What is a scar? Marcie Lynn McClure says, “Scars are but evidence of life. Evidence of choices to be learned from…evidence of wounds…wounds inflicted of mistakes…wounds we choose to allow the healing of. We likewise choose to see them, that we may not make the same mistakes again.”

Or paraphrased for purposes of this essay: Stories about scars are evidence of life. Evidence of choices to be learned from…evidence of wounds…wounds inflicted by mistakes…wounds we barely survive. We choose to tell those stories over and over and show off those scars, so we may not make the same mistakes again – hopefully.

I have only two scars on my body and both stories are pretty boring. One is from my hysterectomy incision; I was 35 and it was perhaps, physically, the best day of my womany life. The other is from a rusty barbed wire fence when I was 13 years old. I was camping out wearing sandals at a slumber party, and in the middle of the night I climbed over a barbed wire fence and one of those little sharp barbs stabbed into arch of my foot. As I swung my free leg over the top wire, my anchored foot pivoted against the barb and it sliced into my arch’s tender flesh. Deep enough and long enough for 14 stitches. The town doctor came straight from his bed and met us at his office in the wee hours of the morning. He was wearing pajamas. It was weird.

Anyway, I survived both slices, no worse for the wear, and have the scars to prove it. So while the stories of my scars are not very dramatic, I will share three true stories that could have easily ended my life. Each one should have left me with scars, but they didn’t. And they all involve horseplay.

In my twenties I owned a few horses and rode western-style showing them in horse shows in timed events like barrel racing and pole-bending. One balmy summer evening, I was practicing poles with my quick little Arabian mare whose registered name was Lucky Lola. Looking back, I should have quit while I was ahead. The best pole benders know there is usually only one good run for a horse and rider on any given day.

Normally we would glide between those poles, switching leads like a Lipizzaner; barely a breath from each one, floating on the wind. But today, the sun was going down and it had been a long day. Lola was getting tired. I was pressing my luck. We were both loosing focus. As if to let me know she was done for the day, her here-to-for nimble weaving between the 6 poles just 21 feet apart, turned into a straight line race that slammed my knees against each of those poles at a break-neck speed.

Like I said, I should have quit while I was ahead. Instead, in a flash of pain and frustration, I planted my spur into her left shoulder and yanked the reins to the right to let her know I didn’t want her to hit another pole with my kneecap. Well, I must have pulled those reins way too far and down we went! I had pulled her head right out from under her, just like in the TV westerns when the rider gets an arrow in his thigh. Consequently, she went into a forward roll at a full gallop. Needless to say I was not ready for that, and as she went down, I flew from the saddle right into her path, breaking our collective fall with the crown of my head on the hard packed dirt. I held on to the reins and she rolled right over me – all 900 pounds of her. I don’t know how long I lay there as she stood over me. The next thing I remember I was leading her around and around the edge of the arena trying to cool her down. Later that night, I ended up in the emergency room with a concussion. Not a scratch on me. No broken neck, as could have very easily been the case. And no scar. But what a story.

Mistake to avoid in the future: Quit while you’re ahead. Never think you can man-handle a beast nine times your size at the end of a long day and escape unscathed.

Another time, I was helping my horse trainer boyfriend with a thoroughbred that was really fast but had a problem with the starting gate. He was scared to death of that tiny space and would not get in. So the trainer got the bright idea to take both my horse, Lucky Lola, and this new one he was training to the track during off hours, thinking my little Arabian would have a calming effect on this spooky race horse.

Me: Are you sure this will work?
Trainer: Of course it will, trust me.

The thoroughbred had been soured at the track in his previous life, so when he stepped out of the trailer at the race track, his entire countenance ratcheted up a few notches. Ears straight forward … nostrils flaring … fighting the lead rope, he knew where he was and didn’t like it one bit. We trotted around for a while to get the lay of the land and eventually it turned out my seasoned little mare had a calming influence on that flighty thoroughbred after all.

We approached the back side of the starting gate. I remember thinking that I agreed with the race horse; it looked really tiny.

Me: “Are you sure this is a good idea? It looks a little dangerous.”
Trainer: “No it will be fine, just ease her on in there. You go first.”

