Finding Light at the End of my Tunnel

February 2018

On the morning of February 9th I was getting ready for a lesson. I had on breeches and riding socks. My closet/office is located on the third floor of our condo – I call it the “lady loft.” It’s an open space I finished when Dan and I bought our place a few years ago. Realizing I was running late, I went to quickly run down the (hardwood, steep and narrow) stairs. I slipped, both feet flying out from under me and fell, my butt and elbows taking the brunt of the super scary and fast journey down.

Luckily Dan was home, and ran over to me as I sat in a pile at the base of the stairs, still in shock from what had happened. Maybe it was adrenaline, maybe it was stupidity, but I got to my feet and said I was fine but late for my lesson and headed out the door.

I was stiff, but not in terrible pain during my ride. In fact my elbow hurt way more than my back. Afterwards, I took off my sweater in the barn office to notice I had done a fantastic job at splitting it open, and probably should have gotten stitches since it took forever to close up/heal. But I’m a #badassequestrian and stitches are for weenies, right? (No… taking care of yourself is the correct answer. Do as I say not as I do.)

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Elbow Damage Post-Fall

Despite my discomfort, completely black and blue lower back/butt and feeling like something wasn’t quite right, I kept riding. I even took Donny off of the property to a horse show on February 18th, because he hadn’t been anywhere since the previous summer. I rode up until February 23rd, when I finally decided much to my dismay (and with forceful encouragement from family and friends) that I should go see a doctor. My lower back was in constant agony and if I moved the wrong way I had shooting pain down my left side. I couldn’t sleep, and no matter what position I put myself in, was miserable.

You can see how stiff/uncomfortable I was!

The first doctor I went to took x-rays and dismissed my condition as muscle spasms. She gave me a week-long set of steroids and told me to rest. She ignored my questions about the shooting pain and didn’t take interest in how I sustained my injury. The steroids did nothing, and I was growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of improvement and increase in pain.

March 2018

After my subpar experience with the first doctor, I went to a different one who ordered an MRI. The results showed I had facet joint edematous changes L3-L4, L4-L5 and L5-S1. Focal central disc herniation T11-T12 and left sided disc herniations at L3-L4 and L4-L5. Basically, my back was really angry and upset. I had a back brace and was given meds to help me rest. I iced and went in to be hooked up to a TENS unit every other day, and was told move around as little as possible. Being couch bound sucked. I had a family vacation coming up to celebrate my Gramma’s 80th birthday and the thought of being on the beach in a back brace made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. I made an appointment with a recommended top specialist in New York City and went to see him right after I got back on Monday March 26th.

Couch Bound with my Cuddle Buddy

The third (and don’t worry, final) doctor ordered x-rays (standing up this time, not laying down), looked at my (apparently very ghetto) MRI results and put me through a series of stretches and positions, testing my strength and range of motion. A month after my fall, I was shocked to learn I had fractured two of my lumbar vertebrae. I had to take three weeks off from everything (not like I had been doing much of anything anyway) and had an appointment to go back into the city on April 17th for a checkup.

April 2018

By this time, I was cranky. I am a happy go lucky, glass-half-full type of person by nature, but losing the ability to workout and not use my body to do everyday normal life activities had left me increasingly anxious and restless. I missed my normal schedule and riding my horse! I felt useless and sad, with no light at the end of my tunnel. So, I was obviously overjoyed when my doctor cleared me to start PT after our follow up appointment on April 17th. I could have cried from happiness. Two times a week I was able to go work on strengthening my body and getting back on track. I was allowed to start home exercises as well after completing two weeks of PT, and I swear that stretchy elastic band became my best friend.

During all of this, I had learned that my barn was closing and I needed to find a new place to go. Being broken and not having ridden in two months left me at a loss. Luckily, after searching and looking at almost every barn within a 45 minute drive of where I lived, I found the most wonderful situation with Nicole and Jenny Wright at Enrite Farm. I felt like the crazy new client who comes with a ton of baggage. “Hi, I’m Taylor and I fractured my back. Oh I also haven’t ridden my dragon horse in two months and would like to bring him here. Can you help get him back into a program? He can be a little fresh.” Yeah… I was that person. But they were amazing from the start and I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them. They took Donny and I in and we both immediately felt at ease, and at home.

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Moving day!
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Donny living the good life at Enrite
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Happy in his new home

May 2018

I moved Donny, continued with PT and kept myself busy with work. We also began the search for a new horse that my mom could ride (as well as myself!) I was allowed to flat, but no jumping. Unfortunately riding really aggravated my back, but I muscled through it, because despite being uncomfortable I was so, so happy.

We found Cam, I decided to not ride Donny, and let the pros work with him since all I found myself doing was riding him defensively due to subconsciously protecting my back. He can be full of himself, and the playing around did not help my cause. It was a heartbreaking decision, because all I wanted to do was get back into the swing of things with him, but it was the smart choice. I could let my back continue to heal and Donny would be in a solid program to get him ready for the upcoming show season.

Donny’s new brother, Cam!

Donny showed for the first time since last August, and was great. Cam came home on May 17th and we surprised my mom when she got back from London on May 24th. (Yes, she was out of her mind excited!)

