This is my comeback story. There are a lot of twists and turns, and the hope of a happy ending, just like every proper comeback story.
It starts, like many comeback stories do, with a moment of hubris. The teenager on the spicy little mare was having a tough time at a jump. “Hey,” I thought to myself (like an absolute idiot), “that looks like something I can fix.” With utterly misplaced confidence, I tried.
This first chapter concludes with me in a ditch. Having broken my fall with my face, blood was blossoming on the knee of my breeches when I heard a shrill cry from the panicked mother of the teen with the spicy mare. “Call an ambulance,” she shrieked.
Chapter 2: A severe concussion stole my memory and, rudely, still hasn’t returned it. The fall also left me with a jaunty cane, rainbow-colored bruised legs and a giant bandage covering the stitches on my chin. Between naps that totaled 16 or 18 hours of sleep a day, I found genuine joy in grossing out my friends with pictures of my bruises..
These early chapters were fast-paced and eventful. The next part of the story was tedious in its sameness. Fatigue and memory loss made everything hard. Keeping my house clean and my hair washed was miserably tough. Going back to work, briefing decks and memos took three times as long as they had taken before, but that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was how my colleagues reacted. One was resentful and stopped speaking to me. I struggled to navigate “disability” claims, necessary because there continued to be days where the fog was too thick to navigate. With a beleaguered brain and the accompanying isolation, it was hard to be my own advocate.
I can tell you honestly that through those long months, I was the saddest pile-of-blankets-on-a-couch that you’ve ever seen. I felt much stupider than I had ever felt before, was struggling with my workplace and I wasn’t safe to drive a car, let alone drive a car to a farm so I could ride a horse.
The one thing that I wanted more than anything was to be back in the saddle. Before my accident, I had a curmudgeonly chestnut gelding named Monte that I was madly in love with. I was riding at a lovely facility, and Monte and I spent our time with romantic music playing in the background while wandering through lush meadows. Real romance-novel stuff.
After my accident, there was one pitiful time when my dad drove me to the barn and the staff put Monte in cross ties for me to kiss. I wobbled up on my cane, a dramatic single tear snaking down my tragic face … and Monte bopped me in the chin with his nose. My busted chin. My 12-stitches chin. My “the scar makes me interesting” chin.
I laughed out loud. A big belly laugh. Monte’s owner had always teased me that I fed him too many treats and I was turning him into a monster.
He was the same Monte, regardless of how far away I felt from the same Gabrielle. Here I was with a foggy brain, heavy heart, bumped and bruised—and Monte still didn’t care about anything other than snacks.
This is why horse girls can’t stay away, even when broken. Horses are forever.
Between those stitches coming out and this spring, my brain has had a few other traumatic events. The real talk is that I have permanent neurological symptoms and they’re a serious pain in the behind. I’ve pushed on in my career, and while sometimes it really feels like I’m dragging, the ponies aren’t going to pay for themselves. So, a gal has gotta hustle.
After a long time out of the saddle, I found a gorgeous silver unicorn to lease. Dead broke, winning hunter, in the twilight of his career. And by dead broke I mean, easy to ride but also… he broke. After seven rides. His owner kept the lease fee. She reminded me that our contract allowed her to do so—and that many horse people have questionable morals.
Talk about a plot twist, eh?
I said this was a comeback story, though, so here’s the comeback! Next, I met Tax Free, better known as “Taxi.” Gigantic and handsome, he is an elderly grand prix horse with a goofball personality and a willingness to trade about 40 minutes of light work for 2.5 pounds of carrots. He’s owned by a young professional who wants the horse to stay happy and fit. With that young professional teaching me on the coolest horse I’ve ever sat on, I look forward to every single ride. I’m grateful for every minute I get to spend on a horse as brilliant as Taxi.
And it’s a good thing that I practice gratitude, because here’s what happened next: In a freak accident, poor Taxi broke his jaw. Really. Bless Taxi for being a gentlemanly patient and taking his round-pen turnout and mushy food with equanimity.
As his jaw heals, we trot around the ring in a halter with reins and I dream of horse showing.
Gabrielle Gallant is a Toronto-based communications professional and equestrian. With a steadfast love for the animals and sport, she grew up as a lesson kid and moved into showing A-circuit hunters as an adult. After a bad fall and a few false starts, she’s back in the saddle on Tax Free. “Taxi” is a 19-year-old retired Grand Prix jumper, and he enjoys trail rides, bananas by the bunch and hopping over small sticks with his amateur partner.