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The Effect of Grief: Getting Back in the Saddle

It's typical to hear people talk about getting back in the saddle after a fall. It's best to get right back up, brush yourself off, and hop back on. After all, the longer you wait, the more time you give yourself to freak out, right? That wait period can cause some people to develop fear, anxiety and apprehension about getting back on the horse. However, it's not just a fall that can throw you off your riding game. Sadness can too.

 

As a farm kid, I experienced the death of animals from a very young age, but loss is difficult no matter how many times you experience it. This is especially true when it's an animal you have an emotional attachment to.

 

When I was a kid, we had only two “natural” horse deaths in my lifetime (I use quotes because the deaths were not of natural causes as one may expect. We actually had two horses struck by lightning within a few weeks of each other. In the decades my family had owned the farm, nothing like that had ever occurred, and they were extremely tragic losses for us). I was around for many euthanizations, but I was never up close and personal with them. If goodbyes were to be said, I did it beforehand and was not present for the end. Not this time.

 

On May 31, 2024 I experienced my first horse loss in many years. He didn't belong to me. He was a leased horse, but I had ridden and loved him for 3 years. I never went to his vet appointments prior to this day, but this time was different. I wasn't totally sure what the outcome would be, and I was afraid of missing my chance to say goodbye.

 

The decision was made to have him put down that day. Even when it is expected, you know it is the best option, the only option, or it’s otherwise out of your control, it doesn’t make the heartbreak any less tolerable. I cried a lot that day.

 

I am glad I was able to be there. After lugging me around for three years, he deserved to have me be there for him in the end. Even knowing it likely meant little to him in that moment, the least I could do was to be there for him, thank him and say goodbye.

 

I didn't get back on a horse until about a month after his passing. I told myself over and over that I needed to ride, but when the time came, I made up excuses not to. I was too tired, I needed to spend time with my dog, there was too much stuff to do around the house, etc. While those things were all true, I was indeed making excuses. No matter how busy I was, I always made time to ride when I wanted to because it is something I love.


I found that the more days that passed, the less I felt like riding. I knew I should, that it’s therapeutic, that I would feel better, that I just needed to “get back in the saddle”, yet the motivation was not there. Part of me missed riding, even for that short period of time, yet there was a part of me that felt that to ride so soon was a betrayal of the relationship I had with him.

 

I knew if I continued to push it off, it could be months before I got on another horse, and I would continue to make excuses. The truth is that I just needed to get back in the saddle as soon as possible because being with horses is what brings me joy.

 

I am so grateful for the three years I had with him. Like the horses I have loved and lost before, I will always remember him. I will think of him often, treasure the memories, and thank him for making me a better horsewoman.

 

The grief is still there, but it’s time for me to get back in the saddle.

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