Monday, September 12, 2011

Breaking a Neck

When I was three years old, I fell in love for the first time. It was with a horse. I fully remember how fascinated I was with their form, power, and grace. From that moment on, horses consumed many of my waking moments.

I had a succession of horses, each needing a little more training than the last, until finally I was breaking and training my own horses by the time I was a teenager.

When I was 17, I got a palomino from a relative. He couldn't break the gelding and didn't want to spend any more time with him. He said the horse was crazy and called him Diablo. I loved challenges and set to work right away. I also changed his name to Nick.

He was skittish and prone to multiple neuroses, it seemed. He was full of contradictions. He didn't like the other farm animals, but bonded with a small fawn I was raising at the time. Nick was exquisitely beautiful. His powerful muscles rippled even when he simply tapped his front leg. I loved watching him run through the pasture. I still don't think I've ever seen anything quite as graceful as that horse running at full speed.

He loved to nuzzle J. C, the little fawn, and J.C. wasn't a bit afraid. However, let any other animal make a noise around Nick and he'd rear up, a frantic, wild look in his eye. It seemed he trusted no one, and it was a crowning moment for me when he eventually gifted me with his trust.

We worked through all the preliminary stages of training and he became accustomed to the saddle. I was thrilled the first time I sat on his back and he cantered as if he'd been born to do it.

Because he'd come so far so quickly, I lulled myself into thinking he had detached himself from his troubled past.

One afternoon after school, I took him out for a long ride. He was wearing a heavy western saddle and showed no distress at having it on his back. We had already moved out to a far pasture where I wanted to let him go through his faster paces.

I remember thinking how bright the sun was when in the distance I heard a hog squeal loudly. Nick immediately reverted back to his old form and lost his cool. He bucked, twisted and jumped, each moment becoming more frenzied.

I worked on keeping calm and hanging on. It felt like he was beginning to settle down a just bit when something I hadn't counted on happened. The girth, the wide strap that goes under the horse's belly and straps the saddle on, broke. The big saddle, carried by the momentum of one of his jumps, sailed off at the apex and took me with it.

I don't have any idea what my position was in the air, but I'll never forget the walloping thump that reverberated through me when my head hit the ground and my body accordioned into it. I lost all sense for a bit.

When I came to, I was on the ground and Nick was about 100 yards away, nibbling at some grass. I really couldn't figure out exactly what happened and my body was strangely tingling all over, but I found the saddle, carried it back to the barn, and went back out and caught Nick and took him to his stall.

It was then my body went numb and I didn't feel even the strange tingling anymore. I could still move and walk, but the hit to the head made my thinking a little foggy.

In the hospital and after many x-rays, they determined I broke my neck at the C- 4 vertebrae. In a true blue miracle of God,  the vertebrae had stayed in line despite the fracture and did not impede on my spinal column despite me carrying a heavy saddle and doing so much walking after the accident.

After a hospital stay and some immobilization, I had to wear a succession of cumbersome braces and then neck collars for many, many months. The only lingering reminder I have now after all these years is a stiff neck and limited range of motion in turning it.

 A tidy ending to this story would have been that I continued to train horses, but Nick was the last horse I owned. He went back to the relative and lived out his life as a good horse. I'm no dummy. There's also wisdom in knowing when to quit.


  1. Wow. It was a true blue miracle, I can't believe you were walking around with a broken neck!!!!

    Really makes you think about how precious life is, it could have ended so much worse. Thank God it didn't.

    My only experience with a horse, was at a friend's house, she and I were on the same horse and she kept making the horse go around and around a large (very large) puddle in the field, and part of it was out and finally after several times around, the horse jumped over that part and we went flying into the mud.

    I, too, learned like you, and never rode again.

    I loved hearing about your childhood though and all the animals, what a great way to grow up!

  2. Jamie Jo: A horse is so large when you're a kid that I think it takes overcoming some fear to even get on one. Kudos to you for getting on that! And yes, I consider my childhood to have been wonderfully uncommon. I still love animals!

  3. Wow Shelly, what a close call. I am just glad that you are alive and grown up. Broken neck - - - - that must have frightened your parents as well. Yes sometimes I feel good when I make a descion based on what I can do and what I cannot do. Hi, this is Munir over here at Focus, I have been thinking of your dad, I hope he is getting better. How is the "no rain situation?"

