Dis­tracted by plan­ning my busy day, I learned the hard way that com­pla­cency around the barn can be costly.

EQUUS - - Contents - By Jes­sica Fox

Re­al­ity check: Dis­tracted by plan­ning my busy day, I learned the hard way that com­pla­cency around the barn can be costly.

The morn­ing was brisk, the first re­lief from the sum­mer’s heat waves. Ea­ger to get my day started, I grabbed Spar­ta­cus’s hal­ter and headed to his stall. Eyes bright, the chest­nut geld­ing was his usual spicy self, ears hum­ming­bird-quick, nose in­ves­ti­gat­ing my fin­gers, el­bows and pock­ets for treats.

As we made our way through the yard, I be­gan plot­ting out my morn­ing. I’d ride Spar­ta­cus, then pop onto my other mount, Bai­ley. Maybe make a quick stop at the tack store be­fore head­ing back into Los An­ge­les, where my lap­top and dead­lines awaited. Be­hind me, Spar­ta­cus danced a lit­tle. A small por­tion of my brain reg­is­tered that he had a lit­tle more spring in his step. I took up on the lead rope and dis­carded the idea of bell boot shop­ping in fa­vor of spend­ing more time burning off some of Spar­ta­cus’s en­ergy. I had just be­gun de­bat­ing the mer­its of a route home that did not in­volve the 405 when we en­tered the open space of my sta­ble’s arena.

In one alarm­ing, I-might-die mo­ment, time slowed as I flew through the air and Spar­ta­cus thun­dered past. And how mag­nif­i­cent he was! Sil­hou­et­ted against the moun­tains and still-pur­ple sky, his tail like a flag, head high, and blow­ing like a dragon, Spar­ta­cus lived up to his war­rior’s name (at least in looks).

When it came, the land­ing---and the re­sult­ing car­rot-snap of bone---barely reg­is­tered. But when I tried to stand, the pain sent me down again. I came up with a new plan. Step one: Get a hold of my­self. Step two: Catch Spar­ta­cus and put him away. Step three: Find help, be­cause I re­ally, re­ally needed an ice pack and some Ve­trap.

A few breaths later, I tucked my throb­bing, swollen right hand un­der the op­po­site armpit and crouch-walked to­ward Spar­ta­cus, who was snort­ing and pranc­ing out­side the arena gate. Thank­fully, an­other rider, Mary, had spied the loose geld­ing and come to my aid. She and I risked a glimpse at my hand---my ring fin­ger now made an un­nat­u­ral right an­gle. Gasp­ing with hor­ror and nau­sea, I shoved it back un­der my arm, and we three shuf­fled to­ward Spar­ta­cus’s stall. When we were close enough, I asked Mary if she could put him away, then I found my­self a plas­tic lawn chair and fainted.

When I came to, it was ev­i­dent that I would have to be taken to ur­gent care. At the clinic, I fainted again. De­spite my re­peated as­sur­ances that, no, Spar­ta­cus had not kicked me in the head, and, no, my nog­gin had not tested the ground’s den­sity, my new habit made the state of my brain sus­pect. So I was packed off to a hos­pi­tal emer­gency room, where I lost con­scious­ness a third time.

It was my love of rid­ing that saved me from a CT scan and other tor­tures. I was alert and co­gent, crack­ing jokes as my man­gled fin­ger was man­han­dled … un­til the doc­tor stated that there’d be no rid­ing for six to eight weeks. That’s when I sat up, looked the man dead in the eye, de­clared not rid­ing un­ac­cept­able, and pro­ceeded to pass out again.

My lit­tle dis­play of horse crazy con­firmed what the ER doc­tor had be­gun to sus­pect. I hadn’t hit my head but in­stead was dis­play­ing what amounts to the hu­man body’s opt-out re­sponse, called vaso­va­gal syn­cope. A fancy term for faint­ing, a vaso­va­gal syn­cope is a sud­den drop in heart rate and blood pres­sure caused by emo­tional dis­tress, the sight of blood or other trig­gers.

That set­tled, I was whisked off to xray, where it was determined that a spe­cial­ist needed to tend to my frac­ture. So I was fit­ted with a splint, shot up with mor­phine (yes, in that or­der) and chauf­feured home by my sainted hus­band.

The next day, dur­ing my con­sul­ta­tion with the or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon, I asked if I’d still be able to ride in a dres­sage school­ing show two weeks hence. When he chuck­led, I thought he just ap­pre­ci­ated my moxie. Or maybe he didn’t un­der­stand the ques­tion. It was just a fin­ger! It felt fine, safe in its splint. And

be­sides, two hands are not manda­tory for rid­ing. Shouldn’t I just be able to steer with my legs and seat?

As it turns out, break­ing a bone is no joke, even if it’s just a fin­ger. And painkiller­s take longer to wear off than I re­al­ized. I was go­ing to re­quire surgery, two screws and a cou­ple months of phys­i­cal ther­apy. No, I wouldn’t be rid­ing again any­time soon.

De­spite nearly 30 years in the sad­dle, with sev­eral un­in­ten­tional dis­mounts, plus a cou­ple of car ac­ci­dents, I had mirac­u­lously re­mained ER-, bro­ken-bone and surgery-free. Se­cretly, I had thought I was in­vin­ci­ble, es­pe­cially when it came to horses.

I wasn’t. It would be easy to blame Spar­ta­cus for the ac­ci­dent. But it would be just as log­i­cal to blame the fly mask that may have af­fected his vi­sion, the dis­tant sound of farm equip­ment or sim­ply the brisk weather. The truth is, whether at the barn or on the free­way, com­pla­cency will get you ev­ery time.

Be­ing among horses is sec­ond na­ture for me. But it was pre­cisely that ease which lulled me into for­get­ting that they are crea­tures ca­pa­ble of body­check­ing one into the ground with enough force to break bones. I had no one to blame but my­self. I’d fool­ishly brushed off Spar­ta­cus’s warn­ing signs that he was ner­vous and then scared. Thus, he’d taken mat­ters into his own hooves---silly woman at the end of the lead rope be damned.

I now con­cede that I’m not in­vin­ci­ble, but I may have been born un­der a lucky star. Things that morn­ing could have been much worse than a bro­ken fin­ger. Still, my weeks of re­cov­ery pro­vided am­ple time for re­flec­tion. As rid­ers, we de­velop such a bond with horses. They be­come com­pan­ions and part­ners who, we be­lieve, would never hurt us, who we know as well as our own hearts. Both of th­ese things are true, and both of th­ese things are not true. Re­mem­ber­ing that du­al­ity ev­ery time we in­ter­act with them is as much a part of horse­man­ship as any­thing else.

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