Sunday, August 9, 2009

What We Know vs. What We Feel

I have always known that horseback riding is a dangerous activity, but it is also a very fulfilling activity, and what I get out of it by far exceeds any worries I have about accidents. I have always reasoned that if I work hard to get my horses well-trained, and if I continue to take equitation lessons to make myself a better rider, I should be relatively safe.

Today I chose to take Bombay over to my neighbor's large arena. I was too tired to hook up the trailer to go somewhere, and this would give me a chance to see how my neighbor is doing. I haven't seen her in weeks. I was worried about her, because she's had a variety of people taking care of her horses and driving her vehicles over the past month, and I feared the worst. It turned out she was just out traveling with her granddaughters to a variety of horse shows.

She told me a story of how her one granddaughter was doing really well in the youth nationals horse show, and was on the path to being Reserve Champion for her class. Then a large metal object fell just behind her horse's hip, and he bolted. Her granddaughter was able to hang on and recollect the horse, but not until after the judges saw her lose control of her horse, so she lost. My neighbor put over $12,000 in getting her granddaughter and her horse ready for that show, and in one instant of lousy luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, they lost their chance to place. That is precisely what I don't like about horse showing. You invest so much time, energy, and money into it, and all it takes is a little bad luck to ruin your chances for all that you worked for.

However, what struck me about this story was that my neighbor didn't mention being worried about her granddaughter getting hurt. She has complete confidence in her riding ability and knows that she can ride out any horse teleportation tricks, bucks, rears or bolts.

With that said, I began my ride on Bombay. It has been about two months since I last rode at my neighbor's place. Of course, Bombay had to act like it was the first time he'd been there, despite being born there, growing up there, and being ridden there every year for the past several years. He puffed himself up, jigged, and jumped this way and that.

I bumped him up to the jog and circled at each corner of the arena. The corner that he spooks at the most was approaching and I knew he was going to do something silly, but I tried not to anticipate it with my body by clenching with my legs or tensing up in general. I just tried to mentally prepare myself for it.

Sure enough, as soon as I turned him, he bucked, kicking out with his hind hooves because he thought something was chasing us, then he took off at a gallop. I brought him back down to the jog, turned him back to the corner, and made him do several circles before moving on.

I'm doing a good job of riding out spooks and not letting them shake up my nerves, but bucks are a different story. I started shaking as a delayed reaction, but continued jogging. Bombay went on alert with his head straight up in the air, and I couldn't get him collected. I tried breathing deeply to settle my nerves, but it didn't help. I then had the revelation that perhaps if I took my body off him as much as possible, he wouldn't feel my nerves. Instead of sitting at the jog and wrestling to keep him slow, I moved him up to a fast trot and posted. That helped me to get my body busy so that it wasn't shaking, and it helped relax Bombay since he no longer had to feel my nerves buzzing on his back and sides.

After about an hour and a half of riding, I had a headache and was feeling tired. I wanted to work on his lope a little bit, and then go home. I moved him up to the lope from the walk, and he made the most beautiful transition. Then his front hoof got caught in a deep mound of dirt and he tripped. We began falling forward. He was falling onto his face, and I was being catapulted over his head. I knew this was the worst type of accident, because the horse usually somersaults onto the fallen rider, maximizing the injuries to both horse and rider.

My mind was in denial and refused to let it happen. I instantly lifted my eyes up and gently lifted the reins up to get Bombay's head up, and we miraculously rose up off of his front legs back into the lope. It was amazing. I gave him a big hug for saving our butts. Anyway, now that I've experienced being on a falling horse, I've got one more nagging fear digging its heels into my brain. I've always known that accidents can happen to even the best riders and the most well-trained horses, but now I feel it. Now I know on an emotional level that riders aren't the only ones who can fall, but horses can fall too. Thankfully, Bombay came away without a scratch.

My neighbor's arena has very thick, soft ground, just like the Fairgrounds. It makes for a nice pillow to fall on, but it also risks more falls because in some spots the horses have to struggle through as if in quicksand. My arena is all packed down and hard, which causes my horses to crack their hooves, so I need to soften it up. It would be nice to find a place to ride where there is a happy medium.


Leah Fry said...

That's really cool that he was able to get you out of it. Still, I know what you mean. Mortality sucks.

fernvalley01 said...

NM, I don't by any means want to belittle the experience I agree wrecks can be around every corner ,but, for the sake of your confidence here it is. It was an almost ,and you got through it . Try if you can , to focus on "What went Right!"

Breathe said...

Those lessons really paid off in that moment - knowing to lift the reins to help Bombay regain his footing!!!

We are fragile creatures and even more so in our mind.

Still, I'm pretty darn impressed, Chica!

allhorsestuff said...

That was close to be sure... amazing how the presence of mind you, had helped you help Bombay.
I am happy for you to see that through. WHEW!

I fell off once a year for three years and now the fourth has me falling every month. The first was an accident...but these last two were misbehaviour, at it's finest..I am becoming pensive.
I need some training times in an enclosure! This situation I am in was one to bale me out and now I need to hunker down again, and find us a place to live.

Hope you are able to have your arena dragged makes a wonderful the horses attitude feels better on the bod!

Mary Olson said...