June 2018

After six weeks of PT I went back into the city on Friday June 8th for another follow up. The shooting pain was gone, but I still had a constant ache in my lower back that became worse with any sudden wrong movement. It would take me 3-4 days to feel somewhat normal after I aggravated whatever was bothering me. Since the fractures were healed, my doctor ordered an MRI. I had to wait and go back into the city on Monday June 11th to go over the results, which showed my SI joints were extremely enlarged and angry with a lot of wear and tear – which explained why I was still having so much trouble. My doctor said injections into the joints should help reduce the inflammation and ease the discomfort to get me back to my old self.

Despite only jumping two full courses since February, I showed Cam Sunday June 10th and Thursday the 14th. He was a star and my nerves about getting back into the show ring extremely unpracticed quickly subsided thanks to this great horse and my wonderful trainers. I’ve put off getting the injections until after I show this week on Thursday and Friday – because I’ve been waiting all winter to show, am stubborn and won’t give it up. Luckily I only have to rest 3-5 days after the procedure, so I won’t be sidelined for long.

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Cam and I showing at Ox Ridge

I’m very lucky Nicole and Jenny found Cam and he came into my life when he did. Not only is he a wonderful, safe horse for my mom to ride, but he’s a great confidence booster for me. There is no shame in not being a cowgirl after an injury or time off. (Or ever! Being an adult with responsibilities comes first.) I truly believe you need to let yourself heal mentally & emotionally (as well as physically) after going through an unexpected & unwanted break from riding or any type of sport that is as demanding as riding. We spend so much time, money and effort making sure our horses are in the best shape they can be. It’s important to remember to do the same for ourselves.

The Consensus

If you’ve read all of this… wow. Thank you! I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about what happened and why I’m not riding Donny so I hope this helps explain what I’ve been going through. Injuries that sideline us from doing what we love and living life like we normally do are heartbreaking and emotionally draining. It is so important to have a support system. There were days where I wanted to delete the blog and my Instagram account, sell Donny and just give it all up because I felt like I was going to be living with chronic back pain for the rest of my life. I didn’t see any sort of relief and was tired of living on pain medication and ice packs. But I kept pushing for answers, and although it took me three different doctors to get to the bottom of the issue, it taught me that we know our own bodies better than any professional. If you think something isn’t right or you’ve been misdiagnosed – listen to that inner voice!

I also want to say a big thank you to everyone who reached out with advice and encouragement. Your support and love seriously helped me more than you will ever know and I will be forever grateful.

To wrap things up, Susan from Saddle Seeks Horse recently interviewed me for a piece she is writing about riders with back pain. This is what I sent to her – and I encourage anyone going through a situation similar to mine to take it to heart:

I have two pieces of advice for equestrians (or any athlete, really) looking for a proper diagnosis and swift return to training/competing.

  1. Listen to your body. How the first doctor missed my fractures on the x-rays they took is both baffling and concerning. The doctor was dismissive and wrote me off with a diagnosis of ‘muscle spasms’ and a pack of steroids. With no relief or improvement, I decided to see another doctor. I just didn’t believe her diagnosis was correct. Thankfully, I was right, and by seeking another opinion I was able to get to the root of the issue and not injure myself further. So, if you’re not happy with the answers or care you’re receiving keep at it until you know what’s going on so you can heal correctly. The first doctor/diagnosis may not always be correct, don’t take their word over how you actually feel.
  2. Take your time. I wanted to get back in the saddle ASAP. Despite doctors orders, I snuck in a few early rides, and immediately regretted it. Let your body heal, your horses will be waiting for you. You can’t expect to have a productive ride if you’re injured, so rest up and try to be patient. I promise it’s worth it in the end!

If you have questions or simply need to talk, my inbox is always open. Here’s to recovery and soon to be pain-free wonderful rides ahead.

XO

Taylor

5 thoughts on “Finding Light at the End of my Tunnel

  1. Thank you for sharing your story Taylor! I am so happy you continued to search for answers and are going through the healing process slowly. I completely agree that we know our bodies better than anyone, and it’s important to keep looking for answers. I have had doctors completely dismiss my pain and it is so frustrating and deflating. I can’t wait to see you back on your boy again soon!

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  2. I’m so happy you hung in there to figure things out when doctors 1 and 2 were not as helpful as 3. And what a blessing to have Cam at this time along with the support of your new barn family. There is no shame in leaving Mr. Fresh Donny for the pros to ride when your body is not 100%. Your message is one equestrians need to hear. And thanks for the mention. 😍

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  3. This was SO good Taylor. It was certainly a long and trying road to recover, but you have healed beautifully and gave your body and horses what they needed! Loved reading this.

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  4. You’re not alone in the back injury frustration, but trust me in gets better! I’m a couple days away from the 1 year mark of getting thrown and kicked in the back resulting in fracturing S1-3. Its been a lot of blood, sweat and tears but I can finally say I think I might even be stronger now than I was before the accident. There are still days where I’m not 100%, but they are less and less often and my back doesn’t get angry so easily anymore. Keep up the good work, it’s tough but it’s so worth it!

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  5. On January 20, my horse fell on the ice and although she didn’t land on me, I ended up breaking my left collarbone and fractured my left ankle and right knee. Being housebound and (in my case) in a wheelchair, was frustrating, boring and, did I say boring? Getting back to riding has been slow and I’ve finally come to accept that my body can only take so much at a time and not to push it. I also chose to let my firecracker OTTB enjoy some extra time off and ride my draft x mare, who is content to mosey along until I get stronger. You are completely right that you have to listen to your body, rest and be patient. If only it wasn’t so hard!

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