As seems to be the norm in my life this year, I haven't had an opportunity to write on the blog because I have been so very busy. But also because I couldn't focus on sitting down and writing for fun, between going to work interviews, singling out the job I wanted at the hospital I wanted, and then working my way around saying good-bye to so many people I loved at the hospital I worked at for the last four years. And then trying to get Astarte to rally and realizing that she wasn't going to this time...and also dealing with one of the most frightening riding injuries I have dealt with in...well, ever. It was the worst ever.
Four weeks ago now Carlos and I took the girls to the C&O Canal towpath access at Point of Rocks, right across the stateline between MD and VA, on the VA side. It is less than 30 minutes from the barn, and they have parking for boat trailers...which means it will easily accommodate horse trailers as well. I have a thing for the C&O Canal: it is 184.5 miles of towpath that starts in Washington, DC and ends in Cumberland, MD. Horses are allowed on the towpath north of the Great Falls, MD area. I was tickled pink when we discovered we had an access point to the C&O so close to home!
We did a 15 mile conditioning ride on that day and the girls were STELLAR. Absolutely stellar. Walked, trotted and cantered on the long flat straightaway that is the towpath and took the girls into the water whenever we found boat launches into the Potomac River and campsites next to the water, which are frequent on this trail since the trail parallels the river.
|Riding past a lockhouse. These were inhabited by Canal employees and are preserved in their original state. Several of these can be rented for an overnight or several nights' stay.|
|Tunnel for the train.|
|Side trail into a campsite.|
|Single track between the towpath and the river.|
|One of many access points into the water.|
|I'd been unclipping the sponge to cool her off with.|
|I love this river. The fact that it tried to kill us later does not change the way I feel about it. You assume a certain level of risk when dealing with any of the four elements.|
|Sidepassing because she didn't really want to go down this small slope but Gracie was already at the bottom.|
|One of several bridges.|
|Another boat launch area. This was the New Brunswick parking lot. We turned around here...|
|...after taking the girls in the water to cool down. This was at the start of a major heat wave: humidity was close to 80% with temps in the upper 90s before the heat index.|
We turned around at mile 7.5, right when we saw the sign indicating that Harpers Ferry, WV was only one more mile up the path. We didn't have much time left, as it was late afternoon, but we decided to plan on returning so we could ride into Harpers Ferry. Harpers Ferry is a small historical town that has been preserved for the most part as it used to be during the Civil War and is the first West Virginia town we visited when we moved north. It is quite special to us and we were tickled pink by the idea of riding on horseback into this Civil War town for lunch.
Ever since seeing the C&O towpath for the first time, I had dreamed of doing exactly this: cantering my horse down it, grinning from ear to ear. I was riding one-handed while filming with my phone in the other.
|All sponged off and eating elyte mashes before heading back to the barn.|
|I was pretty happy with this conditioning ride's pac! We stopped multiple times to take the horses in the water and still managed an average speed of 6.4 mph! The girls were moving OUT! I couldn't wait to return.|
My birthday was a week later and we had made plans to go camping at Little Bennett with the horses...but after going on the C&O path, I just really wanted to return...and do the ride into Harpers Ferry. Plus for some reason I had a bad feeling about going camping. It could have very well been PTSD from the last time we tried to go camping there and Lily decided she much preferred to spend the next week in the equine hospital...but I didn't question the feeling and we hauled out to the C&O again to spend the day on a long conditioning ride on the towpath.
I had no niggling feelings about this plan whatsoever. We parked at New Brunswick this time, which put us only 6 miles from Harpers Ferry, with the plan to ride into town for lunch, continue on for another 4 miles on the towpath after, and then turn around to head back to the trailer for a full 20-mile loop. Carlos called the park office ahead to make sure horse trailers were allowed there. The phone was answered by a man that was so excited that we were taking horses on the trail! He said of course we could park there..."And that is so cool that you're riding on the path!" You hear so many stories about horses being unwelcome on multi-use trail that is is incredibly refreshing when you encounter people excited about their presence.
The New Brunswick parking lot was quite busy: kids running around, cyclists passing through, people launching canoes and kayaks onto the river from there. We tied the horses to the fence out of the way and both girls cocked legs and ate their elyte mashes like another day at the office. Not a care in the world for all of the busyness and activity around them. They were heavily complimented by the people that walked and biked past us.
