All I want for Christmas... is what I had in October - Delilah S. Dawson

A funny and horrible thing happened on my birthday, which was October 21.

I was wearing my new boots and my favorite Batman sweatshirt, heading to the barn for a trail ride on my horse. And then something went wrong while I was mounting, and for the first time in my life, I fell off a horse. And I landed on my back. Hard.

They say that when you fall off, you should get back in the saddle, but that's assuming that you can move. The first thing I did was lie on the ground and shout, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"-- sarcastically, of course. The second thing I did was wiggle my fingers and toes and make sure that beyond the pain, I wasn't paralyzed. The third thing I did was demand that my husband avoid potholes while driving me to the hospital.

The X-ray showed that I had broken my back, and I had to put on an ugly, uncomfortable, rigid brace to hold my spine in the correct alignment during waking hours. It hit my gag reflex and belly at the same time, all while destroying my wardrobe.

For the last six weeks, I've been broken, in pain, and wearing cyborg armor. I couldn't shave my legs, couldn't hug my dog or bend over to pick up that Q-tip I dropped two weeks ago. And I kept telling myself that I should be grateful-- it could've been A LOT worse.

But what they don't tell you about trauma is that... it's traumatic. After they took the X-ray, I was trying to put on my bra, and... I couldn't. I started shaking and crying uncontrollably. I did some Googling to see what was wrong with me, and it turns out that it's totally normal to tremble after an injury or scare, as the adrenaline ebbs. I learned that the chemical makeup of tears actually helps move stress out of the body. And I learned that even people who think they're strong have moments when they feel weak and hopeless.

I bought my horse, Polly, two years ago. She was my Christmas present, and she represented every Christmas of my childhood, when I'd dreamed of having a pony of my own. For a while, during my recovery, I assumed that I would have to sell her. That she was just too dangerous. That I needed a shorter or more placid horse, or that I would never ride again.

And then, a funny thing happened. I realized that I was letting fear steer me. I'd been thinking about the accident as something that happened to me instead of something that happened... because of me. Because I hadn't put in the time working with an anxious horse with a bad history. Once I took control of the situation, I realized that it was in my power to take back my relationship with my horse. This week, Polly and I started working with a trainer to help us become better partners, and the response I've seen in just a few days of ground work is amazing.

My holiday wish was twofold: I wanted to get out of that stupid back brace, and I wanted to regain my relationship with Polly. This week, I got both things, plus a third: the knowledge that when you stop letting fear hold the reins, you get to decide how things are going to be. There's a natural cycle of healing, physical and emotional, and if you keep thinking positive and reaching out for help when you feel weak or scared, you're going to come out the other side. You can regain what you lost before your accident-- and sometimes even exceed it.

Next up: Getting back in the saddle!

When my physical therapist says it's okay, of course.

Me and Polly before the fall.
Always wear your helmet, kids!


  1. Thank you for turning a negative experience into a positive insight. And I hope you are completely healed soon.

  2. Delilah, this post is amazing. Truly. I was hit by a car (as a pedestrian) two years ago, and so much of what you wrote resonated for me. You are one tough, awesome, smart cookie. Happy holidays!

  3. So glad you and Polly are working it out! Heal quickly.

  4. Great post, Delilah. Thanks for the inspiration. Best wishes during the holidays and with your renewed connection to Polly.

  5. I hope you recover completely - both the physical and the mental. I broke my back going off a horse in 1997, a lumbar fracture. I now train horses and compete in 50 mile endurance rides, but I completely understand needing to rebuild the trust and relationship with your horse. Sounds like you're doing all the right things!

  6. What a cool post. Sending you good healing vibes...

  7. I meant to comment on this last week, but I'm so sorry you went through that! And sometimes people do forget that it's not just the physical recovery, but that the trauma sticks for a while. I'm glad you're doing better.

  8. This is an incredible post. I am so happy you are recovering physically and especially that you and Polly are working through this to build a stronger and better connection. As others have said, that mental trauma post accident is very real and a huge part of the healing process. May your continued recovery be swift!


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