Whitney and Ned
Horses came back into my life as an adult in 2016. My love for riding had been shoved down into the deepest, darkest corners of my heart for more than a decade, not having seriously ridden since college. We were over at my mom’s house for Sunday afternoon lunch and she was packing for a move. She sent me to the garage to sort through a yard sale box from my old bedroom. Anything that I wanted to keep had to go home with me that day. My old paddock boots and half chaps were shoved into the box, along with some really embarrassing dance recital costumes from the early 90s. I snatched the boots and half chaps up and threw them in the floorboard of my car and rejoined my family at the table.
Riding the hour home with my wife and kids, I sat quietly, not wanting the emotional floodgates to burst. I had shoved my love for riding for so long, I didn’t anticipate the huge wave of longing and ache that having my old riding gear would trigger. When we got home, I sat with my wife on our front steps crying and I told her all about how I’d spent hours daydreaming and pouring over the Dover catalog imaginary shopping for if I’d ever ride seriously again. A few months later, at Christmas, I opened up a Groupon certificate from her for 4 lessons at a hunter/jumper barn about an hour away. This was a part of me that my wife wanted to embrace.
After the Groupon ran out, I decided to take a lesson at a barn an hour in the opposite direction from my house and dig back into dressage. While those lessons weren’t incredibly productive, the trainer mentioned she had a retired eventer in storage for an upper level rider, and he’d be perfect for me. With plans to ride strictly dressage, I brought Ned home in January of 2018. He came with a nasty leg wound and a fierce personality, but after some healing and a lot of groundwork, we started our partnership under saddle. Ned had previously evented to Intermediate and after a near miss with an arena fence, I quickly learned that if I didn’t jump this horse, he would jump me. We changed barns and fell under the guidance of my amazing trainer/coach/friend, Abby, and started at cross rails.
We competed in our first three phase in February 2019 at tadpole (when I was gifted my first Mindfilly band) and worked our way up to Novice by fall 2019. We were gearing up for our Novice debut at Stableview Oktoberfest when I had a bad fall on a cross country outing 2 weeks out and injured my lower back. I was out of the saddle for a month, and even missed a couple shifts at work. My wife and I had some serious discussions about whether eventing or even riding in general was a risk worth taking. We have three kids that need me healthy, functioning, and alive. I need to be able to work and make a living. So after much consideration, I took a step back in the winter 2019. Ned was/is getting older and he deserved a comfy retirement, so that’s what I’ll do. I took that season off and who knew what we were headed for.
As an ICU nurse, I kept a close eye on the news about Covid19. At first, I brushed it off. SARS outbreaks happen all the time, so this will turn out okay too, I convinced myself. But as the news started to pour in from China, Italy, and eventually New York, I felt a sense of overwhelming dread. People were dying. Nurses were dying. Refrigerator trucks were being brought in as the morgues were overwhelmed.
I experienced what I can only describe as pre-traumatic stress disorder. It felt like I was standing on a beach, watching a giant Tsunami head right towards me, and there I stood, unable to move and completely powerless to stop it.
My hospital started seeing Covid positive patients in March and we had a surge in the spring. I’m a healthy adult with no underlying health problems, so I often worked CovidICU, which was staffed by our regular ICU team.
Sometime around April, as we heard about healthcare workers dying at an alarming rate world wide, I reconsidered the risks of riding. If going to work is enough to kill me, shouldn’t I at least get to do the things that bring me the most joy? I asked my wife one day. I called my trainer and scheduled a jump lesson for a few days later. We started back at cross rails, but quickly got back into our groove and even managed to successfully compete twice this last fall. Our last show of 2020, Stableview’s Eventing Academy in October was our best ever, adding a single rail to our first sub-30 dressage score.
Right now, we are facing the biggest Covid surge we’ve ever seen at my hospital. One day last week, more than half of our hospital census was Covid positive. Just this morning, Covid1, which has previously been half ICU patients and half medical patients, transitioned to CovidICU with all 22 beds full with patients on the vent.
My supportive family has kept me sane, but the barn and Ned have created a sense of normalcy and consistency in a time when my world is on fire, and I can’t thank my wife enough for bringing horses back into my life 5 years ago.