It was a HOT DAY. Even hotter than the previous time we had ridden there, with a heat index of close to 110 degrees. Lily and Gracie were both wet with sweat along their necks and chests before we were done tacking them up...and it was only 9:00 am! In addition to their mashes, the girls also received doses of Lyte Now. The towpath is in the shade most of the way and we planned on taking them into the water to cool off every opportunity we had.
This was a much busier day than the previous time we had come to the C&O. Two years ago, I rode the Great Falls section of the path (Great Falls is still in Maryland but way south, just outside of Washington, DC) separately with each horse in the company of different friends, and I will say this: the trail etiquette of cyclists and hikers further north is impeccable. We had so many people stop to give us the right of way, or who thanked us profusely when we stopped to let them pass because they were going faster than us. Before passing they would ask, "Your horses are okay with bikes?" "They are!" we would say with a grin, "Thank you for asking, though."
We were only a mile from Harpers Ferry when we decided to let the horses step into the river to cool off. It was so very hot.
The bottom of the Potomac varies. Some parts of it are almost sandy, others are a very fine silt, others are clay, and others are pebbly or rocky, depending on the section of river you are accessing. I know this about the river after four years living in the region, and after decades spent in the ocean and riding along a pretty unpredictable river back in Puerto Rico, I'm pretty good at reading an underwater bottom beneath me from a horse's back or from a bodyboard, as long as I can see it.
|That is the Harpers Ferry bridge behind me. We were that close.|
In an area where the water had been to just beneath her knees, she had abruptly sunk to her chest in the water. I was thrown backwards in the saddle with the suddenness of it, and I remember a part of my brain hoping, "Maybe she just took a misstep and went down on her knees?" I also remember thinking of dismounting if it took her more than a split second to bring her front end back up again. All of this happened within fractions of a second, as I realized that Lily had NOT fallen to her knees...she had sunk in the bottom of the river in what was either a sinkhole or outright quicksand.
She barely struggled: Lily must've heard of The Never Ending Story because, unlike Artax, who just stood there in the muck and allowed himself to sink, she immediately rocked back onto the muscular haunches I've conditioned into her, unsticking her front legs from the mud and out of the water as she reared up and forwards, leaping mightily towards shore and in the process doing what she was supposed to do: save both of us.
Carlos said it was quite the sight to witness.
I stuck that.
She landed still in the water, in an area where the sand was still very soft, and she didn't even give it a chance to see if she would sink or not in the bottom: she leaped again, up onto the 2' bank and onto dry land.
I stuck the second jump but had lost both my stirrups and the instant she hit dry land running, I found myself sideways, hanging onto her neck like a monkey, my right hip lodged on the giant knee block of my Wintec dressage saddle.
We were flying, and she was heading right back towards the C&O main trail, a place where she could run for close to eternity in a straight line with ever-increasing speed, and not something I wanted to accompany her on while hanging sideways from her body.
I remember looking down at the ground: "I should have let go while we were still in the water. Why don't I ever let go when I'm in the water?"
Rocks. "Nope, not there."
Gravel. "Nope, not there."
Sandy soil covered by fine gravel, "Okay, that will have to do." And I let go.
That sandy soil was about as soft as asphalt. And I had just landed on it from a height of 5' while going close to 30 mph.
I remember searing pain wrapping around my right hip like a flame and Carlos saying something and me instantly leaping to my feet like a Jack-in-the-box, my brain automatically going, "If I can stand up, I'm okay!" And then, "I probably shouldn't have done that..." as I felt the fire of pain shoot up from the outside of my right knee all the way up to my right ribcage, burning its way across my lower back. I have never felt so much pain after a fall. It was an 8 out of 10 on the pain scale and it was so excruciating that there was an instant of blackness immediately after standing up. I blinked it away, breathed, and tried to focus on the now.
Someone had caught Lily before she made it onto the C&O towpath, and she had let herself be caught. I remember thanking the person profusely and I somehow ended up with the reins in my hands, and Carlos was still there and my brain went, "What happened?" because I couldn't remember. Part of my brain wanted to say she had bucked and gotten me off but another part of my brain knew that wasn't it.
