We are celebrating women in the outdoors through REI’s #ForceOfNature project. This is not a sponsored post, we just want to keep sharing our thoughts and feelings about what it means to be a Force of Nature.

Do you ever feel like the force of nature is leading you down a certain path? You might not understand it, or even like it but there’s something big going on. Today we welcome Amanda to the website giving us her thoughts on what it means to be a Force Of Nature when given an interesting medical diagnosis.

Amanda is a Hike Like A Woman Ambassador who lives in beautiful Colorado. She also blogs at Backcountry Horseman. Check out our interview with her on the Hike Like A Woman Podcast!

I’ve been horse-crazy for as long as I can remember.  If you’re familiar with that term, you understand that it goes hand-in-hand with constantly being dirty, living outside and going to public places only to have people turn their nose up at you because you forgot to clean the manure off your boots. 

There’s an old saying: “The cheapest part of owning a horse is buying it.” 

Horses are inherently expensive creatures and, having never been particularly flush, I’ve had to give up other life experiences to feed my need.  As a kid, I was lucky enough to have parents that saw “the horse thing” as more than just a passing phase and they did all they could to help.  I rode everything I could get my hands on, soaked up instruction, practically slept in my horse’s stall and spent my weekends competing against girls whose parents had bottomless pockets.

As I grew older, my desire to live on the back of my horse only grew but my bank account did not.  I found a niche and began retraining racehorses as resell projects.  Eventually, I accumulated enough money to buy my “fancy” horse.  Finally, I found myself competing in the ring at an equal level as my competitors. 

#happyhorsegirl #crazyhorsegirl #backcountryhorseman #horsesofinstagram

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And, then it came crashing down. 

An MRI showed the bulging disc I’d been struggling with for years had finally ruptured and the instability had caused a second rupture just above it.  I would be undergoing a three-level spinal fusion at the age of 27. 

Knowing I wouldn’t be on a horse for at least 11 months following surgery, it didn’t seem fair for my big, fancy horse to sit.  Couple that with the uncertainty of what I would be able to do when I made it back on a horse and I had to face a harsh reality; I needed to sell. 

Of course, I couldn’t be horseless for too long and, recovery be damned, I was getting back on a horse at some point.  But, this time, I needed something a little closer to the ground…just in case. 

And that’s exactly what I found in Ranger.  A 3-year-old BLM mustang, gathered from the Wyoming range only a year prior, he would end up being my rock throughout my recovery and beyond. 

Recovery from surgery did not go as smoothly as I’d hoped. 

A DVT in my lower leg landed me back in the hospital…twice.  I had to take daily heparin shots in my stomach to hopefully dissolve the clot and prevent future issues; you know, like spontaneous death. 

When I finally made it back to work, a strange rash showed up on my face.  I went to the dermatologist who listened to her inner red flag warning and drew a full array of blood tests.

A few days later, I got an unnerving call that my ANA levels were off the charts and a referral appointment had been made for me with a rheumatologist. 

It was lupus.   

Until that day, I had only heard lupus referenced in House episodes as an obscure, we-don’t-really-know-what-we’re-dealing-with-so-we’re-gonna-call-it-lupus diagnosis.

At 9 months post-surgery, Ranger took me for my first, fused spine ride.  At 15 months post-surgery, I found myself in the hospital with my first, full on lupus flare which presented itself as severe pleurisy (inflammation/fluid around your lungs which then prevents you from breathing).  At 16 months post-surgery, I was back on my horse and in the mountains where I belonged. 

My diagnosis has brought several things to light:

  1. A lot of answers to questions regarding auto-immune diseases are, “I don’t know.”
  2. You cannot control a ticking time bomb and stressing out about it doesn’t help anyone.
  3. Just because you cannot do the thing you love in the same capacity you once did, does not mean you can’t do it still.

Where most people looked at my surgery and diagnosis as the nail in the coffin to my outdoor lifestyle, I’ve viewed it as an opportunity to adapt.  Sure, I used to compete heavily in equestrian events but the simple reason behind doing that was my love of riding; the sense of calm that I find while sitting on the back of my horse. 

That is all I ever really needed.

To be a force of nature is to adapt when the situation calls for it.  To go with the flow and not let opposition stop you from doing what you love. 

Without my surgery, without my diagnosis, I would’ve never rediscovered the simple joy of looking at the mountains through two ears.  Without it, Backcountry Horseman would’ve never come to fruition and I likely would not be a part of the Hike Like A Woman community today.    

Adaptation is always an option.  Be a force of nature. 

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