Guest post by Kirsty Wright.
Wait… I’m confused.
Those are the words that made my heart drop. They don’t sound like very scary words, but I assure you in this particular situation they were terrifying.
Let me explain.
It was the end of a very long Saturday and I was finishing up my last lesson of the week. My rider had jumped down her last line of the day, and the words, “Great! Let’s be done with that,” were just about to eek out of my mouth. But before I could even muster the breath, her horse saw something out of the corner of his eye, spun, and then, just for funsies, added a giant buck into the mix. My rider gained significant air before gravity spat her out and flung her into the ground. I ran over to her side as a colleague grabs the horse. She’s still on the ground and I ask her what hurts. She states that her hip hurts but nothing too severely. Once I’m sure nothing is broken I allow her to sit, where we chat for a little and then when she’s upright and we are sure nothing is too badly injured, I get her back up on the horse.
This is my normal routine. Make sure nothing is too badly hurt. Then get back on that horse. Horse riders anywhere across the world will tell you that unless you are going to the hospital, you get back on the horse. With my students I am always conscious of injuries that might restrict a rider from getting back on immediately, and this rider was a fully grown adult who was capable of telling me she was just fine to get back up.
So I put her back up on the devil horse who just made my extra-long Saturday longer than it needed to be, and she walks around stretching her legs and complaining about what just happened, “The line was so good! We were done!” you know, all the stuff that goes through your head when your perfect ride was ruined by a silly horse who saw something that, in all likelihood, probably wasn’t there. She gets about a lap around the ring and we are still chatting when she says those horrific words.
“Wait… I’m confused. What just happened?”
My heart skips a beat as I ask her to come over to me and get off the horse.
“No, I’m fine. Did I fall off?”
I panic inside as I quietly tell her that she did fall and she needs to come over to me right now so I can get her off the horse. My mind is racing thinking she has a brain bleed or something of the like, and I’m afraid she’s going to collapse off the side of the horse. Oh god why did I let her get back on the horse? In my quiet terror I manage to encourage her off the horse and to sit down. She begins to recall what happened to her. I clarify her statements, but keep stating that I need to get her to a doctor. She tells me that she is fine, “I didn’t hit my head. I have a good helmet. My head doesn’t hurt” Which would be reassuring statements if she didn’t repeat them over and over, as if she was forgetting what she had said a minute ago.
She repeatedly tells me that she does not need to see a doctor as I plead with her to come the ER with me. Then she said the second terrifying sentence which almost made my heart stop completely.
“I’m just so mad I didn’t get back on him after I fell.”
Yes, that right. She had no recollection of getting back on the horse only 10 minutes beforehand. At this point I put my foot down. I tell her that if she doesn’t get in the car and come to the emergency room with me right now, I will call an ambulance. At this point she starts to cry. Telling me she really is okay, but she doesn’t know why she can’t remember getting back on. She finally agrees to come with me to the ER after what feels like a decade, and what was probably only about 15 minutes.
Now the ER is the boring part of the story. Once sitting down in a cool room she starts to become more coherent. The docs take her for a cat scan which reveals a mild concussion and after a four hour visit. We are sent on our way with a high strength ibuprofen prescription, and 20 minutes of my rider’s memory completely gone from her mind.
That was a really anti-climactic story now wasn’t it? And thank goodness it was. This rider went from totally fine after her fall to, within ten minutes, completely incoherent and missing pieces of her memory. She was wearing a very expensive newer helmet, and nobody who witnessed the fall, including myself, saw her hit her head. She was entirely lucid immediately after the fall and never stated that her head hurt. Yet, clearly something happened to her brain when she hit the ground to make her start forgetting things.
Now all riders know that falls are going to happen, and 90% of them will be totally fine, but head injuries are a real and scary thing when falling from a large height at a fast speed. So my advice to you is this (as a person who is not, and will never be a doctor):
• Whether riding in a ring or on a trail, always make sure there is someone around in case you fall. Sure, if you break your leg you can use your phone and call for help (real life experience from yours truly), but my rider had no idea anything was wrong because she couldn’t remember the event properly. Whether it be a groom at the barn, a parent, or a riding buddy, don’t ride completely alone.
• If you are with someone who has fallen, or you have fallen yourself, and something just doesn’t seem right. Get medical attention. I promise if you tell a medical professional that you have fallen off a horse no one will laugh you out of the emergency room even if your symptoms aren’t obvious. Be the person who has to leave with a prescription for ibuprofen and not the person who falls asleep with a head injury and doesn’t wake up. If someone refuses to seek medical treatment and you think they need it, get tough, listen to your gut, they will thank you later when they feel better.
• And most importantly, always, always, always wear your helmet. I don’t care how well you know the horse, or how well you ride, or how talented you are. The ground is harder than your brain. Take it from someone who broke her leg sitting on a horse standing still, accidents can and will happen. Bones will heal, brains often do not.
Kirsty grew up riding horses in the U.K. and moved to the U.S. in 2008 to continue her riding career. She now teaches full time and and is the owner of World Class Ride, a travel company specializing in sending people on the horse riding vacation adventure of a lifetime. You can find out more about World Class Ride or see more blogs similar to this by visiting her website or by following her business page on Facebook.
I fell off in a freak accident five years ago and still don’t remember hitting the ground. I was wearing a helmet, thank goodness, but the impact knocked me unconscious for 15 minutes–even though, like your rider, no one saw my head hit the ground. I often go trail riding in a western saddle, and my “cowboy” riding companions often make fun of me. But a helmet has saved my life twice now. I’m not willing to risk the alternative.