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.