Voices from the Comeback Trail

In writing my article, Recapturing the Joy of Riding, I asked riders to share the top three things that made the biggest difference in their recovery from trauma and regaining confidence in the saddle. Here’s what I learned.

Lara Worden

Lara Worden, an equine nutritionist living in North Carolina, has returned to endurance riding. (Photo by Becky Kirchner Pearman)

My incident came at the start of an endurance ride in Ohio 2.5 years ago. All I remember was trying to get on and he blew up. Apparently, he turned into a bucking bronc. I was tossed and knocked unconscious for 15-20 minutes. The next thing I remember is waking up to EMTs standing over me and preparing to load me into an ambulance. That incident resulted in me breaking almost all my ribs on my right side with a collapsed lung and a concussion. It got me a trip to ICU for three days and a LONG road to recovery, both physically and mentally.

I do not remember much from that day, which I take as a small blessing. However, in some ways this makes it more difficult to understand the panic that comes over me in certain situations with this horse, as I really do not know what triggered the episode. We did discover shortly afterwards that this horse had EPM, and he was subsequently treated.

Keys to recovery

Here are my keys to recovery:

1) Time—that seems to eventually heal all, or maybe you just forget.

2) Once I got back in the saddle, I rode my “been there, done that” steady Eddie. That helped me build my confidence back.

3) Once I got back on the horse that seriously hurt me, we mostly walked for weeks. Then a gradual trot with family and friends who understood that they couldn’t leave me behind and that we needed to return to a walk if I became panicked or scared.

In some ways, both of us (the horse and I) went through a healing process together. I am taking lessons on this horse so we can become a better partnership. We also finished our first LD ride together over Thanksgiving weekend. It wasn’t pretty, nor perfect, but we did it together. And we are now back to doing 50-milers!

Lara Worden is an equine nutritionist living in the Foothills of North Carolina.

Bruce Weary

Bruce Weary’s recovery was aided by an off-the-track Standardbred gelding called Two Bits. (Photo by AZCowgirl Photography, LLC)

Six months ago, my life, career, passion and quality of life were threatened. I contracted COVID and was very ill for two weeks, and at the brink of recovery, I came off a horse and sustained serious injuries. For a while, I couldn’t work, could barely walk without assistance and required care 24 hours a day. It was the worst set of injuries I have ever experienced. With the help of a 14-year-old, off-the-track Standardbred gelding we call Two Bits, we both recovered.

The road back

First, I had to feel I had regained enough strength and agility to be around the horses, to handle them on the ground, to mount/dismount and to feel stable in the saddle. Secondly, I had to rid my mind of any imagery that suggested another accident or injury was likely to occur again. Lastly, I had to work on conveying a sense of confidence to the horse when in the saddle, so he didn’t sense any fear or lack of confidence on my part, making him feel that he needed to be the one in charge.

I first started using a walker until I was steady and strong enough to motor on my own. I gradually worked up to going for walks, first a 1/4 mile, adding a 1/4 mile each time. And it was hard and painful. As the weeks passed, I started riding short distances, and began strength work at home using resistance bands. My work as a chiro is also quite physical, and that helped too. Eventually I worked my way back to being able to do steep hikes.

In April 2022, I did an intro ride (about 15 miles) on Two Bits; in May, we completed our first LD (25 miles) together; and in October, we cruised through a 50-miler—my first since my accident, and his first ever. Sharing the recovery journey with this amazing horse has given me much confidence and the will to go on.

Bruce Weary is a chiropractor based in Prescott, Arizona

Dave Rabe

Within the AERC endurance community, Dave Rabe is a legend. He has more recorded miles in the sport than any other rider—as of May 2022, he had more than 76,000 lifetime miles. Most of his horses have great longevity as well, logging 5,000 to 10,000 miles each. Dave is also famous for his attire—he usually rides in cut-offs and tank top, no matter the weather. He is equally admired for his generous attitude—if anyone needs help putting a boot back on or goes off trail, Dave is there to help.

Dave Rabe, who has logged more than 76,000 miles in endurance events, learned the hard way how important a riding helmet can be. (Photo by William Gore/Rene Baylor Photography)

All was well until that fateful December day at the Death Valley Pioneer endurance ride in 2013 when Dave was dumped by his horse White Cloud at the start—and landed on his head. He cracked his skull and was hospitalized for 2 ½ months, with multiple brain bleeds, leading many to question his long-term prognosis for riding again. But he eventually recovered and was back riding—on the same horse that dumped him—six months later. “I had no fear of riding and no loss of confidence in any way,” he recalled. However, he did later elect to have surgery to resolve a brain hematoma that was causing constant headaches.

A lesson learned

“It took me 50,000 miles of endurance to figure out I needed a helmet,” Dave quipped. Since the accident, he has recorded 18,000 miles wearing protective headgear.

Dave’s top three tips for making a comeback: “The first thing I would recommend after a horse accident is to wear a helmet. The second thing I would say is have confidence and don’t be scared, because you know you can ride. And the third thing would be to make sure you are riding with somebody.”

Since his accident, he has broken one helmet and has had five or six incidents where he came off his horse and hit his head. “I can definitely say the helmet saved me from more serious injuries. Every time I come off my horse on my head, I automatically get a new helmet.”

Dave Rabe is a retired postal worker who lives in Nevada when not traveling to endurance rides.




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