I have known Eric Vawter for at least seven years. I remember watching him ride when I was a junior rider, and labeling him my favorite hunter rider. When I started riding with him, it was like I’d met my brother. We just get each other.
Through those seven years of riding with him, though, I started to notice something. Like so many riders, his body was giving out on him. We all thought it was his back, and he tried everything, but with no luck. It got so bad that eventually he had to stop riding, and even walking became a struggle for him. He started using a cane, and then became attached to a golf cart, because he wasn’t able to get around on his own anymore.
Worse even than watching the physical breakdown was seeing the emotional void that riding left. I was watching my friend lose all his passion for life, and none of us knew what to do about it. Yet through all of that, he would still come to the barn in his golf cart, to be around the horses and people. He would help me however he could, whether that was helping get horses ready, turning them out (all of our horses are broke to golf carts!), putting them on the walker, or being my designated ground person.
Eric finally found out that he needed both hips replaced. Which was great—but the process to get there was incredibly long and complicated. We filled out a ton of paperwork, and did it again when it turned out some of it was wrong. We made appointments with doctors and dentists, and then more appointments with doctors and dentists, and through it all I kept reminding Eric that no matter how much it all sucked in the moment, there was one big shining light at the end of the tunnel.
If this worked, he’d get to ride again.
I finally took him to the hospital for his first surgery in March, and the difference was almost immediate. He felt (almost) instantly better! Then in May he had his second hip surgery … and suddenly he could walk again. He could skip again. We didn’t have to worry about finding him stuck somewhere without his cane or golf cart, because he was suddenly fully functional.
It was so much fun to see my friend walking again. Hi surgeon said that maybe by the end ofAugust he would be able to ride again, but we would have to wait to see how he healed.Then, for his birthday, Eric got the best gift ever. He was cleared to ride. I am not sure I have everseen such joy on his face. Of course, he rode as if he hadn’t had any time off. He rodeperfectly; walk, trot, and canter. Within a few weeks he was jumping around.
Now he’s riding every day, and actually training one of our youngsters. And I am, once again, getting to watch my favorite hunter rider—and friend—ride again. And it’s worth every trip to the doctor, and every piece of paperwork we had to fill out, just to see the smile on his face.