OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

In the saddle again

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Shirley Johnson

The accident

I was injured in a car accident in 1980, because I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, my back was broken at T7. When that happened I thought my life was over, I’d never enjoy the things I loved. I was a bit of a wild child, loved adventure. I’d get a lot of that wild feeling while riding horseback as a young woman. Galloping bareback along the green pastured path with the wind in our manes. I always thought I must have been a horse reincarnate.

Getting back into it

The first time I rode again after the accident, it was pretty much a pony ride. I was lifted to the saddle, then led around the pen; I wanted to cry. Years went by before I heard of a “special” riding program near me; I started taking lessons. We would go for trail rides and to be out and off the pavement was invigorating. I sat tall in my saddle feeling the footsteps beneath me navigate the ruts and dirt. There is no describing the long lost feeling of walking, riding horseback is the next best thing.

I need to ride

Since then the road has been a slow but progressive one. I have tried different programs and learned so much from everyone. There have been favorite horses that passed away. My enthusiasm and dedication have never waned. Once when I fell off and it scared the heck out me, I remember driving home crying. I thought to myself, “What am I doing? I can’t even stand up and I want to ride horses? It is so dangerous!” My second thought was, “It all boils down to this: my world without a horse in it, is very small.” That day I made the commitment that even though it is a dangerous sport I need to ride. Thankfully therapeutic riding centers have my safety foremost. Sometimes I get agitated because of the safety measures, but at the end of the day I understand.

Taking it to the next level

No matter what the weather was outside, I was content to just ride around the arena, walking and stopping, and walking again. I enjoyed the companionship of the horse while the walking gently exercised my whole body. About five years ago I was inspired (pushed) by my riding instructor to take my riding to the next level. I thought she was crazy until I saw our US Paralympic equestrian team. Something inside me snapped I wanted to be part of that! Not too long after I flew down to Del Mar to watch the USDF National competitions. There I met coaches and riders who were getting ready for the 2012 Paralympics in London. I still wanted to learn more so I volunteered for the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. I was in horsemanship heaven!

Eyes on the prize

Not too long ago, I was awarded a therapeutic saddle by the Challenged Athletes Foundation. My saddle that is made by only one company in Argentina has all the aides I need to ride well. The saddle is modified with a sturdy handle bar, leg straps, stirrup leather positioning straps, and a padded seat. After years of precarious balancing while turning and maneuvering, this saddle has enabled me to ride to the best of my ability. I still have a long way to go, but I still keep my eyes on the prize.

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