Why Do You Ride? – Returning to What You Love After Trauma

I think something all equestrians can agree on is that trying to explain anything horse related to non-horse people can be a difficult task.

When it comes down to it, the easiest way to explain is to compare to something that everyone is familiar with. I’ve described the farrier to my boss as a guy I pay to come and give my horses pedicures for years now.

This is something that as equestrians we have all grown accustomed to. People who aren’t familiar with horses don’t always understand or appreciate what you are telling them. Especially not as much as if you were talking to a fellow equestrian.

I’ve found that one of the hardest things to explain to people is “Why?” 

Why do I ride? Why do I love horses so much? Why aren’t I afraid? Why do I spend the money? Why don’t I just get a bike? Why do I do what I do?

These were always questions I never really thought much about. “I love doing it,” was my pretty standard answer. I never thought into it much. If that didn’t satisfy them I would just shrug it off and move on with the conversation. I didn’t really have a good answer for “Why?”

This isn’t out of the ordinary. I think that brushing off these types of questions comes about pretty frequently, and not just for horse related topics but anything really.

Explaining why to someone can be difficult to do and because of that it usually receives a generic answer and is rushed past and forgotten about.

Sometimes it can take something terrible to make you stop and think about exactly what your WHY is.

July 18th, 2019, I was in a bad horseback riding accident. My fall caused a grade 4 liver laceration (read: my liver was almost in half), and a compression fracture in my L3 vertebrae. I spent a week in the hospital, underwent two surgeries, had 27 staples, was off work for two months, and was restricted to basically zero activity for 6 months. In short, I came closer to dying then I would like to admit.

When I first came home from the hospital, everything was a challenge. You never realize how lucky you are to be able to stand up from a chair or walk independently, until you aren’t able to do those things without someone there to help.

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As I got moving, and people saw me more and more, the most common sentence out of people’s mouths was, “You poor thing, I bet you’re done riding for good now.” Without a second thought I always responded with “of course not, I could never stop” and then the questions would start.

Why? Why would you risk getting hurt again? Why would you put yourself through that? Why wouldn’t you just quit? Why don’t you just keep it as a pet? Why do you have to ride?

Up first, I answered without a doubt, “It’s just a risk of the sport.” Injuries and accidents are something that are inevitable when working with horses. They are living breathing animals, with minds of their own. I was always taught growing up that it wasn’t IF you hit the ground, but WHEN.

But, depression is not kind, and for someone as independent and active as I was to so suddenly become dependent on someone for everything and restricted to no activity, depression started to claw its way in.

After all the years of people asking me the same questions, I started to question my own answer. Why would I do this to myself? Why do I want to ride? Why do I need horses? How could I love something so much that hurt me so bad? What kind of psycho would risk going through this all again?

Sometimes, the universe knows exactly what you need to make it through your darkest days. Shortly after starting to doubt my sanity, my sister came up from the cellar one day with a stack of old photos. She said she’d been cleaning some stuff out and thought I would enjoy them.

The photos brought tears to my eyes. The stack was full of photos of every horse I’d owned through my 15 years of riding. Our Haflinger pony who got us all hooked. My Morgan mare who taught me how to ride and gave me the confidence to keep getting better. My Arabian gelding who taught me how fun a well trained horse could be. And my Redeemer, who was outside waiting on me to heal.

As I sat there in our recliner, totally broken from a horse, and flipped through the photos again and again, I came to a realization. I knew exactly what my “why” was.

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So, why do I ride?

I ride because I have a passion for the animal, as well as the sport.

  • A bond between a girl and her horse is forever. My horses are family forever, even the ones who couldn’t stay that long.

I ride because horses have taught me life lessons I never would have learned from a book.

  • Be patient. Practice hard. Stay humble. Until you do, your horse is just going to make it harder on you.

I ride because it has instilled a confidence in me that I lacked in every other aspect of my life.

  • If you ride nervous and self conscious, there’s not a demon pony alive who won’t take advantage of it. Lead with confidence. The pony (and people) will follow more willingly.

I ride because no matter how good I get at it, there’s always more to learn.

  • Have you ever heard an equestrian say, “Well I’ve learned it all, so I guess I’m done now.” Yeah, me neither.

I ride because no matter how bad things seem, I’ve never had a day that couldn’t be made better with time spent in the saddle.

It may be hard for others to understand why I wouldn’t just quit, but my passion is horses, and I wasn’t ready to give up on them.

So, six weeks post-accident, I was sitting on my sister’s bombproof gelding. It took a lot to convince myself to do it, but once I was on I knew I had made the right decision.

Eight weeks post-accident, I took Deem on our first trail ride. Which was huge because Deem is not an easy ride, but I finally convinced myself I was ok enough to do it. I swear she knew I wasn’t really ok though because she was a saint for me that day.

Seven months post-accident and I’m still a more cautious rider than I used to be. Still more nervous around horses then I was. I find myself reaching for my helmet before each ride (not a bad thing), where I used to just jump on and go. Where I used to react naturally to a horse, I find myself freezing up. For the confidence I had, these are extremely frustrating things to have to work through. It’s like having to teach yourself to ride all over again.

But I’m not giving up, and I’m setting goals that I’m looking to crush.

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Every time I work with Deem I find myself feeling a little more confident, a little more stable, and that’s all I can ask of myself. To keep working towards the rider I was.

Horseback riding makes me the happiest version of myself, and there’s not many things in life that do that. Is it a dangerous hobby? It absolutely can be. But we all knew that when we started. No one falls in love with how “safe” horseback riding is.

Everyone’s healing process is different. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you are doing it wrong. You know yourself better than anyone else. Take as much time as you need to achieve your goals. If you believe you can do it, you’re already halfway there.

To anyone who’s suffered trauma due to horses, and is struggling to come back to riding afterwards, my advice is to think long and hard about your real answer for why you ride. It’s not an easy answer to come up with, you will struggle with it, but I think once you have it it makes deciding whether or not to get back on the horse a much easier decision.

It’s hard when something you love so much, hurts you so bad, but try not to let your bad experience ruin what you love to do. If you love riding, don’t quit.

Whether it takes two days or two years for you to get back to where you were, do it at whatever pace you’re comfortable with and keep moving forward. The rider you used to be is still in there, you just need to remind her why she loves to ride.

Cassie from The Horse Redeemer

After years of riding and witnessing the constant changes the horse industry undergoes, I realized there is so much information that is missed out on. I started The Horse Redeemer in 2019 in hopes of helping people learn right along with me.

Also, for every item sold from our shop, a portion of profits are donated to help rescue horses across the United States. So check it out and help save some rescue ponies!

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