Despite not having ridden for 10 years, stroke victim Linda Durocher enters the show pen one last time. This remarkable story comes with some important life lessons. As I walk to the centre of the pen, friends and other reiners whistle and cheer. I pause to consume the sounds of the arena, breathe deep the smells of the recent drag and watering of the show pen and face the judges with a huge smile. Word has gotten out that I was showing for my last time, so the stands and the rail are filled with onlookers, supporters and friends. I take in a deep breath as I walk through the gate and settle in the middle of the arena. I’m not sure how long I sit there; the mist of joy that surrounds me is softly penetrated by the rustling of the crowd and I am brought back to the present. Am I going to be great? No. Am I going to be competitive? Ah; that would be a ‘Hell No.’ Am I going to savour every moment? You Betcha!
My journey to this point has been fraught with many struggles, mountainous highs and bottomless lows. With a promising training career nipping at my heels, plans had been drawn up for a new training facility and we were ready to break ground in October of 2001. It was an early on a Saturday morning two months prior when my life changed forever in a mere second. I suffered the first of what would be a series of four strokes.
Forever being the optimist I figured a week or so for recovery and I would soon be back in the game. The hard truth set in as time refused to stop. I struggled to sit up or hold up my head, and I had learn to feed myself again. Two months later I leave the rehab facility wheelchair bound with the winds of reality slapping me in the face. Still I believe that I will soon be back in the saddle and promptly hire someone to keep my horses exercised so I can get back to showing as soon as possible.
Now, traverse 10 years and that optimist in me is still alive and kicking. I am now just getting back to sitting on a horse; half assed as it may be, it still feels great. Can I ride anything? No, I can’t. I shouldn’t be on anything other than the horse that sits outside the market begging for coins. If a horse spooks I’m screwed; if a horse bucks I’m screwed, if they bite at a fly I’m screwed. Every second I am mounted it feels like I am free falling through space and my brain is screaming at me that I am falling. I fight the logic my brain is throwing at me but the truth is if I were actually falling I would also be telling my brain that it was lying to me, thus becoming an issue of safety. Do I care? Not really. Do I scare the hell out of everyone who loves me? You bet; but my goal is to get back into the show pen.
In May of this year, my husband passed away suddenly and once again I found myself facing seemingly insurmountable struggles. And it has been a struggle, but if not for the support of friends and family I would have drowned in a sea of despair. The reality of life and death visited my doorstep. I was desperate now to reach my one untouched goal. Life is indeed too short to let your fears stand in the way of triumph.
Keeping plans of such a ridiculous idea to myself, I evaluate horses within my group as to who seems to be the safest prospect for me. I pick out the horse and speak to the owner. The decision is made to ride in the last show of the season. I feel all is right with the world when the owner shows that weekend. Suddenly pigeons fly up from the arena floor hitting the mare and she stumbles and goes down. I have a split second reality check of the dangers for me and quickly dismiss them. I know not showing isn’t an option. My heart is filled with the need to do this one thing and the time is now.
With a total of 40 minutes ride time on the Top Sail Whiz mare and knowing that I have held onto the saddle horn in every stop to prevent a fall, I walk freely and without a second thought to the centre of the pen. Acknowledging that I may be holding the horn in the stops, I tell myself that it’s not about how good the ride is, it’s about taking back control of my life. Knowing that sitting in the centre of the pen would probably be my best manoeuvre I become immersed in the experience. I begin the pattern and am amazed when things click and all the intensity of focus I once had is still alive. It feels like old times, except for where I almost fall off in the left rollback causing the crowd to catch their breath. Ooops, I guess there are still some major balance issues. As I ride around the end of the pen I laughingly say to my friends on the rail, whose faces are filled with horror, ‘It’s a good thing that I had you tighten the cinch!’
As I head to my last stop I am overwhelmed with emotions and the crowd cheers as I complete the pattern. Do I win? No, of course not. But I do mark a 68 by taking the risk of not holding onto the horn in my stops. Not too bad for an old broad that has had four strokes and not sat a horse or shown in 10 years.
Now that I know I still have ‘it’ and control of my life is truly in my hands, will I keep riding? No. It is not worth the risk. I am on blood thinners and riding could easily become a death sentence. I will continue to train and coach from the ground and maybe once in a while mount up to fix something but to ride on a regular basis, no. I have a new way to find joy and live a safe life with horses.
Linda’s Life Lessons
Never let someone set limits for you or put you in a box. Set your own limits and ride out of the box
Conquer each obstacle that life throws at you, don’t just duck
Let each day be its own triumph. Live without the fear of failure and don’t be afraid to open doors that others have closed for you
Have the courage to face life with gusto and live with no regrets. If you fall, get up
More than anything else don’t sweat the small stuff. Your last hoorah may be just around the corner