If Adversity Builds Character, I Have Plenty

by Darice Whyte

A year ago my friend Wendy and I were euphoric that we had managed to complete the Tevis Cup ride on our mares Autumn and Tia. We hugged, we cried, we laughed, and then lay on the ground looking up at the sky as dawn started breaking through. With the dust from the trail still on us, we immediately started to plan our next big ride, which we thought would be Big Horn in 2017.

Well, plans don’t always go the way you expect them to. About six weeks after Tevis, Autumn was gone. She made it through the mountains of California only to slip and fall on the flat prairie pasture in her own backyard. She broke a leg and there was no fixing it. 

Wendy and I have ridden endurance rides together for years, so Autumn’s death affected me as well. Our horses worked really well together and were well matched. It’s much more fun to share these experiences and have someone who will pick you up and put you back on your horse if need be. I call her my tall (she’s close to six feet) to my small (I’m not even remotely close to six feet except in my own mind). She doesn’t have another 100-mile horse and it will be a few years before she does. 

So a plot change was called for. My friend Dianne, who crewed for me at Tevis, and I thought we would go to the endurance ride at Fort Howes, Montana. Their ride was on my bucket list, and as they offer several different ride lengths, there would be something suited to her horse and mine. OK, so new plan formed. Well not so fast, Khemosabi! 

In May, I was out riding Tia with a friend at our local park. We were scouting out trails for an upcoming endurance ride. We have one lovely loop that leads to a rather nasty bog. The bog goes for quite a distance, and I have been silly enough to tackle it several times (as once just wasn’t enough for me). I am fully aware that this isn’t something you want to tackle on a horse in an endurance ride. As we wandered around in the bush looking for another route we decided that the trail just wasn’t viable. We turned around to head back when disaster struck! As Tia stepped over a tree she hit a boggy spot and sunk. She lunged forward to get out of the bog and somehow managed to impale herself on a tree branch. The branch went about eight inches into her upper leg then into her chest area. She was bleeding profusely and was immediately lame. We were miles away from the trailer so I called my husband to come get us. My friend bravely gave up her shirt to try to stem the bleeding and then went to stand on the side of a busy highway in her sports bra so my husband could find us. Now that is giving the shirt off your back!

The vet came to see her but it was obvious that Tia had a lengthy recovery ahead of her. Fort Howes wasn’t in the cards for her this year. 

Since I have other riding horses I thought it would be a good time to see what one of them could do. Three days later I was out riding with friends when the next fiasco occurred. We were traveling down a narrow trail when my horse got just a bit too close to a tree. I put my hand out to push her away from the tree so my knee wouldn’t be one with the tree. I’ve done this hundreds of times I’m sure. Well not today. I heard my wrist snap as did the gal in front of me. 

I’d like to think I don’t have a potty mouth, but the blue words that came streaming out of my mouth suggested otherwise. Of course, once again, we were several miles away from the trailers. One of the gals was riding with a tensor bandage on her ankle so we used that to wrap my arm with my coat acting as a sling. As I headed back to the trailer I couldn’t help but think of the gal who completed Tevis last year with a broken arm. I was happy just to get back to my trailer, which was only a couple of miles away. I couldn’t imagine doing what she did, ever!

Another trip to the hospital and another cast on my arm. I’m not a crier but when my husband picked me up I started to cry. Ride season was just over a week away and it didn’t look like I’d be a part of it. My husband is a wise man. When I started to cry he passed me an Oh Henry!, my favorite chocolate bar. One can’t cry and eat a chocolate bar at the same time. All was right with the world. 

I didn’t get to ride that first ride, as I could barely hold my camera let alone hold back my young horse. I found another sucker, I mean rider, who took her out that day for me while I took pictures of the event. 

When I went back to the doctor for my cast change, I asked him about riding, and he said sure. My friends were floored that he would agree to that, however, I think he thought I meant the plastic horse in front of Kmart. 

Tia is slowly getting better and may never fully recover, but time will tell. After consulting with vets, I recently took her to one of our local endurance rides. We only did 15 miles but there was no shortage of energy, competitiveness, or her diva personality! The three vets agreed that her movement was much better after the exercise than her earlier trot-out. I guess all that cantering on the spot and leaping into the air helped. 

I’ve read that adversity builds character. I’m pretty sure I have plenty of character now, so I think I’m good for a while! 

Plans can change and there are always new trails to travel. As long as there is ice cream at the end of a hot ride, life is good.