This Guest Blog is from Jesse Skof who says “I am a 22 year old who has always had my heart in horses. I am currently attending a Performance Horse Handler program at the University of Guelph, of which I’m hoping to get my foot in the equine industry door for equine training. Specifically hoping to start up my own rehab for people and horses using natural horsemanship techniques. ”
Here is her story:
My lifetime resolution for the past 5 years has been to face a new fear every year. This past year, I had promised myself to overcome my fear of snakes. Which I easily conquered when I brought home my little rosy boa Mocha. Who knew I would be pushed so much further, and conquer the fear of something I have always loved.
Though I have been riding since I was quite little, and have fallen off the back of just about every kind of schooling beast you could ever imagine. From tiny cart ponies to gentle giants and everything few and far between. I had never been rocked to the point of fear until the past October. When my love of horseback riding was truly tested.
It started this year, again, as a burning in my heart to return to my rightful place, the back of a horse. For this is the only place I find true stability in my life, here I can forget what the “average” day is and dream of the stars. Here I can be the freest of free, and matter to a creature whose respect I cherish dearly. So I quit my office job and began working at a local horse barn for the summer. The early mornings, hard labour and sore muscles were everything worth the days I could spend next to my most favoured animal. Though this was not enough after long, and I needed to get myself into lessons. So I began taking lessons once a week, to get my saddle legs back. All the while knowing that I was planning a master scheme of sorts.. I was finally going to buy my own horse. And that was that.
After a month or so of lessons, it was clear to me. I needed to start looking for my perfect horse. So my mother and I began our drives across Ontario trying horses of all shapes and sizes. Though I fell inlove with them all, as was to be expected, none of them touched my heart. Not until I found myself on the back of a rescue with an old coach. Johnny, a 9 year old Irish Thoroughbred who had been discarded after an accident in his first cross country event and taken in by my coach. He had not been ridden in over a year, as my coach had let him rest, yet he was as soft as ever. I could tell instantly that his training was far beyond my own, yet he did not take advantage of me in any way. (As some sour horses tend to do.)
It was settled right then and there, I would start working with Johnny regularly and make a commitment to make him mine someday. I began going up once or twice a week to ride with my coach and her horse in training. I fell more and more inlove as the weeks went by, everything seemed picture perfect!
Then one afternoon, everything changed in an instant. Though it began as a regular day to go ride, it ended in peril. My memory is quite foggy about the actual events, so you will have to excuse the vague detail. I remember bringing Johnny outside to the grass ring, with my coach already mounted and riding about. I brought Johnny to the mounting block, put my foot in the stirrup, began to hoist myself up and before I knew it… I woke up face first in the grass. The events from here are lost on me, but apparently Johnny had taken off while I was in mid air mounting the saddle. I had lost my balance and was thrown backwards off of him in a backwards flip, which had somehow loosened my helmet from my head. I hit the ground head and face first, and flipped and scraped along the hard clay and grass ground. My coach told me I was out for just over a few minutes, long enough for her to dismount, run her horse to the barn and catch Johnny. She rushed me to the hospital.
I don’t know how many of you have every suffered a severe concussion before, but the worst part, besides the terrible painkiller shot in the bum, is the memory loss. I remember living that day, but I don’t remember seeing it through my own eyes. Looking back, it feels as though I got knocked out of my body, and I watched everything else happen from the sidelines.
I spent the next month and a half off work, and hiding in my room trying to allow my brain to recover. I was told to stay out of the light, and not allow my brain too much stimulation. I had injured my frontal lobe in the fall, and was therefore completely devoid of emotional response. I was a robot. I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t cry, my brain had shut down to repair, and there was no changing that. But after over 3 weeks of intense headaches, I was finally feeling up and ready to continue my life as usual. But there was something I had not really accounted for. Which became all too clear to me when I stepped into the stables again to finally see Johnny after all this time. I was afraid. Maybe even scared to death of my horse, nevermind the idea of riding him again.
Over the next few weeks I worked from the ground with Johnny, putting my natural horsemanship teachings to work and trying to build up a new found trust between us. This is where I began to find myself. A version of myself I had never come to know. As Johnny grew to trust me as his leader, I grew to trust my own instincts. I had finally given myself a chance to grow. And so came my time to finally get back in the saddle. I don’t think I ever really felt “ready” to do it, but I knew I had to eventually. As I could not live with two feet on the ground forever.
My first day back in the saddle was the most nauseating, faint worthy, and heart warming day I’ve ever experienced. Standing atop that mounting block was the biggest step I have ever made to overcome any fear in my life. My stomach shrank, my heart sunk and all the blood in my body ran to hide in my feet. I distinctly remember hearing my coach say with a wink, “If you need to vomit, please avoid the saddle” Luckily I kept my breakfast down, put my foot in the stirrup and swung my leg over. I sat down softly on the back of my uneasy stead, and off we went around the arena. I could feel his awkward steps, as though he was feeling the same sense of nausea as me. But with each step, we gained trust together. Even though we had broken everything we had the day of our accident, it was as if we were building something so much greater.
Our fear in each other and our accident turned to a fire to be the best. And today we work hard every morning to make that a reality. I am not famous, nor do I have any fancy ribbons or trophies to show for my efforts just yet. But the fire that burns so bright in my heart, is something I could have never imagined without this battle alongside my horse. We are both so much stronger and that much more motivated now, my dreams of stars from the back of a horse have become a reality.
Every day I sit upon the back of a star, and together we are shooting for great things.
\If you want to read more of Jess’s work you can find her writing at http://www.Redgage.com