Getting back on the horse is easier said than done in polo and life

The writer learns what getting back on the horse really means after taking a fall during a polo lesson. Photo: Polo players-Phil Hospod

NEW YORK, June 27, 2013 — Getting back on the horse is an enduring cliché that is applicable to so many things in life, whether it is a living, breathing horse or a figurative hurdle that you just cannot seem to tame. When there is an actual horse involved, however, you learn to fully appreciate what a challenge getting back on can be.

After two years of polo lessons I fell off my horse. Suddenly, an old cliché had real-world meaning.

I started riding horses when I was a little girl. I come from a long line of riders going back to my great-grandfather, a traveling shoe salesman who rode a donkey from Cincinnati through the hills of Kentucky. His son, my grandfather, was a sergeant on horseback in World War I. He taught his sons — my dad and uncle — to ride.

My dad used to joke that his first car was actually a horse named Blackie. He was expert at braiding my sister’s and my hair, a skill he learned from keeping horses as a child. His brother, an expert horseman and rodeo rider, had a cattle ranch in North Florida. Every time I visited, my uncle would plunk me on a sweet horse named Pokey. I’d ride with my cousins all over the ranch’s seemingly endless acres on a Western saddle. I loved it.

So my dad signed me up for riding lessons, where I learned dressage and show jumping in an English saddle. I hated dressage but loved jumping. Clearing higher and harder obstacles was thrilling.

But that’s also when I learned our trusty cliché. During the time I took lessons, I fell twice: once when I lost my stirrup after being sloppy and once when my horse stopped short as I was prepping for a jump. I went flying over the jump. My horse did not.

I was eight or nine years old at the time and was little more than stunned. I got up, completely uninjured, brushed the dirt off of me and climbed back on my horse without thinking any more about it.

Eventually, I gave up riding. But I came back to the sport in 2011 after watching a polo match at the Newport International Polo Series in Rhode Island. Polo is like every other riding discipline: eventually, you might fall. I’ve even seen it happen to pros in matches.

Players from Newport (red) and Far Reach (blue) race to the ball at a game in Portsmouth, R.I. (Photo: Phil Hospod)

And after two years of lessons, it finally happened to me.

In the middle of scrimmage, my horse got excited and set off into a gallop. It caught me off guard. I tried reining her in — another horse idiom we use colloquially but rarely literally — but she fought me. Just as I finally got her to start slowing down, I lost control and fell.

Once I realized what was happening, I tried to fall as smoothly as possible. I got my feet clear of the stirrups; I let go of the reins and rolled off the horse, tucking my arms into my chest. I hit the rump of another horse on the way down and finally landed on the grass. My left hip hit first, then my left shoulder, then my head. My eyes instinctively closed. I heard the crunch of my helmet and was very glad to be wearing one.

The impact knocked the wind out of me. The instructor got off his horse and came to check me. I tried to get up right away. But he made me lie there to make sure nothing was seriously injured. Nothing was. My hip, shoulder, and neck hurt but I could still walk and move fine.

Players from Newport (red) and Far Reach (blue) jockey for the ball at a polo match in Portsmouth, R.I. (Photo: Phil Hospod)

For a moment, I debated walking off the field right then and there. My hip and neck hurt badly enough that it might have been the wiser thing to do. Certainly, no one would have faulted me.

But, in my mind, there was one thing I had to do, even if for just a few minutes.

I got right back on the horse.

Then I proceeded to score two goals to help my team win the scrimmage. They were the proudest goals of my life.

Getting back on the horse is a cliché in life for a reason. Yet I knew if I didn’t get back on the horse right then and there, my last memory of riding would have been falling. It could have easily become a mental block the next time I wanted to ride. There’s also the chance that if I didn’t get back on at that moment, I may have never ridden again or talked myself out of polo wholesale. My confidence would have been shaken. I would have become the woman who fell and didn’t get back up.

A player from Far Reach handles the ball at a polo match in Portsmouth, R.I. at the Newport Polo Club. (Photo: Phil Hospod)

But instead, I think of those goals. I don’t score often. In fact, I score rarely. Getting back on the horse restored my confidence. It actually made me a better player — on offense and defense.

That’s why the cliché “getting back on the horse” has been so enduring. If you fall, you’ve got to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and continue right where you left off.

It’s as true anywhere else in life as it is in polo.

I know that I was lucky to have such a clean fall. It could have been ugly. But it reminds me that life is short and all we can do is live life to the fullest.

And sometimes that means getting back on the horse that threw you.

Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runners’ show about running. She has finished six marathons, two triathlons and is learning to play polo and sail. Follow Karla at RunKarlaRun.com, The Washington Times Communities, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.


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Karla Bruning

Karla Bruning is the host of On The Run, a TV and web show from New York Road Runners. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, American Athlete Magazine, RunnersWorld.com, Active.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Orlando Sentinel, and two dozen other outlets including ESPN2, Universal Sports and ABC in New York. She and her work have also received mentions from The New York Times, Runner's World, Fox Sports, Canadian Running, The Baltimore Sun, and PBS among others. She also covered the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver for The Washington Times.

 

A former Newsweek reporter, Karla has won a Fulbright scholarship for American journalists and reporting grants from the Scripps Howard, Carnegie and Knight Foundations. Karla holds degrees from Amherst College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

 

When not pounding the pavement as a reporter, Karla is pounding the pavement as a runner. She has completed seven marathons, four triathlons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. She is a writer, editor, and on-camera reporter dedicated to covering the sport of running from a runner’s perspective. Find Karla on RunKarlaRun.com, Twitter@KBruning, Facebook and Google+.

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