And then I remembered her front end sinking in the water.
I looked at the river, confused, the light glinting brightly off of its surface as if nothing had happened. I had been so happy there a minute before. I started marching back towards the towpath. Carlos had dismounted. I felt the immediate urge to text Liz and Karen. And that's when I realized my phone was missing.
Carlos actually went into the water, wading up to his hips in it while I held the horses, trying to find my phone in its bright blue case. I searched the shore, the grass. I don't know for how long we looked; we couldn't find it. I finally gave up when I realized my right arm was burning. I looked at it and saw the missing chunks of flesh with strips hanging from it, fine gravel embedded in my skin, blood trickling slowly down to my wrist. "Okay, let's move," I said to Carlos, as I poured half a water bottle over the wound to clean it out and clenched my jaw at the pain. I wanted to vomit.
I am not a weenie about pain. Eleven years ago, the horse I was riding reared, flipped over and fell on top of me, cracking my left hip...and I still finished a full day of barn work training horses (including teaching a Percheron mare to not kick when her hind feet were handled) and riding baby Paso Finos around the farm. Despite the fact that I was pretty much literally dragging my left leg in order to walk. Five years ago, my personal horse at the time fell while I was cantering him and my leg got stuck underneath him while he seizured. I proceeded to ride a second horse (Lily) after that event, went to the doctor when I removed my boot two hours later and my foot instantly swelled within minutes, and was diagnosed with a foot that was broken in two different places. I was not allowed to work on my feet for 6 weeks, but I was still at the barn every day mucking my stall and walking the wheelbarrow 1/4 of a mile to the manure pile. Four years ago, Lily jumped a ditch and landed on my other foot, fracturing my metatarsals. I had to go to work immediately after. I wrapped that bitch up with Vetrap, took 800 mg of ibuprofen, and completed a 10-hour shift on ER: I had just started at that hospital, I didn't have health insurance yet, I knew from the pain, swelling, bruising and inability to move two toes that it was broken...and I was not taking two months off from my brand new job in order to recover. I worked a very busy ER on a broken foot for the next two months. Thank god for ibuprofen...because that is the only pain med I can take.
I repeat: I have a freakishly high tolerance for pain. If I tell you something hurts to the point of incapacitating me, it's because IT FUCKING HURTS.
|This was after cleaning it somewhat.|
It was the longest five mile walk of my life. I was terrified by the amount of pain I was in because I was certain that this was serious. But I did not want to go to the hospital. I absolutely did not. I was about to start a new job soon and I couldn't delay it.
At that time, my right arm and right ribcage hurt more than anything. I was afraid I'd broken a rib. It hurt with every footfall. Not when I breathed, thankfully, but it did with every stride I took.
I was so confused mentally. Initially I asked Carlos (twice...) if we were going in the right direction because my sense of direction was shot. I couldn't remember anything about the trail itself. I would start sentences and forget what I was saying. I was pretty sure I had hit my head but my helmet had stayed in place. Carlos had me remove it and inspected my skull, but nothing hurt.
I remembered all of these random dreams that I'd forgotten. I had this bizarre sense of deja vu, but it was different...it was like I had dreamed the events that had just happened, but in the original dream there had been a lot more blood. I kept looking at my watch to keep track of time because I couldn't keep track of the miles.
I would have felt like I was floating above the ground if it hadn't been for the pain in my ribs with each step.
I wanted to cry. I had been so very happy. We had had so many plans for that weekend and I had been looking forward to it so much in the midst of the shitshow that the rest of my life had been lately, and now this. And every time the tears would start pouring down my face, another hiker or cyclist would pass by and I'd have to fake I was fine, that we were just hand walking the horses to give them a break.
It seemed like forever before we made it back to the trailer. I don't remember untacking or loading up the horses...Carlos did most of it and he said I kept trying to help and then realizing I couldn't do shit like step into the trailer or reach up or bend over.
I was finally able to cry on the way back to the barn. "Why am I not allowed to be happy? Why???" I was very much hysterical.