Good idea to post when you were feeling nervous and your horse was picking up on it. I post whenever my horses back tenses up and they feel stuck. Seems to loosen them up. As for the tripping, I'm with fernvalley01. Horses are amazing at pulling up from tripping. They don't want to fall either. I'd be more concerned about it if I was jumping, on slick ground, or on a hill. But if the sand is really deep, be careful as that can be hard on their tendons.

Katharine Swan said...

Wow, NM! I'm impressed! I agree with fernvalley -- focus on the positive here. Bombay wasn't the only one who saved both your butts! You two obviously make a good team -- despite his silliness!

jane augenstein said...

Oh, my! So glad you were able to get out of what could have been a bad wreck! Quick thinking on your part about lifting the reins to help your horse come up and avoid a fall. So glad you are OK!! I have been in some near falls that Gilly came up out of, thank goodness and have also been in some falls where I hit the ground.
Do take care, it's scary sometimes but the good rides are sooooo worth it! :-)

Julie G said...

Oh I totally had the same moment this morning on my old guy. He has a habit of this when he is getting close to needing a trim. I have found to be much more cautious when riding him and any other horse for that matter. I've fallen many times WITH my horse and it is never much fun. Luckily I haven't been hurt, and when it does happen I'm more concerned about my horse than what I'll feel like later. It's your awesome horse sense that knows to not give up/in but rather help rebalance your horse in that split second instant.

S. Lauren said...

I sometimes have the same worry. I'm an extreme safety freak around horses and I have so many pet peeves when I see riders doing things that risk injuries. For example, the halter around the horses neck in cross ties or little kids walking behind the horses, etc.

Paint Girl said...

Thank goodness you were able to control Bombays stumble. Good quick thinking! I have never gone over a horses head in that way. I think that would be scary! I've gone off backwards and sideways, but never off the front.
I hear you on arena footing. Mine is semi-soft in some areas and a little hard in others. I can't afford a good footing right now, so I just ride in the dirt, I have been spreading shavings out in the harder end though.

lytha said...

i have some tripping stories for you, if you don't mind..

tripping is horrible. 2 weeks ago when i attended the orienteering ride with my old teammates, i noticed brandi did not have her trusty steed with her, but instead another horse. i asked what happened to cody and she said he started tripping.

he tripped and fell twice last year, both times putting her in the hospital. she sold him as a pack horse, with warnings about his tripping. i was very sad that he was not there, because the two of them were a pair for as long as i have known her. but i understand that being sent to the hospital does change your way of thinking.

baasha used to trip a lot, and the last bad one i ended up going in for xrays after he got anxious, tripped and fell on me. i have a permanent imprint in my forearm where he stood up on me. my friends took him home for me, it was the oddest thing to leave the mountain without my horse as i hobbled down the hill alone. i thought maybe riding him with other horses is just too exciting for him, and maybe i should quit.

but then we removed his shoes for retirement, and suddenly the tripping stopped. odd!

one more anecdote--my lease horse galim tripped terribly, even on completely flat, even ground. he is just conformationally set up to trip, putting me at risk each time i rode. after a while i became anxious every ride, waiting for a trip, and when other riders wanted to go fast, i was terrified, waiting for it. one day at a canter up a gradual hill, he fell flat on his face, dumping me. i was so shook up, i was shaking all over and couldn't get back on when his owner tried to get me to remount. tripping ruins rides!

that's too bad about the arena footing being unsafe. i would have a hard time riding there.

i'm glad you did not fall that day!


Fantastyk Voyager said...

You had me worried when I was reading through this post. I thought something "bad" had happened to you. I'm glad it all turned out okay for both you and your neighbor's granddaughter. What a shame for her. Check out my posts on the youth nationals. Maybe I saw her show? I was thinking about the money those kids must get to show their horses. Jeez! I would expect $12,000 to be on the low side.

When my horses get skittish, I find that fast working trots help them to concentrate on the job at hand rather than misbehaving. Add a bunch of direction changes and they forget all about the spooks in the corner. I always say "don't get scared, get mad". It masks your fear and gives you the "alpha" advantage. I don't mean that you should be abusive, just assertive. YOU WILL NOT SPOOK!!! It helps!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Julie G - I'm sure that needing a trim did have something to do with it. He was due last week, but we couldn't get the farrier out until this week.

Lytha - I remember you doing a few posts on tripping. At that point in time, I had experienced having my horses trip and stumble a little bit from time to time, but I couldn't really fully understand what you were worried about. I was just thinking that horses aren't as sure-footed as mules, so they do trip from time to time.

However, after this experience of having Bombay go down onto his forelegs and fall on his face, I do realize there is a serious danger involved in horses tripping. That was the point my post. You don't really understand something until you experience it.

Callie said...

Scary! Nice save though! Kudos to you and your horse!

KD said...

Good save! Now try not to anticipate another one. I would jump in my skin a little each time a horse had a little skip in gait after I did a somersault, @ss over teakettle from an older leased horse who went down on me at a canter. I didn't get hurt, but the poor guy bowed a tendon and I had to treat him for almost 3 months.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

You did good, NM..and so did Bombay.

I've been on horses that trip a lot and it's very unnerving. One horse, and older mare, seemed to trip almost every few steps and when I'd watch her walk with someone else on her back, it seemed that she was just being lazy, kind of like a kid shuffling their feet. Of course, all it would take is a trip over a dip in the path or something solid and I'm sure, down she'd go.

Yikes, something else to worry about when riding. sigh.