Saturday, 7 January 2012
On the 5.4.2009, I had an accident which, although I didn't own Hillary at the time, had what was to be a profound impact on our relationship.
In November 2008, I began riding again, after the eight year gap mentioned in my previous post. I was living in Lancaster at the time, where I was studying to be a teacher on a PGCE course. I was a smoker and wanted to quit. I decided that for every week I didn't smoke, the money I saved, I would spend on a riding lesson. I wanted to get back into riding so much- my PGCE would last eighteen months; after that, I would get a teaching post and be able to buy a horse!
It took ages to find a place to ride, and eventually I happened upon a little place in the hills above Lancaster. It was a forty minute journey each way, but once I'd been once, I didn't mind the journey- if anything, it was a great time to think, and the scenery is second to none.
I had high hopes. In my mind, everything I now did was in preparation for the moment I would own my own horse. The moment I excitedly arrived at the farm for my first lesson however, I became instantly disappointed (although it was short-lived), because I was immediately faced with a 13.2hh woolly fell pony called Minnie. I had envisaged myself riding a 16hh warmblood rather ignorantly, and this fell pony, with her long mane, and chunky little legs, was not what I was expecting. The riding instructor was wonderful, and really helped me re-learn the ropes after the long break. She also allowed me to do things such as groom and tack up Minnie (who I ended up adoring) before the lessons, and also muck her out afterwards. To anyone not horsey, this probably doesn't seem like a valuable thing, but to me, it was like reuniting my adult self with my childhood dreams, and I loved it.
Minnie was a little star, and I enjoyed riding her, however, I longed to ride something bigger. I have always been an admirer of bigger horses and so I knew that when I bought my own, it would be around 15-16hh. There is an argument about the power of ponies, and about how bigger isn't necessarily better, but I did, and still do, admire larger, taller horses.
I persuaded my instructor to change horses and I began to ride another one. Eric was a 15.3hh arab X thoroughbred. I also got my other wish which was to begin jumping. This was my childhood passion, and I had actually broken my thumb jumping at a show; continuing to do another round with a black and swelling thumb, before deciding it probably needed seeing to.
One day, whilst riding Eric, who was quickly becoming something of a favourite, my instructor set out some canter poles. These were going well. About two minutes before the end of the lesson, we went down the line again, and Eric put in cheeky buck. Although this unseated me a little, and I lost a stirrup, I wasn't really worried. I continued down the line of poles with one foot loose, when, just at the corner, Eric tripped, and shot sideways. I remember seeing the ground come to meet me. Occasionally, I still dream about this too.
I hit the ground, and for a moment, took in the idea that I had fallen off. This had not happened in a long time. Then the pain began; a pain that I can still remember now. I was lay out flat on my front, and I wanted desperately to bend my spine; the pain was entirely there, and it made me feel sick instantly. I remember wanting to know if Eric was OK. He was, and strangely people wanted to know about me. Although it hurt, and hurt a lot, I felt as though I'd be OK.
I tried to get to my knees, but my left leg gave way. I ended up being helped to the fence at the side of the menage; a ten metre journey that felt like hours with the pain. I had no feeling except a strong pain in my left leg. A chair was brought for me to sit on (I couldn't drive home) and I waited to be picked up by my partner at the time.
I was taken straight to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary in a state of shock. Luckily I had my partner at the time who was a great support beside me, and after several x-rays, I was told I had fractured my hip. Since then, due to continuing pain in the area, I have been informed it was my spine that was fractured and not my hip, but to be fair it's irrelevant now. All I know is that I am left with reduced movement in my right leg, and pain that happens most days, particularly when it's cold. I cannot sit in one place or stand for a long period of time. But the biggest way my accident affected me was with my riding.
Not long after my fall, I returned home to Manchester, where my mum was recovering from an operation. She was instructed that walking in flat places would help her recovery, and so I tried to help by taking her to different places for short walks. One of those places turned out to be the riding school where I had ridden as a child (suggested by my youngest sister). Whilst there we took a relief break to the toilets next to the office. On the window of the office was an advert: "For Sale: Hillary." Regardless of the extra information, I knew it was her. Hillary, that mare from years ago. Mum persuaded me to call, and the next thing I knew, I was riding her with a view to buy.
My job was coming to an end of a contract, and so I didn't say anything about her purchase. I applied for some jobs, and eventually got an interview. The job was mine, and thanks to my wonderful parents, so was the horse.