Amateurs Like Us: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Nov 15, 2017 - 3:45 PM

It’s been an interesting month or so for me. In my line of work as a first responder, you see the good, bad and the ugly. Most people never expect bad luck to happen. Or if you’re like me, you just expect bad luck to happen on a regular basis. We’ve all learned in our house to just roll with it when “Murphy” comes for a visit! It’s kind of been a running joke since Sean and I started dating back in 2011.

I took Finn cross-county schooling for the first time and had a blast! Well, minus an emergency bail-out after dropping off a bank fence and Finn catching some wet grass.

We even got to go through a water complex—a first for both of us! It was a nice opportunity to do something completely different.

Hunter through the water jump!

Labor Day weekend presented me with another bucket list opportunity—a USHJA Derby. I previously entered one in July and made it halfway there only to be turned around due to weather. This time was different.

The kids were out of school for the holiday and after working for 24 hours I had enough time to get to the farm to make it to Swan Lake Stables in Pennsylvania. It was a little chilly that morning, and Finn had his Back on Track sheet on while I was braiding and for the trailer ride up. We loaded up and left for the house to pick up the kids and grab my show clothes.

I wasn’t even a mile from the farm when we were sideswiped by another driver who almost hit us head-on. For some reason, I was only going about 15 mph on the 35 mph road, and I held my ground as the driver raced towards us. He moved right at the last moment and hit the mirror with such force it sounded like all the glass blew out in the truck.

The truck and trailer were knocked off the road into a ditch with a solid one-foot drop. I gasped and my heart sunk as we rode the ditch. I closed my eyes for a second when I felt the truck and trailer drop off the road. I came to a stop. I was terrified to look in the rear view mirror to see if the trailer was still upright with my heart horse inside. I took a deep breath before opening my eyes.

I looked to my right, and luckily there was an embankment that kept us both upright. I looked up and confirmed the trailer was upright. I was able to move out of the ditch and check on Finn while dialing 911 as the other driver attempted to flee the scene.

Frantically, I rushed to the side door on the trailer, and there was Finn looking at me. I used my quick training to do a “rapid trauma” as we call it. No blood, no breaks and no obvious “life threats.” I stayed with Finn until the deputy arrived. Finn was perfectly relaxed and enjoying the extra attention. I crawled under the trailer to assess any damage, but everything appeared to be good. We continued our journey after we finished with the deputy. On to get the kids and then to Swan Lake.

We arrived with enough time to check in, hang out and braid his tail. I was able to take Finn in both rings for a hand walk, which he thought was code for him to eat the straw bales that were being used on various jumps. My goal was to not take any high options and just have fun for our inaugural derby experience.

Natalee tied my stock tie and helped with putting the finishing touches on us both. We looked good and felt good warming up with only a handful of fences that Natalee set for us. Logan patiently stood at the edge of the warm-up ring with our grooming box waiting to wipe the slobber from his “big brother’s” mouth and give him a treat! We waited our turn and did a quick pit-stop to put the finishing touches on, and I adjusted my saddle. In we went, but nothing would prepare me for what was about to happen.

We cantered to the first fence, nailed our distance, but as I stepped out for a change and to set up for the next fence something wasn’t right. Finn started to crow hop and suck back. Thinking that he decided to be a little fresh I pony kicked him to the giant oxer and up the hill to the adjacent warm-up ring and to jumps 3 and 4, a hay bale one-stride. I rode confidently up to it, ready to conquer the rest of the course with brilliance.

Finn and I on course before it all went wrong. Photo by Hoof Print Images

Out of nowhere, Finn refused. I was shocked because he NEVER refuses. I gathered myself and circled back around. Another refusal, and Finn immediately started having thumps. I immediately knew at that point something was wrong. I waved to the judges and excused myself.

I was devastated but more concerned with Finn. I finished with a quick canter each direction in the warm-up ring on the buckle. I dismounted, and we all walked back to the trailer. I called my vet and started a conservative treatment plan for just having some “whiplash” to his body.

Once Natalee and I got Finn unbraided and to settle, I broke down and cried for a solid few minutes. The derby was the biggest class I had ever entered, and I was embarrassed that it appeared as if we were not prepared for such a class, but I honestly was terrified that Finn was severely hurt.

I knew he tried his heart out for me and gave me 150 percent. Natalee reassured me that everything would be OK because that’s what I had taught her over the years. “Everything happens for a reason,” she said. A dose of my own medicine was given back to me by our almost-17-year-old. I wiped my tears and gave Natalee a hug. Once back at the farm, we got Finn turned back out, and he promptly rolled a few times then paraded around before taking off across the field to meet his buddies at the fence line before running back up for his dinner. We ended up heading to Piedmont Equine Clinic for a thorough lameness exam the following Tuesday. Finn was found to have severe muscle fasciculations deep in the lumbar and sacroiliac region, but no pelvis fracture, which was a main concern following severe lameness on Saturday and Sunday.

I chose to take it easy with him and allow his body to have a little break. I wanted him to work through his discomfort before I added my own body weight back. The vet put him on Robaxin for 30 days to help settle the area down, injected his hocks, and said to put him back to work after a few days. I chose to give him two weeks off since we were leaving the following weekend for our family trip to the beach for a week.

We celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary where we got married in Duck, N.C. Despite being trapped between two hurricanes, we all had a blast enjoying the break. Once we got back and after a shift at work, I was eager to see how Finn felt.

The whole family (and some friends!) on vacation.

We started off with some light hill work and continued on with some pole work in the ring until I got taken out by a wicked case of bronchitis that landed me an ambulance ride and ER visit 36 hours before I was switched to a day work schedule for a three-week orientation class at work.

Orientation class involved hands-on fire training and working out Monday though Friday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. It was something I was looking forward to, but I clearly could have done without the bronchitis! I was able to push my way through the most labor-intensive parts of class and hose deployment without getting worse. I made it through the first week and was able to rest almost the entire weekend thanks to Columbus Day.

Since I had that day off from orientation class, I scheduled an appointment for Finn for chiropractic and acupuncture work. Finn was absolutely confused about the whole ordeal and didn’t know what to think. His sacroiliac joint was out, shifted down and to the left, with his withers being slightly out. Everything else was looking good per our original vet from the lameness exam in September. Immediately following that was acupuncture with another vet, who thoroughly looked him over and found his “chi to be very blocked” over the lumbar and sacroiliac region.

Finn took to the treatment extremely well, and the vet was very impressed with how he responded. He believes only a few visits, and he will be back to his normal self.

The next evening, I ventured out following work and rode him under the lights for the first time this fall. Finn had so much more suspension in his step and felt extremely loose. It was such a relief to know my heart horse was back to his normal self! I’ve continued on with taking things at a slower pace and allowing his body to fully heal and adjust. I’ve not been worried about finishing out this show season or pushing ourselves to be ready for SWVHJA or VHSA finals.

Doing some rehab with Finn.

I’ve learned that everything happens for a reason and to trust everything being thrown at me has a purpose. With that being said, I’ve got some exciting news to share in my next blog. It involves some long days and nights all while questioning my sanity! Let’s just say it’s another chapter or two in my book of adventures of being a DIY amateur!

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