Monday, August 19, 2013

Lemons to Lemonade

Life chucked a chunk of lemon at me in Ibiza last week while I was enjoying a vacation with my family. There we were, all having a great time, being absolute blobs by the pool, when I felt a nagging need to use the bathroom. “Hmm, shall I go to my room, or shall I just go to the bathrooms close to the pool?”, I wondered. I don’t know why, but instinct was telling me to go to my room, whereas common sense was rolling it’s eyes, arguing, “for goodness sake, woman, just go to the bathrooms close by then get back to your deck chair presto to maximize your tan.” My instinct caved, off I went, and on the way back my right ankle gave way on one of the stone steps leading back to the pool area. I heard a horrible tearing sound, and down I went. I sent an ocular SOS to the chic Spanish lady tanning in the deck chair at the bottom of the steps , but she only raised a skinny eyebrow, said “todo bien?” and returned to the arduous task of tan maximization. I sat on the step, rubbing my ankle, cursing common sense, knowing full well that nothing was “bien” at all. I also wondered why on earth this stupid woman wasn’t jumping up to help me. I mean, seriously, if you saw someone fall and hurt themself, wouldn’t you launch into Samaritan mode?

So I sent her ugly, sunburny thoughts and waved SOS signals towards my husband and daughter who hadn’t seen what had happened and just thought I was taking a quick rest on the stone steps, admiring the view. As the headed towards me with quizzical looks, I managed to hobble over to the pool, sat down and dunked my legs in the coolish water, hoping for a miracle. But we were in Ibiza, not Lourdes, and the only miracle I was granted was to not be stung by any of the wasps buzzing around me. My daughter and husband hauled me to my deckchair, fetched iced from the bar, and swathed my ankle in a freezing napkin.  Minutes later, I was semi-carried down to my room where I lay down on the bed. I couldn’t put my foot down, my ankle was throbbing and my mood darkening. The hotel called a doctor who arrived within an hour and confirmed my thoughts: a torn ligament. Crapalucci.

My right ankle is my weak point. I broke my right leg in two places sledging about twelve years ago, had titanium rods inserted, which were removed when the bones had set. A few years later I managed to miss the two bottom steps of the staircase in my house while carrying the laundry basket, went flying, tore the ligaments in the same ankle, and was on crutches for quite a while. I’ve had trouble with this ankle ever since, and walk like a little old lady whenever I’m on uneven ground.

What bothers me about this injury is that I was being careful on those pretty old stone steps. Of course, what bothers me even more is that I can’t ride for a couple of weeks. I can’t drive, either, which brings me to the lemonade-ish, silver lining-ish side of this mundane tale.

My horse, Qrac, has been stabled over 60 kms from my house for close to two years now. It may not be jaw-droppingly, forehead slappingly far by American terms, but by diminutory Swiss terms it may as well be New York to San Francisco. Ok, so I’m exaggerating, but it’s a very long way; the commute taking close to two hours, round trip. I could have been putting those hours to better use, but it was what it was; I’ve really enjoyed riding there, and have met some wonderful people.

However, I always knew it couldn’t go on forever, and have been on the lookout for a place closer to home for Qrac since day one. There have been plans to improve the stables in my village for years, but the high-end project had been on stand-by for age. I’d put myself on the waiting list yonks ago but it seemed nothing was moving. And then just before we went to Ibiza, my daughter and I drove by and noticed some building, so we pulled in and went to inquire. The new installations were due to be finished by December! There would be a huge indoor school, a walker, a gallop track, huge boxes with terraces, and much, much more! “Can I please have one?” I begged the owner. The response was positive but slightly vague; she told me she’d give me a call in the next few weeks. I fantasized about falling out of bed, rolling over, and climbing onto Qrac. That’s how close this place is. Well, almost.

When I was wheelchaired out of the plane returning from Ibiza my mind was filled with what-to-do about Qrac scenarios. My daughter is here on holiday from university; she’s a lovely rider but hasn’t ridden in three years since we retired her schoolmaster, Kwintus. I can’t afford to have my trainer ride him four or five times a week, and don’t want multiple people riding him. I didn’t know how long I’d be unable to drive or ride, and didn’t want to burden my daughter with the long shlep up to the stables multiple times a week. I considered sending Qrac back to the south of France for training for two months where I spent eleven incredible days in July (see my previous blog, “Massa Magic”), but the idea of not being able to see him for that long bothered me. Besides, what if I felt well enough to ride again in a week or two? My mind whirled, wondering what to do for the best. Maybe it would be best to send him to the south of France for training after all…

And then on Thursday morning, right after my first physio session, I got a text message from the owner of the stables in my village, confirming I had a place for Qrac in my village in December. “I’ll call you at 1.30 to discuss the details,” she said. Yay, I thought! At 1.30, when she called me, we talked about all kinds of things (I’ve known her for ages), including my current ligament problem, and during the conversation I randomly asked whether she might have a space for Qrac before December. And she did. She had one immediately. I told her to give me a day or two to think about it (I was actually waiting to hear whether Massa could take him or not), only to call her back just a couple of hours later to tell her I’d be delighted to bring Qrac to her place the following afternoon if it was ok with her. “Great! See you then”, she replied.

Of course I spent the rest of the day freaking out, second guessing myself, and I didn’t get much sleep that night. Would it have been better to send him down to Massa for training? On one level it would; I know he’d have progressed beyond what I could possibly have accomplished with him had I not been injured. But I wouldn’t see him for weeks…which sounds soppy, but I guess I’m a soppy lady. Also, maybe I really will be able to ride again sooner than I think. And he’d be just around the corner. And the decision had been made, and arrangements made, so best to just breathe into it and go with the flow.