  4. Munir: Hello! Yes, it gave a good little fright all the way around to everyone and they weren't unhappy when I gave up horses. As for my dad, he refused the crutches the dr. wanted him to use and is hobbling, but doing better each day. Still no rain at all. Hopefully one day soon. Thanks for asking!

  5. Oh, Shelly, I'm so sorry you went through that awful experience! It makes me shiver to think how close you came to being paralyzed. I hope you still love horses, even from afar. I suppose the lesson is that some animals and some humans for that matter can never be completely tamed. You can't afford to let down your guard around them and you should always expect the unexpected. When I was around five years old I fell head first from a six foot high platform onto the grass. I remember my back arching and cracking a little but I suppose I was young enough and my bones had enough elasticity to keep from breaking. I also remember diving into a public swimming pool and cracking my head on the bottom, a common mishap that can result in serious lifelong injury. I suppose I am very lucky just as you are, dear friend.

    I read Munir's comment and I had been wondering about your dad and the drought. I hope your dad will soon be able to walk normally even though he declined the crutches. I was hoping that latest tropical system would pass through your area but I think it made a hook into Mexico instead. I hope you get relief soon!

  6. Oh my goodness! You broke your neck and still you were able to get up and walk to the barn with a large saddle in your hand. Wow. I know you said you haven't owned another horse, but I'm wondering if you have gotten back on one? This scares me! I have been on several. I even went on one with my BABY! We walked along with several other horses for an hour's trip through the mountains of Arkansas. That was not a smart move on my part. Never again!

  7. Shady: Yes, my friend- you had a very close call, too. I shudder to think of how many more folks end up paralyzed and worse with falls just liek ours. I count my blessings every day. And, thank you so much for the well wishes for my dad and for the rain- we will be so happy when it comes!

    Kelley: It was a fracture with the ligaments torn, so it's not as bad as if it had splintered, but it was enough to make me take stock of what I was doing. I have been on horses since, but not often and not lately. I still do love them, though. That would really scare me to get a baby on one, but our ancestors did it all the time. Glad we have other modes of transportation now!

  8. Whoa!

    Sorry. Had to say that.

    A friend in high school got the front wheel of her 10-speed stuck in a street grating and was thrown. She, too, broke her neck at C-4. Wore a "halo" for six months and that was the end of it.

    And knowing when to quit? Priceless.


  9. What an amazing miracle! I can't imagine the terror you felt as you flew through the air.

    I too love horses and rode them my whole life in Mexico. I was fearless. Now that I have children I realize how many close calls I had with temperamental horses who were not quite used to the saddle.

    I would never let one of my kids on the kinds of animals I used to ride!

    Great story, btw!

  10. I have a deep respect for the power of horses. My brother in law just broke his collarbone falling from a horse. They're so beautiful but, well, high off the ground!

  11. Pearl: Ha! That did make me laugh. Your poor friend- those halos are beasts. I hope to never have to see another brace for the rest of my life-

    Crystal: It's amazing the risks we take when we are young and how trivial they seem then. And, I've kept my own kids away from the horses, too, although I've felt a little guilty about it. My husband no longer rides, either, so we are entirely horseless now.

    Lydia: You're so right, and now that I'm an adult, that height seems so much more than it used to be!

  12. Oh my gosh, what a story! So thankful you recovered from that fall like you did! It sounded like a terrible one! I'm with you; I would have allowed horse training to go to someone else!


  13. Shelly, that is a miracle! God is good.

  14. That corgi: I am so thankful to God because it could have been so much worse. Thanks for stopping by!

    Nuna: He truly is, and I'm very thankful!

  15. Oh, my, you were really fortunate it wasn't worse! I can understand why you wanted to quit horse training!!

  16. Dr. Kathy: I still love horses, but not to ride them anymore!

  17. I love horses too, and I've owned some great ones. My daughter broke her neck - C6 - and she was similarly blessed. 8 weeks in a C- Collar but no paralysis and no need to wear a halo. Very lucky, very blessed. Hers was a diving accident. It can happen in a heartbeat.

  18. Karen: I am so happy your daughter had the outcome she did. I've heard more stories about diving and horseback riding causing neck injuries. I will always love horses, too, no matter what!


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