Not like *cough cough* I’ve got a cold sick. The kind of sick you can’t see. And you don’t always tell people about because you don’t want their pity. The kind of sick you tell those close to you about so they are informed and pretend (most of the time) that it’s not a big deal. This is the story of one small part of my illness.
In April of 2014, I was diagnosed with what would be my third round of blood clots and the second time to lodge into my lungs. As I tearfully delivered the news to my boyfriend and partner of 16 years all I could think of were three words:
I have horses.
See, this wasn’t my first rodeo with blood clots. The first set I got at age 29. I did the routine of blood thinners and Coumadin clinics and constant blood tests and the long list of “no” for a year. At the time, I wasn’t riding. While inconvenient, it wasn’t life-altering.
Then I decided to start to ride again and, after a failed attempt at a retrain, I bought myself an amazing animal named Chance. Chance is everything to me. If I could have only one luxury item in my life, I’d drive a beater and live in a studio apartment. Chance is the constant in my life. He’s my best friend, my partner in crime, my heart, and the one thing in life that can always make me happy just with a swivel of his big ears.
However, one thing Chance is constantly is predictably unpredictable.
He’s an OTTB. He’s a red head. And he’s got big opinions. He has an attitude. He knows he’s talented and special and he wants to be sure you know he’s talented and special.
Chance’s usual show of how amazing he is (and how un-amazing you are) is to buck you off and either stand over you while you mull over your quick trip to the dirt or stand in a corner while waiting for you to retrieve him. Needless to say, on blood thinners this little act wouldn’t go over so well. What’s more, due to his large personality and desire to have no other human than me, Chance is all but unsellable.
So after my diagnosis I was directed to go to the emergency room immediately. And again, as I am familiar with the program, I knew I’d spend two days sitting in a hospital room to think things over. My doctors had told me that if I had another round, I would undoubtedly on thinners the rest of my life and so I knew my fate.
I was assigned a lovely doctor named Dr. Flippo, who I now affectionately call Dr. Flippo-out because everything stresses that poor woman out. When I was admitted to the hospital I was given a long battery of tests and she was the person who got to level the heavy news on me.
I had a disease called Lupus B Antiphosolipid Antibodies syndrome (they call it LAAS). The long and the short of all of that is that my blood cells are convinced other blood cells are intruders so they flip themselves inside out, clump together, and form clots. These clots, so far (thankfully), have traveled only to my lungs. The prognosis remains the same. Blood thinners forever.
Blood thinners forever. With horses.
So while I was regulated to the ICU (which, for those of us law abiding citizens, I akin it to what prison must feel like except the food is better), I had plenty of time to think about my future as a rider. What now? I was just getting past a long stretch of being terrified to jump and now this. What a setback huh?
I was scared to jump because I was scared I’d miss and die. Well, now I really could miss and die. Especially if Chance pulled a “Chance” and dumped me.
I was released from the hospital on a Wednesday.
I was riding that Friday.
I was on Lovenox injections twice per day in my belly. That, I might add, was administered by yours truly. I rode with a friend who is familiar with me and my horse. She’s also familiar with my condition from an earlier round of thinners. I promised to take it easy (after all, I still had clots not-so-well adhered to my lungs). We walked. We trotted. We cantered. My friend made some faces at me but kept quiet. It’s when we started to pop over little fences that she interceded.
It was never up for debate for me to stop riding. What was up for debate was my jumping Chance. Chance lives for a few things in this life. His twice daily naps with his girlfriend Storm. Carrots. Stud Muffins and Nicker Makers. And jumping.
He doesn’t care if it’s 18” or 4’ (but he’d prefer the 4’) he just wants to JUMP. I could hear my trainer Jeff White in my head, “Amanda, you either have to get over this fear of jumping or you have to sell this horse. You can’t not jump him.” So. We keep jumping.
To make others happy (and myself for a bit) I bought an eventing vest. I wore it for a few months religiously each time I rode. As time wore on it found its way into my blanket trunk, and then its way into the rafters.
So the question becomes how to I manage what I live with now as it relates to being a rider?
I do a few things. The most important factor is that I tell everyone who will be around me that I have the condition and that on the off-chance that I do come off (and, God forbid, am rendered unconscious) that they tell the 911 operator and anyone else who arrives at the scene that I’m on blood thinners for a clotting disease.
At horse shows (which I rarely attend), I will find the medic and let them know I am on thinners. I wear my bracelet at those events just because you can’t expect the medic to remember another rider who looks just like the last in a white shirt and brown breeches. I test before I ride at shows just to make sure my blood is within range.
Since my diagnosis I have taken on a young prospect for sale for a friend that found a new owner quickly. Spurred on by that, I have taken on another young horse. I now have two red headed OTTBs with large and quirky personalities.
Lovingly named Junior, he has been one of the easiest and quietest horses I’ve ever worked with. He shows great potential to be either a nice derby horse or an eventer. If he chooses eventing, he’ll need a new mom because at some point I have to negate my risks and that’s where I stop. I wouldn’t mind schooling cross country but I’m not changing from being a hunter rider. I’m plenty happy sitting in two-point and letting Chance or Junior find the five and if they don’t? Cool, that jump is going to fall!
I do get a lot of questions about it. The most-asked question is how do I find the courage to keep riding? I don’t really see it as courage. Riding is a part of me. This is just something I live with and continue to move forward with. I can’t imagine not riding and even more so than that, I can’t imagine a life without Chance in it. I couldn’t bear to even think of trying to sell him off to someone else.
You can’t let one problem stop you from doing what you love.
About the Author
Amanda Hensley is a life long rider, who has done everything from breed related shows (Buckskins/AQHA/Arab) to hunters.