Lola had never seen anything like it, so, no reason to be frightened she walked right inside the gate with me on her back. The thoroughbred saw Lola walk in unafraid and so he did the same. For an instant, there they both stood as if they were in their stalls waiting for supper. But when the gate shut behind us with a loud CLANK, Lola began to freak out, snorting and pawing the ground beneath us. I swear she was trying to get down and crawl out on her knees. She became more and more agitated – again banging my knees against the teensy metal cage. Note to self: starting gates are not made for people in western saddles.

Finally the bell rang and the front gates flew open. My little grey mare shot out like a watermelon seed on the Fourth of July on to the race track and barreled around the curve like she thought she was Secretariat.

Without me.

I’m not sure how to describe this except with the imagery made famous by Saturday morning cartoon characters. You know the ones … where Wiley Coyote hangs in midair for several seconds looking terrified before he plummets to the bottom of the canyon to his violent demise.

There I hung in midair … my trusty steed becoming smaller and smaller as she barreled around the track … until suddenly and with great impact, my tailbone slammed onto the track with a dull thud and I slid to a stop on my back in a cloud of dust. The mix of sand and clay found its way into every crease and crevice of my 20something year old body. When my head stopped spinning, my ears were ringing and I could taste blood and dirt. There was sand in my boots. There was sand in my bra. There was sand in my underpants and where the sun don’t shine. I feel like I may have been taller before that day … like my spine was compressed just a little with the impact.

When I regained my bearings, I looked around to see that goofy thoroughbred just standing inside the starting gate looking around. The trainer was encouraging him with whip and spurs to spring forth, but I think that race horse was just too stunned at the sight of greased lightning resembling a little grey Arabian mare disappearing down the track, and her rider, the big eyed Wiley Coyote suspended in midair before crashing to the ground, little birds circling her blonde head with their maniacal chirping. I could have easily been paralyzed. But again, not a scratch, not a scar, but what a story.

Mistake to avoid: Always hold on tight when faced with something new. And don’t put your blind trust in someone when you have the slightest inkling to the contrary.

My third near death experience happened in the dead of winter. Yes, it was Minnesota, but we were die-hards and rode horseback summer and winter just the same. We had purchased a pure bred Arabian stud colt as a yearling and counted the days until he turned two and we could begin to break him for riding. He was high strung and gorgeous, dark dapple grey with striking confirmation. Finally, in late winter he was old enough to ride. I was lighter so I got the honors. It was a crisp and cold Saturday afternoon. I put the saddle on him inside the barn and cinched it up tight. I knew better, but I was in a hurry and my fingers were cold. Horsemanship 101 or just plain common sense teaches you to tighten the cinch a little at a time, walking the horse around a little bit between each tightening. Remember this is a brand new sensation for a young horse, and it’s best to take it easy the first time if you want to have a second.

Anyway, I cinched up that saddle as tight as I could and led him outside. I remember hearing the hard packed snow squeak beneath his hoofs, but his steps were halting and stiff. I hadn’t realized that he had filled his lungs with air and was holding his breath like a little kid throwing a temper tantrum. It really wasn’t working for him to walk and hold his breath at the same time. I felt like I was dragging him with each step.

In his panic when he finally took a breath, he seemed to just explode — rearing up on his hind legs and throwing his head from side to side. I was at the end of the lead rope and knew I could not let go of this young stallion. A stud loose on a horse farm will cause mayhem with a capital M.

We were just a few steps outside the barn door when he reared up and I flew thru the air like a rag doll at the end of the lead rope. When I landed in a snowdrift on my back, his two front hooves landed firmly on my sternum. He stood there stiff legged for what seemed like forever; his full weight planted just below my throat. I was holding on so tight, I could feel his hot breath on my face.

I was saved that day by the grace of God and cold weather. I had on two sweatshirts, a down vest, a down jacket, and insulated coveralls. Providence must have known all those layers weren’t quite enough to save me from harm, so I mysteriously landed in a foot of freshly fallen snow, and not on the icy driveway just a few feet away.

Mistake to avoid: Always use patience and common sense when dealing with the young and inexperienced. Rushing through the basics can produce bad results. And never underestimate cold weather and the grace of God to save you when you screw up.

Stories about scars are evidence of life. Evidence of choices to be learned from…evidence of wounds…wounds inflicted by mistakes…wounds we sometimes miraculously escape. We choose to share those stories over and over, and show off those scars, hopefully avoiding those same mistakes in the future.

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