The subject of an Amateur’s Corner interview in 2021, Elena Perea is an Emergency Room physician who balances work, family life, and competing in Area II. In her latest blog, she brings us an update on her recovery. If you missed them, catch up on Vols. 1-3: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3
Orthopedist: “Everything looks great. I think you can start doing some things again. What aren’t you doing that you want to do?”
O: What do you mean? You aren’t doing anything dangerous, are you?
O: What are you doing?
Me: Horseback riding.
O: OMG you’re not jumping or anything… ?
Me: Yes, of course I am.
O: Well. I guess we got you this far.
And on that note, at 14 weeks post-op, I was released to do things (with the caveat that I should try not to fall off for six more weeks). Beez went around one more Prelim with a pro (The Fork! No Joke!), then she came home for good. Wresting the horse from my small boy’s hands was more complicated than I anticipated — he convinced me to let him take her to May Daze at the Kentucky Horse Park on Memorial Day weekend. We drove to Lexington and my magical creature very kindly took Teddy around his very first Beginner Novice.
She was perfect all weekend, although a little bit of a fire-breathing dragon in the cross country warmup. At one point, very plaintively, tiny Ted said to me, “You’re sending me out there to die!” But he left the start box, and crossed the finish line in one piece.
It was the next week, when I went for a lesson — maybe my second since I’d been released by the surgeon — that I had the crazy idea of doing an event in June. I talked to JM, and his enthusiastic response was something to the effect of “Hell yes!” … and he suggested I enter at Preliminary. What kind of magical animal goes Beginner Novice with a 65-pound 12-year-old one month, and Preliminary with a questionably sound middle-aged amateur the next? If you guessed a fractious Thoroughbred mare known to take various people out to die, you’d be right.
The spring had been delightfully mild, and I suffer from heat amnesia. Every year, I swear I am not showing in the summer, and every year since I’ve moved to the mountains, I forget I said that because it doesn’t get into the 90s here. In COVID year, I ran FENCE in June -— not so bad, still on the side of a mountain. Last year, it was Champagne Run in Lexington, where it was cool and rainy. This year, I chose the Face of the Sun, AKA Stable View Aiken, because I make very poor life decisions.
So, to review: I hadn’t been to a horse show since October. I had only been back in the saddle (after four months out of it) in a limited way since March. I jumped my first jump in six months in April. And I entered my first Preliminary on the Face of the Sun in June. Cool, cool.
The forecast the week before was for high temperatures in the low 100s; happily, the forecast improved by game time to mid-90s. My very excellent friend Lei Ryan agreed to come be my emotional support human. My friend Kathy Viele let us crash at her wonderful farm, kept me too busy to freak out, and came to cheer. We had our usual stinker of a first dressage test of the year together, so I was not in danger of doing something stupid like trying to get a ribbon.
I had what I can probably safely characterize as the best stadium jumping round of my life, remembering all the pieces and parts, and riding the plan. Heading to the start box, I was oddly calm. I had walked that cross country course no fewer than seven times on my feet (hundreds in my head). Fence 4 was the biggest table on course set at the precipice of doom with a downhill landing. I figured if we jumped that, we were getting around. When we crawled over it, and she still put her ears forward looking for the next, I might actually have squealed.
It was not perfect: I missed the second element of the angled 2-stride brush (I hate those). But SHE was perfect. She jumped every one of those giant tables beautifully. She was fast, and good with her feet, and so honest. I crossed the finish line with the feeling of elation that accompanies a dopamine surge, the one I’d been missing since the fall. This was a goal I’d set for myself 20 years ago, when I started eventing at the beginning of medical school. I have wanted to ride at the Prelim level for that long, and now I’ve done it.
In a way, I’m thankful I got hurt in December. I made lemonade out of a really foul fruit by having really good help from my friends and trainers. I doubt I would have sent her to JM like I was able to do without the injury. I think we would have eventually gotten around Prelim without it, but I know she’s a more confident beast having had the pro ride, and I was more confident riding knowing she had already done it.
This is my last update on this particular injury path. I wasn’t hurt on a horse (remember, I tripped?), but I know a lot of people are. I think I had a pretty similar path to folks, no matter what the injury.
I was mad, and sad, and physically compromised for a long time. I had to ask for help, which is really hard. The time off the horse actually improved some of my bad habits and some of my good instincts. The time with a different rider definitely helped Beez, and won her some new fans.
I don’t look forward to the next time I have to ride this particular roller coaster, but I know I can emerge on the other side of it when my time comes again. Beez has also cemented her place in my family for the rest of her life. My kid has fallen in love, and plans to take her to Young Riders. So, there’s that.