of a shattered wrist, is not something I would wish upon anyone.
While crying in the clinic waiting room, I started emailing friends on my phone to see if anyone could pick me up. I emailed the barn owner to tell her I had a broken bone. She wrote back immediately:
“I know this is a terrible thing to bring up at this moment, and so sorry that I have to, but I just can not afford Starla on my own right now, and need to figure out how/if you would like to proceed with your lease…”
Um, no. No, I would not like to continue leasing a horse that spooked and bucked me off. Plus, I won’t be able to ride any horse, or do much of anything, for the next several months. Really, lady?
After a couple of x-rays I was scheduled for surgery the following evening. Three pins were inserted into my wrist and I was put in a plaster cast up to my shoulder for the next seven weeks. Goodbye, left arm. Goodbye typing, driving, showering, getting dressed in under 10 minutes, wearing anything with sleeves, opening jars, and getting along like I had been for my entire life.
I took a medical leave from Patch. I spent the next two months getting groceries delivered, watching TV and reading blogs and books.
Even after I got the pins removed I didn’t have full movement (or any movement) in my wrist. But, it’s slowly coming back. I can type now, and I’m back at Patch. I’ve been going to physical therapy three times a week, and will continue through the summer.
And I can guarantee you, I will never underestimate the usefulness of my non-dominant hand again.