So the following day my daughter, her boyfriend and I drove up to the faraway stables, loaded up the car and the trailer with all my stuff (so much stuff!!), loaded Qrac and drove him to his new home. He didn’t seem at all stressed out by the move, and the following morning was totally zen when he was put out in one of the paddocks alongside other horses to graze.  He was also very sweet with my daughter when she rode him in the arena yesterday afternoon and only spooked once when a huge bus rumbled by. Amazing, considering the tricks he’s pulled on me in arenas he’s not familiar with. Maybe he knows I live close-by!

The next few months will be a little more rustic than what my horse and I have been used to in the past few years, but by mid-November, early December the new indoor should be up, and new stables assembled, and we’ll be living in the lap of equestrian luxury again. But the biggest luxury for me is to know that instead of planning my day around my horse, I’ll be able to be far more spontaneous, with time to do other things I’ve wanted to do for ages but have had to sacrifice because of the time it took me to commute. So even though I can’t ride right now, injuring myself has changed a big part of my life for the better.

What sort of life-changing lemons have been thrown at you, equestrianly (hey, new word!) speaking? And did your lemons turn into lemonade?


Promise said...

I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason...I can't help but think if you hadn't hurt your ankle again, things wouldn't have fallen into place so quickly for a stall closer to home.

Still, I'm so sorry to hear about your injury! Ouch! I hope you heal quickly and roll right from bed to the saddle in no time!

FD said...

Ankles bah. I feel your pain, literally (in the original use of the word, not the new, hyperbolic, sense). I broke mine as a preteen and it's never been right since - I've gone over on it so many times that the ligaments are like over stretched elastic. I find I recover faster now though, which is wierd. I'd've thought damage would be cumulative like that, but apparently not.

My big lemons to lemonade moment is something I'm only just now really getting the perspective on to see it that way. About 7 years ago, I had a (second) career ending shoulder injury, having 'somewhat miraculously' in the words of the specialist, mostly recovered from the first. I trucked on for a while, in constant pain and limited functionality, before admitting defeat. As I've put it in the past, I went 'cold turkey' from horses and neither rode or touched or read about them for maybe 3 years. I thought I was 'moving on and creating a new life' but in retrospect, I was actually grieving the life I'd lost.
In even deeper retrospective clarity, in some ways the accident did me a favour - when I ride now it is a source of joy and enjoyable intellectual puzzles, in a way that I was losing touch with in those final years as a trainer. Basically, I was unbenkownst to myself, hovering on the edge of burnout anyway, and but for the grace of the forced break, I don't think I'd have recognised it till I was really losing the plot.

So it was bitter, but now I have a more financially stable, intellectually stimulating career and the lemonade is all the sweeter for it.

Francesca Prescott said...

Thanks, Promise. I know I wouldn't have got a stall closer to home if this hadn't happened; I'd just have kept on driving all the way to the other place until December. It would have been nice to be able to go straight into a finished installation as there is all kinds of work going on there, with machinery clanking around, and big metal elements being drilled and dropped and set up, so it doesn't make for a very chilled environment, but I guess the upside of this is that my horse will hopefully become totally acclimatised to noises and machinery!

Francesca Prescott said...

FD: Gosh, we're like peas in a pod on some level as I also had a very bad shoulder injury about ten years ago now, and stopped riding for seven years because of it. I never thought I'd start again, but my daughter's passion for horses triggered a whole second equestrian life for me when we bought her schoolmaster. I didn't miss riding at all for the years when I wasn't around them, which is so weird as I grew up with nothing but horses on the brain. I started writing more seriously in the years when I didn't ride (I wrote my first novel), and I'm hoping that with the time I'll now gain from not having to drive so far will be put to good use on the page. I think life sometimes throws things at you so you have to stop and reconsider, and then reorganise.

I'm happy to hear you emerged from the lemon-age and that the lemonade is sweeter. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Laura Crum said...

I went through a serious depression when I was forty--which caused me to face up to the fact that I had burnt out on training and competing with horses. As FD said, it was happening--the joy had already gone out of it for me-- but I wouldn't face up to it. The depression forced me to reevaluate my life, and when it left me, I was free to really enjoy my horses in whatever way worked for me--which turned out to be relaxed trail rides and just puttering around horseback with my son. So yeah, the bitter lemons of the depression made the sweet lemonade of my happiest horseback years.

Laura Crum said...

Oh, and heal quickly Cesca--while enjoying Qrac close to your home. I think its a wonderful choice--other than the painful ankle, which wasn't exactly a choice.

Alison said...

Cesca, I am glad you have Qrac nearby! Whoo hoo! Heal well. The best part of your injury was your story telling. I enjoyed every word!

Francesca Prescott said...

Laura, it's amazing how many people suffer from depression. I was impressed by how you wrote about it in one of your recent posts. Thanks for your good wishes, I'm going to buy some ankle boots tomorrow and some mini-chaps, I think they'll probably be easier to put on initially. I really hope I'll be riding again by this coming weekend!!! It's still sore, and I know I have to be careful, but I'm going to see how it goes.


Francesca Prescott said...

Thank you Alison! Glad you enjoyed my post :) I've been sitting in front of the computer all morning, trying to get a new story going. It's been a long time, and I'm a little scared, but it's time to do it. Your comment just gave me a little nudge in the right direction. Thanks!!! xx