“What happened?” I asked.
They replied that I fell out of the cart my pony was pulling, and was knocked unconscious.
Minutes later, I asked again, “What happened?”
And this loop continued as my husband picked me up at the barn and took me to the hospital.
But I don’t remember any of this.
Two hours in the ER, then a scan of my brain was taken. I don’t recall having it done, but the report said it was clear. I was sent home with post-concussion instructions to rest in darkened rooms, not watch TV or read, no computer either, and seek counseling to deal with residual stress from the accident.
The right side of my lower body was black and blue; my vision was blurred and extremely light sensitive. All I wanted to do was sleep. When I went back to work, it was in sunglasses, with the office lights dimmed.
My doctor sent me to an ophthalmologist, a brain trauma specialist, and a Cranio-Sacral therapist. All were encouraging a full recovery, but I was dispirited, two months post injury and my eyesight was still fuzzy.
Horse buddies pitched in to help exercise the pony. She had no ill effects from the mishap and was eager to work. I, however, was afraid. Although I’d driven her hundreds of times in the past four years, PTSD kicked in. My fear was palpable—I felt out of control and didn’t want to re-injure my head with another fall.
So we started slowly—groundwork first and then short sessions with another driver with me in the cart. Sometimes the pony picked up on my nerves and became agitated herself, further escalating my own anxiety. We’d try to work through this and finish up on a calm and positive note.
The pony and I used to love dancing with other equines and their riders. Now, horses in the training arena unnerved me. My apprehension seemed hazardous to all. Barn mates were understanding and gave us space. Everybody pitched in to help. Shared stories of others coming back from concussions also gave me solace and hope. I wasn’t alone.
Eventually I transitioned to being solo in the cart, with coaching from the ground. Goals were modest—achieve small victories. We went back to basics: adjusting my sitting position, working on halt and half-halt commands with reins, body, and voice, as well as straightening and correcting her bend through turns, so she wasn’t pulling against the bit.
Incrementally, I regained confidence and trust in our relationship. While things aren’t completely back to normal yet, I’m happy to report that every time I’m in the driver’s seat, I enjoy the pony more.
John Killacky is Executive Director of Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vermont. He has authored numerous publications on the arts, written and directed several award winning short films and videos and is a regular commentator for Vermont Public Radio.
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