On Falling Down and Getting Back Up

Oh, dear blog, how I have missed you! It turns out that attempting to conquer a semester of grad school while also homeschooling four children, working part time, and managing a household creates a situation in which blog writing falls away. I am going to attempt to share more over the next few weeks, though! And today, I have put together a bit of writing.

I ended my summer falling off a horse – my first fall in eighteen months – and I didn’t settle for just one. First, an adorable little pony decided he did not appreciate being the last horse in line to trot sensibly across a pasture, and he expressed his displeasure by taking off at a gallop and bucking and tossing me on the ground. Courtney said I was “yeeted,” and it felt like it, that day and for days afterward. That one hurt physically but not so much emotionally. He had decided he wanted me off, and he was going to get me. There was really nothing I could have done about it.

A few weeks later, I had a lesson on a faster horse than I usually ride in jumping lessons, and I wasn’t riding well after I landed my jumps. My heels weren’t down, and I wasn’t steering well, and I came off as I attempted (or failed to attempt) to steer after landing a jump. That one was more of a blow to my confidence, because it was entirely my fault.

Then, two weeks later, I was on a different faster horse, and I just could not relax and ride. I was thinking about my last fall, I was nervous before I got on, and I could not calm down and put it together. Toward the end of the lesson, I missed my turn, did not make a plan, and came off. It actually felt like the least bad fall physically, but mentally, I was a mess. I got back on my horse and went over a couple jumps, but I cried most of the way home.

Unfortunately, I was also more of a mess physically than I initially realized. The next day I went to urgent care to be evaluated for a concussion. They told me that my symptoms would probably go away in a few days to a few weeks…but they actually persisted for weeks and months, and I still occasionally have symptoms even now. I was out of riding lessons entirely for about a month, and then I gradually eased back into it, starting with flat lessons on horses I felt safe on, eventually a private jumping lesson, and now I’m back to my regular jumping lessons (but still riding only horses I feel totally safe riding).

The mental and emotional recovery has been – and continues to be – a journey I am working through. I had a conversation with Courtney one night about how to tell whether it was even worth it. I’m not a horse trainer like she is. I don’t have to ride horses. I could stop riding fast horses and training horses and just ride the dead broke, slow lesson horses. I could keep riding but not actually work to improve. I wasn’t sure how I would know what to do. I knew I needed to get back up, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted my goals to be anymore.

She told me it wasn’t about the horses for me. It’s about what type of person I am. Am I the type of person who will get back up? Can I conquer something scary? Can I get back to riding fast horses and training horses? Can I ride and feel joy again instead of being consumed by anxiety?

I’m working on it – because that’s the kind of person I want to be.

jumping my first oxer during last night’s lesson

Telling Stories to Work Through Scary Stuff

One of the hardest things for me, as a parent, is knowing how to help my kids work through hard stuff when they’re resistant to doing that work. I love my kids, and I know it’s best for them not to try to bury their feelings – but I also can’t force them to share with me or anyone else what is going on in their hearts.

Last weekend, Miranda had an experience that brought up some big feelings for her. Our two oldest girls have been taking horseback riding lessons for almost a year now, and Miranda had fallen a couple times before, but on Sunday, she had her first big, scary fall, and it really caught her off guard. She was scared, and she was angry, and it wasn’t until the very end of the lesson time that her instructor, Courtney, and I were able to get her back up on the horse. Courtney, thankfully, is amazing and was willing to meet Miranda exactly where she needed to be met and take extra time and offer the right mix of firmness with encouragement, which went a long way.

I could tell that, as Miranda walked around the arena riding Ian, with Courtney right beside her talking with her, a lot of the tension was dissipating, and I was so glad she was willing to get back up.

Miranda riding Ian with Courtney walking right next to her – I love this picture of encouragement and support and being right there with someone as they do hard things

But the big feelings were still there. Monday was a rough day at our house. I mentioned all of this to some friends, and one of them (Meghan Scanlan LCSW – if you’re in the Denver area and need a family therapist, you should probably look her up!) suggested that I have Miranda write a narrative about it and illustrate it and read and re-read and re-read it. That’s a strategy that can often help kids process traumatic events.

This is very similar to a strategy outlined by Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson in The Whole Brain Child – Name It to Tame It: Telling Stories to Calm Big Emotions, which you can read more about here, and I’d actually considered doing something like that…but even knowing what I know about trauma and its effects, I’d still debated¬† – did I want to bring it up? Would looking at it more just keep it all in the forefront of her mind and make it all worse? Would it ruin any possibility of us being able to get in another lesson and another positive experience before our beloved riding instructor moves 2 hours away for her new job? But no, it was clear that Miranda really needed to work through this experience and her feelings about it, and helping her to do that needed to be a priority for me.

Tuesday morning I told her that instead of having her doing any sort of regular Language Arts with me that day, I wanted her to work with me to write and illustrate a book about her fall off of Ian and getting back up again. She was a bit reluctant, but I agreed to be her scribe and write down all the words for her if she would just dictate, and she could do all the illustrating. I wasn’t sure how she’d do with giving all of the background information and sharing about the events leading up to the fall, talking about the fall itself, and then describing working through her feelings and getting back up on Ian again afterward, but with some gentle prompting, she was able to tell and illustrate the whole story.

And it was like a weight lifted off of her shoulders. She could talk about it without all of the emotion taking over. She decided she wanted to make copies of her book to give to some friends. She’s been reading through it multiple times a day, with no prompting from me.

And she’s excited to go ride again this weekend.

I’m so glad she was willing to get back up on the horse after she fell, and I’m so glad she has been willing to do the emotional work to process all of what she has been feeling. I want to help my kids to grow up to be adults who can get back up and try again after having a bad experience and who have the bravery and strength to do emotional work to process difficult stuff. I think Miranda’s journey this week has been a step in building toward that.

Note: This story has been shared with Miranda’s permission.¬†