So in 2007 I graduated from high school and took a year off before college to pursue horses full-time. Even though I was in my prime with Dually, I was also aware of the fact that he wasn't going to stay 12 forever, and so got it into my head that I needed to start getting bonded with a new prospect. I won't go into great detail about whether, in retrospect, I think this was a good idea (short answer: I don't), but in any case it happened. And so, in March of that year, I got Sammy.
Show Name: Pro Prospect
Markings: Big star, LH coronet
Years we Were Together: 2007
(He was a cutie!)
Sammy had done a few Prelims with his previous owner but we were able to get him at a pretty reduced price because he had had three months completely off when I got him. He was a super sweet horse with a real TB-trier personality, but he was also much more sensitive than any horse I'd ever ridden, especially in those first few months coming back from total rest, and I admit that he rattled me a little bit right off the bat. Additionally, his flatwork had never (and would never) be super stellar, and I quickly realized that I didn't have the skills at that time to make him better. Part of me wishes that I could redo that spring again now with the better flatwork education I have, and see if it would give us a better start in our partnership together.
Instead, things never really clicked. We got into more and more confrontations, and his sensitive side increasingly butted against my perfectionist side (which, at the time, I wasn't nearly as good at tempering). In the jumping, especially, things went from bad to worse - Sam had a natural tendency to be a bit quick to the fences, made worse by the lack of proper flatwork I was giving him, and then made even worse beyond that by the fact that I began to fear his quickness and pull in front of the fences.
(Sammy with my trainer, showing off what a cute jumper he was when I wasn't pulling his face off!)
Hindsight is always 20/20, and in retrospect I should have known that things weren't going well and made some sort of big change. Instead, I just tried to keep soldiering on. A few weeks after Young Riders, in August 2007, I decided to pop Sam over a few little show jumps in the ring at home. My dad came out to ride with me and set fences, etc. We warmed up over an x a few times, and he was actually better than normal with his rushing, then I picked up a canter and came around to a 2'6" oxer off of a pretty long approach. A few strides out Sam started to quicken, I tensed and pulled back, and he grabbed the bit and bolted right into the jump.
When I started remembering clearly again, it was about three days later. Piecing the story together with my parents, it turned out that Sam had bolted into the base of the fence, gotten his legs tangled in the rails, and flipped. Sam scratched up his face and knees but otherwise was totally fine. I fell mostly clear but landed forehead-first and then flipped onto my back, fracturing (we would discover later) a vertebra in my neck. I never lost consciousness, and when we went to the ER the first time they turned me away telling me I was fine. I went home and fell asleep for two days straight and was actually unable to get up -- of course, I actually had a huge concussion and had to go back to the ER to get the CAT scan I should have gotten in the first place to confirm that I wasn't going to die of a brain bleed. I told them that my neck still really, really hurt, but they just said that I probably had strained a muscle and I was fine (note: never go to my local ER. It blows.)
(Sammy with my trainer again, in serious Yeehaw mode!)
I'm thankful for being alive from this accident, frankly: I'm absolutely certain that if I wasn't wearing a helmet (which I do every time, every ride! I used to wear a hunt cap at shows, but not anymore) I would be dead right now, and probably if I had fallen on hard ground instead on in the sand arena things would have been much worse. I lived with chronic, intense neck pain for almost 18 months before I finally had it looked at again and it was discovered that I had actually broken it; by that point the vertebrae had fused together somewhat sketchily and most of the nerves connecting to the right side of my body had become entrapped in large amounts of scar tissue. From the entrapment, my right side had atrophied to the point that I could barely use my right leg when I rode.
Even today, after two and a half years of physical therapy (which has made huge, enormous, wonderful changes!!), I still have altered sensation between the right and left sides of my body. My neck pain has mostly gone away, but it will never leave; the altered sensation, too, will likely be a permanent souvenir of that one day. I can also now crack my neck like nobody's business - possibly the weirdest "gross talent" I could have ever imagined having ;)
The only good thing about this story is that it has a wonderful, wonderful ending. After the accident, I decided to sell Sam; I was too rattled and understood too acutely that it had been my nerves as a rider and not his shortcomings as a horse that had caused the fall in the first place. I knew that this wasn't going to be something that I was going to be able to grit my teeth and get through; if I kept riding him, I would only get more and more tentative and scared, which is what had caused his rushing in the first place.
My trainer helped me find a wonderful girl for him who actually lived only one town over. She loved Sam and did a wonderful, wonderful job with him. They had great success and he even took her to her first Prelim and many after that. Since she lived so close, she kept Sam at our house so I still got to see him (and he really is such a love; it was great to not have to say goodbye completely). Just this summer, she decided to sell him and he's now with a wonderful little girl up in Vermont, who rides him around bareback and hopes to take him Novice and Training. He's such a good horse, and I'm thrilled that he was able to find a rider that could bring out his talents.
(Sam this summer at Stuart with his new owner's mom; they were sooo cute together!)
Meanwhile, I was feeling pretty justifiably rattled. Add the accident in with Dually's health issues at Young Riders just a few weeks before, and I was feeling pretty low from both a riding and horsemanship and standpoint. I just felt like I'd let both my horses down so badly.
It's with that in mind that I really can't put into words how much I owe Dually for the next few months of our career; he never missed a beat and went instantly from being partner to protector, picked me up, and took me out of some seriously dark times. But, that will have to wait until tomorrow!