Carlos unloaded the horses and the trailer by himself. I checked my ribcage in the bathroom mirror and I already had a massive red bruise starting right over my ribs. I was pretty sure one of them was fractured. Carlos really wanted to take me to the hospital but I put my foot down. "NO." We agreed that if I started to feel more painful or became less mobile, then I would go.
The rest is snippets. Getting home. Showering. Realizing I did indeed hit my head: I now had a tender spot on the right side of my skull. Wanting to vomit from the pain when I had to scrub my right arm. Carlos cleaned it again and bandaged it. And then I remembered all of my BoT stuff and pulled them out of the closet, threw them on the futon, and lay down on my BoT horse blanket with our BoT mini blanket over my hips.
And that is how I spent the rest of the weekend. On Monday I dragged myself out of bed to go to another work interview at a hospital 50 miles away. Carlos drove me. I wrapped myself in BoT just so I would be able to get out of the car upon arrival without looking like a cripple. It worked. I nailed that interview.
And then we drove home and I spent the rest of the day horizontal so I could go to work the next day. 10 hour shifts on my feet at work were too much. I had so much swelling and edema from the extensive bruising down my right side that my underwear was cutting into me and my scrub pants felt as tight as if I'd gained 15 lbs. I had lost all definition down the right side of my body. It was alarming. Walking was better than standing, but being on my feet for more than four hours at a time meant all of that edema would start traveling down, pooling in my hip and inguinal area, which then made it excruciating to sit down to rest.
By the end of Thursday of that first week, I was in such insane amounts of pain I had tears streaming down my cheeks no matter what I did.
|This was a week post-accident. My thigh is normally a straight line. You can see the swelling. This wrapped around my rear end and climbed up to my lower back.|
|Bruising on my lower back 10 days after the accident. It looks like I have muffin top on my right side: that is also swelling. I had a giant hard lump on my right lower back extending to my upper glutes that is only just now starting to recede.|
It is currently 3 weeks post accident. The swelling overall is almost completely gone and so is most of the superficial bruising. But the pain is not. It is the worst on my right upper glutes: I'm pretty sure I had muscle tearing there. I get incredibly stiff and sore if I sit down for more than an hour at a time, and I have to be careful with how much time I spend on my feet being active because that will also make me sore. I am finally able to move normally though...as long as I don't try to run. Running and any sort of impact makes my entire right glute hurt. Riding Lily has been completely out of the question. Gracie is more doable depending on the day. I was able to pull off a 7-mile ride on her a week ago, where we mostly gaited and cantered, but this past weekend that was a huge NO after a physically demanding week at the new job.
The problem with all this is that we had signed up for Ride Between the Rivers in Elkins, WV for this past weekend. We have been trying to return to this ride for two years now and we were determined to go. I ended up enlisting my friend Jess from work to ride Lily, and Carlos would go on Gracie.
Jess is a very competent rider and used to event during high school, and was then on her school's intercollegiate polo team in college. She had accompanied me on several rides on Gracie and I had a feeling her and Lily would hit it off.
They did. Jess was the first person other than myself to canter Lily since I've owned her! And she was followed closely after by Carlos himself.
|Jess couldn't stop grinning. It was awesome to have Lily have another fan. Lately IRL everyone falls in love with Gracie!|
|Lily even led with Jess on board. Gracie wasn't exactly thrilled but she dealt with it. Lol|
|Annnnd...CARLOS RODE LILY! And CANTERED HER! And they did AWESOME!|
Taking it out on trail! This was a short 4-mile ride after which I was surprisingly sore. But I was so proud of both Lily and Carlos! It's hard to believe this man only started riding two years ago...and is now able to take my mare that used to be unrideable by anyone other than myself on a trail ride with me...and lead!
I'm a little better every day. On some days I am worse than others, but I am better overall. I just wish I could run again...I had built up to 6 mile runs outside and was looking forward to going longer and longer before the weather started to get cold again...and now this.
I'm still sad about many things. It is still hard coming home after work and not seeing Astarte there. It is especially after being away for a trip. It hit me like a bag of bricks yesterday as we were arriving home from West Virginia, that she wasn't going to be there to greet us. She was always the highlight of returning home... And I'm still wrapping my head around the new job. Most of the change is good but you still grieve for what was familiar, for what you lost. It just takes time. As all things do.