Uncovering (a Horse Named) Neela

I’m in a hospital bed staring at a piece of paper with a sentence that makes no sense: “Fell off horse Neela who is pregnant by Litrik.” That cursory line is in my husband’s bold print handwriting, and is the second of a dozen answers he wrote down for me because apparently I keep asking the same questions over and over. Because apparently I have a concussion. I have a concussion? (Yes. See #10: “You have a concussion.”) Altogether, the statements summarize what happened rather neatly:

  • Helmet? -Yes
  • Fell off horse Neela who is pregnant by Litrik
  • Helmet not cracked
  • Riding at home in roundpen
  • Drove to hospital with Karen
  • Why ride Neela?–You wanted to
  • Bob & Karen are visiting w/ Matt & Rachel
  • No sulfa
  • Neela has been ridden before
  • You have a concussion
  • You did groundwork
  • Had a CT scan–Ok

Coming around after a concussion is like struggling to wake up after a deep sleep and being told the alarming news that you really weren’t asleep at all, despite the fact you have no memory of what happened. It’s now been two weeks and my only recollection of that entire day is a snapshot of having lunch with our good friends Bob and Karen and their two kids, Matt and Rachel. That evening, I’m told, I went to ride my mare Neela, a 1,500 pound, 8-year-old blue roan Friesian/Quarter Horse cross who spent most of her life as a broodmare before she came to me and so is very green. I had put a couple of rides on her in January and turned her over to Colorado-based natural horsemanship trainer Larry Fleming for 60 days of riding, during which she started to soften and move off smartly when asked. After that Neela was bred to a stunning Friesian stallion named Litrik for a spring 2015 foal before we finally moved her from Colorado to join us at our new farm in Washington state. Six months had passed since she was ridden with any regularity, and now that we were settled into our new home on our farm I was trying to pick up her training again before she advanced too far in her pregnancy. That was the plan, anyway, before that day. The reality was that Neela had other ideas and threw me with such force that our friend’s son remembers seeing my legs fly through the air, and his parents and my husband Matt all turned around when they heard me hit the ground. I was slow to get up, and began to ask what happened. Over and over. Matt, who as a retired park ranger has experience as a medic, started to ask me simple questions: Who is the president? What year is it? What month is it? I didn’t know. I also didn’t know Bob, Karen or their kids, and then I insisted that I had never ridden Neela before. I was shocked she was pregnant. Fast forward to the hospital, where apparently the only thing I could remember is that I’m allergic to sulfa, which I asked the nurses and doctors about, again and again (“Yes, we know you are allergic to sulfa. We’re not giving you any. See #8”.). The CT scans showed I had no bleeding on my brain and no broken tail bone. I was very lucky. And very sore. And very curious as to what the heck had happened. This wasn’t the first time Neela had thrown me, but it was by far the worst. A few weeks prior she threw me three times in a row–bam, bam, bam, the moment my butt hit the saddle. The first time, she spooked and then erupted into bucking from that, so I immediately climbed back on only to be unseated at once as she exploded across the round pen. I caught her, did some groundwork and got back on. Got thrown again. So then I took off her bridle, put her halter back on and spent the next hour doing ground work with her until I was sure she was in a better frame of mind. Then I climbed back on, slowly, carefully, suspended on her side at first as if she were a green colt. I then fully mounted and we walked around the round pen and I called it a day. Since then I had ridden a half-dozen more times and we were making progress with each ride. Or so I thought. This latest agony inside my head and at the base of my spine clearly indicated that I was wrong, wrong, wrong, that Neela had been doing the equine equivalent of white-knuckling it through our rides until she finally exploded with enough force to really hurt me. What was I going to do now? Riding her was out, as my husband, who stalwartly saw me through a rough bout of breast cancer only two years before, made me promise I would not ride Neela again while she was pregnant. He wasn’t sure if raging hormones were the cause, but if they were a factor, it was a sure-fire way to keep me safe for the next eight months. It hurt my heart more than my head to see him sitting in a hospital room chair, again, looking at me with that I’m-worried-sick-but-acting-cheery-for-you smoke screen in his eyes, again, so I agreed. One good friend immediately urged me to sell Neela. I’m not doing that, either, because I’m clinging to the truth of what I knew about my mare before this happened: She’s basically a very sweet horse, and I love her for that. She’s also reluctant to move her feet and lacks confidence, a potentially dangerous combination and an emotional state that I’m now familiar with when it comes to her. Not knowing what I did so wrong that day is incredibly unnerving. We would work through this together, I decided, and do it from the ground. First I would have Neela checked from head to hoof for any physical problems that could have contributed to her blowups. After that, I would enlist the help of Sus Kellogg, a natural horsemanship trainer here in Washington State whose specialties include conscious groundwork, working at liberty, and brideless riding. I will be sharing all of it with you here in the weeks to come as I strive to peel away our layers of fear and create a new relationship with my horse.

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!