today i remember the ride

I pulled out a CD, yeah I said it, a CD, so what. Yes, I’m an old. It was an old Doug Stone CD ” I Thought It Was You.” I literally cannot remember the last time I listened to it, maybe 10 or even 15 years ago. But today I reached for it. I don’t know why. Then I heard “Remember The Ride” and started crying.

I lost my Steve 10 years ago to suicide. It broke me for a very long time and I guess I’m still not whole… or right?… but I’ve been mostly okay for years. Ups and downs, of course, but mostly okay. His birthday’s tomorrow though, so he’s on my mind.

This afternoon I had wanted music while I sorted through my closets, pulling out items I hadn’t worn in years or don’t fit into anymore. And really, how many jeans does one human need? Apparently my answer was 27 pairs Less now. Yay. Anyhoo.

I’d decided on a quiet day because my knee pain is sharp today and going to the barn was out if I’m limping through my own yard. It’s probably the storm that’s coming in, the barometric pressure dropping or some such voodoo magic. I don’t know why damaged bones feel storms rolling in.

I broke my leg , let’s see gosh more than 20 years ago on Thanksgiving Day. Steve was with me. Here’s the story: every year the barn organized a Thanksgiving Day morning trail ride. It was a big deal. That year we had about 35 people and their horses set out on the trail after breakfast of bagels and Bloody Marys. I was riding one of Steve’s young polo prospects, a handsome 4 y.o. OTTB dark bay gelding, as I was in between horses at that time. We split up pretty evenly into two groups about a quarter into the ride, the fast let’s gallop and cross the river and jump logs group yee haw ( lol and HELLno) and us, the we’ll walk/trot/canter while we enjoy the woods and chit chat sensible group.

I was cantering on the trail, followed by my cousin on a gray school horse I think, when I’m told a horse in the group we were passing backed up and kicked out with both barrels. One hoof broke both bones in my lower leg and the second hoof caught my young gelding in the shoulder. Now, according to my cousin and another rider behind her (I have no memory of the actual kick, or the pain of the breaks – trauma brain or something – but the pain came later oh my yes it did), I dropped the reins, leaned over and grabbed my leg and screamed “The fucking horse broke my fucking leg” (I’m a cusser, so no surprise there) over and over while my horse slowed down instead of bolting. I am so very lucky.

Yee haw indeed. This young gelding with a beautiful, quiet soul stopped on his own fairly quickly (I bought him six months later because how could I not? He probably saved my life or at the VERY least saved me from further injury. I sold him later to a friend of a friend with 3 kids who fell in love with him. They moved to North Carolina and she still has him! Well, he might have passed since I last got a picture of him a few years ago with his face gray with age but damn what a good life he had. And now back to my story). That young horse stood still while Steve and Sam, a friend, somehow got me off my horse. I am unsure if I was still swearing at this point. HAHA I kid. Of course I was, just softer.

My memory starts on the ground while one of the riders, who happened to be a doctor, was covering me with someone’s coat. There were lots of people milling around me. Steve was standing over me, his face pale. I kept saying I think I’m okay and he kept repeating no stay down, we’re waiting for the ambulance. I felt embarrassed at the fuss, especially since I was fine (lol i was not fine).

When the medics arrived they started to cut off my beautiful cream colored custom leather chaps (they were so pretty and soft) and heard Steve, who was petting my head like a dog at that point? growl “Hey, there’s a zipper down the back of those” the last word – asshole – was unsaid but definitely implied, as it often was with Steve 🙂

Since we were in the woods the paramedics had to park a distance away and gurney me to the ambulance. No memory of that at all. I remember being in the ambulance with a what looked like a blow up cast around my leg, feeling guilty for putting them out and telling them I’m really fine, so sorry about this inconvenience on Thanksgiving morning. The angry feminist in me now is going STFU IT’S THEIR JOB TO HELP YOU IT’S A BROKEN LEG JFC

I don’t know who ponied my horse back to the barn. I do remember Steve’s solemn face in the hospital when the ortho doc said surgery (meaning opening up my kneecap to slide a long pin INSIDE THE BONE to line up the pieces and anchor it with screws at my ankle and knee) was the best option since it was an open fracture. Yeah, the tibia apparently popped out and then back in when the hoof struck my leg. I still have a zigzag lightning scar there. Oh also to this day when I flex my foot the muscles above and below the scar bulge out because the fascia covering the muscle in the shin was broken with the horse kick. So there’s that. Happy Thanksgiving!

Jump ahead eleven months to October. It’s Steve’s birthday. The day is cool and clear. I’d finished my second surgery on that leg about four months earlier and was just back to riding again but still hadn’t been on trail since that Thanksgiving Day. Steve wants to go on a trail ride with me for his birthday. My beautiful souled gelding was being ridden by that friend of a friend so I have to ride one of his horses. He tells me to ride Seth, one of his polo ponies who’d JUST BLOWN THROUGH THE BRIDLE LAST SUNDAY AT THE GAME.

For non horse folk, that’s when a horse, usually at high speed, (which polo definitely is) is past the point of listening to you, its rider. It is done. It will not turn, it will not stop, until, in this case last Sunday, he was next to the horse trailer. Seth was D-O-N-E. DONE.

“Trust me,” he says.

So this is the horse he wants to me ride. What?! I usually trust Steve’s judgment but I’m also irked because I’m scared. Fine. I tack up Seth who is fine, btw. I throw a leg over at the mounting block and he’s still fine. Steve is watching me closely, a little smile on his face. It’s my first trail ride in a long time and I’m on a horse who’d JUST BLOWN THROUGH HIS BRIDLE. My heart is pounding, I tell myself I’ll be fine. I breathe slowly and hope Seth doesn’t get nervous because I am. Seth is fine, minimal jigging, no head tossing. Steve and I ride mostly in silence.

His dog is ahead of us, sniffing, running back and forth. I’m slowly adjusting and relaxing with movement of the horse, the familiar, comfortable sounds of even hoof beats striking the ground amid the birds singing and the soft breeze, and just…taking in this gorgeous day. Steve guides us through a wide path filled with a riot of yellows and reds of the leaves and blue sky ahead of us. In the clearing there are at least a hundred geese gathered in a small green field in front of us. It’s beautiful… until the dog promptly chases them into flight.

It was astonishingly loud, geese honking and the literal whooshing and flapping noise of hundreds of wings as the flock lifts into the air and the dog barking as he runs back and forth. My heart feels like it stopped and I”m ice cold. I shorten my reins, drop my heels, steady my seat because I was sure Seth would bolt and then somehow my leg would be…broken again? or the pain would return? Idk really but Seth does not bolt. The horses watch with interest but no fear. Seth flicks an ear back at me like what? I glance over at Steve who is watching me.

“Breathe, ” he says.

Then I really was fine. Well, it was the start of fine anyway. Steve smiled as he guided his mare closer to me and reached for my hand. We watched the last of the geese disappear over the trees, holding hands like teenagers. I wish I could write we rode home into the sunset but no, Steve said something gross about the geese poo that made me laugh.

I was better than fine.

I’d gotten a piece of myself back that day.

It was a wonderful ride and wonderful day and is a treasured memory for me today. On the birthday of the man I loved, who loved me, when he knew I’d needed a nudge. When he knew the horse would be fine. When he knew that life is short and sometimes you just need to trust and take a ride.

So that’s the story of why the song “Remember the Ride” spun me into an unexpected crying jag, but the cathartic kind where you feel tired but better afterward. Steve was my wild one. I will always remember the ride. Sometimes I’ll cry. Sometimes I’ll smile.

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