I laid on the gallop track in the sand with my foot on backwards for 45 minutes waiting for an ambulance. The pain was unbearable. I knew the break was bad because the vet who was vetting the horse I was planning to buy (the same one that decked me!) couldn't stomach it and had to leave! All I could think of is that if I have damaged the joint badly, my riding days are over.
The surgeon told me that, following the shattering and dislocation of my ankle and subsequent reconstruction, it would never fully recover and I would have arthritis, never run again and 'might' be able to ride. It would take 2 years to recover as well as it is going to, and in this time I would learn how much function I will get back into my right leg and foot. As the second anniversary of the injury approaches, it seems appropriate to reflect upon the life lessons I learned and how the injury has shaped me as a person. Hopefully some of these thoughts may resonate with some of you, and give anybody who is going through a similar situation some hope and comfort.
Six of the many lessons learned as a result of my injury
1. Don't trust anyone, you can never be too careful - I injured myself riding a horse that was being vetted for me to buy. I had previously ridden it (after the yard staff had ridden it), but at the vetting, I got straight on because I assumed that the horse had been in normal work since i last saw it, given the horse was for sale and it would surely be in optimum condition and prepared for sale? Once on board, I lasted about 30 seconds before it napped and decked me, leaving me with my right foot hanging on backwards. The damage caused to my foot (and the secondary problems further up in my body), in those two seconds whilst I was hurtled into the air will be with me for the rest of my life.
8 day stay in hospital 2 weeks after my operation I had the stitches out
As I was waiting for an ambulance, I heard the owner state his disappointment at losing the sale of the horse. He had kept the horse in a stable for 4 days so that it would pass the vetting, and was now gutted because this had happened. He was seemingly surprised to have to call an ambulance to scrape an unsuspecting, trusting and naive client off the floor. It has taken me 27 years to appreciate this, and I learned that day that not everybody treats other people in the way that they would like to be treated and that the only person that really cares about you is YOU. Looking after number one is essential, because you are the only person that has to live with the consequences, even if it is as a result of somebody else's negligence.
Some of my dear friends who kept me smiling Fun times with glitter and a plaster cast and the lady who lights up my life
2. Never underestimate the value of friendships - during my recovery I learnt a lot about myself and my friends. There were some people I barely knew who bent over backwards to help me during my recovery, and others that I thought I was close to, who dropped me like a stone when I was no longer mobile. My true friends got me through some tough times, not just during my first round of surgery but then the next round too a year later. I rekindled a relationship with my oldest friend that I had lost touch with, when she brought me round a lemon drizzle cake and from that moment forward we were inseparable again, and I was lucky enough to be her bridesmaid when she married this year.
3. Life is short and you never know what's round the corner - accidents happen when we least expect them, and the way they happen often seems so futile! I remember wondering why I couldn't have done it out eventing, because at least it would have been worthwhile and made me less angry at the owner of the horse.
As a direct result of what happened, I take the view that if I want to do something with my horse, I seize the moment and go for it. I worry less about nerves and what other people think (having historically been a nervous wreck competing), and just feel truly lucky to be fit and well enough to be out there.
4. Horses are the best healers and dressage isn't so bad - When I used to event, the dressage was very much something to get out of the way before the fun stuff started. However, when I was first coming back to riding post-injury, I was lucky enough to be offered two beautiful dressage horses to ride, who 'brought me back into work' and made life enjoyable again. One of these horses I have been lucky enough to buy. He is my absolute pride and joy, and now I would probably choose dressage over jumping, which I never thought would happen! These two horses got me through a very tough time and I will forever be indebted to them.
5. Good comes out of difficult times - I was unhappy at work at the time of my injury. Having completed an equine degree, I decided to get a 'proper job' at one of the Big 4 accountancy firms and qualified as a Chartered Accountant, in order to pay to keep horses. I was desperately unhappy and struggled to sit still for hours on end. I would get home in the evening and have to go for a run just to get into the frame of mind where I could even speak to my family because I was so stressed and had so much pent up energy. My riding was never a relaxing experience either because I was always in a bad mood. Inevitably the horse will have sensed this, and probably not had the most fun either.
I had always taught riding and was an equine sports massage therapist at weekends, but as soon as I was off crutches, I decided to take the plunge and work with horses full time. Despite being less mobile and in pain, I realised that it was now or never. I did a lot of Pilates and strength work as part of my recovery, which really helped improve my balance and got me back riding as well (if not better) than before. I retrained to be an equipilates™ teacher, set up my own business, Ride Fit Equestrian, and have never looked back!
6. There is always somebody worse off than you - The first few months post accident, I became quite depressed. I lost a lot of friends, which devastated me, and the prognosis for my ankle was poor. It was unlikely I could ride properly again, walk long distances or run. Two years on, an MRI scan confirmed that I have an arthritic ankle, with ruptured ligaments and my right is leg shorter than my left (due to bone loss), which causes knee and back pain. Despite this, I am able to ride well on the flat, walk short distances pain-free, swim and cycle. I even managed to climb Kinder Scout! It was very painful, but I managed it and still thoroughly enjoyed the day out with friends. The simple difference now is that my perspective has changed completely, and my focus is on what I CAN DO, rather than what I CAN'T DO (ride X-C, run, walk long distances).
A few months after my injury, I read Claire Lomas' book 'Finding my Feet', which was a real turning point. Discovering the struggles she faced when she became paralysed, I was deeply ashamed of my own feelings over a mere ankle injury. It would be so incredibly insulting to anybody who is permanently disabled for me to be depressed over my ankle injury, when compared to the problems some people face on a daily basis, and what they can achieve. As a direct result of reading this book, I can honestly say I am a happier person now than I was before the injury. It is said that happiness is only 10% situational, and 90% based on a person's outlook. My ankle functions 90% less well than it did before, but my outlook and attitude to life is probably 90% better.
There are many things I can't do now that I used to do enjoy before, but every time I get on a horse I am grateful for the opportunity. I don't worry about what other people think and whether to go to a competition because I am not 110% ready. I just go, and enjoy every second, thanking God I have recovered as well as I have.
I hope that these ramblings may help anybody else who is injured and having a difficult time. Perhaps it may give you comfort that things always do come right in the end, even if plan A, B and C don't work. Keep trying and never give up hope.
Thanks for reading. If you are going through a difficult time and would like some support, feel free to comment below. There will be lots of people in the same boat.
Lucy Field-Richards : Lucy owns Ride Fit Equestrian, and is from Nottinghamshire.
Qualifications : First class BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science (Equestrian Psychology), BHSAI, Diploma in Equine Sports Massage Therapy
Lucy is a lecturer in Equine Science at Nottingham Trent University.
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