Friday, October 10, 2008

Paying My Dues

Anyone who rides green horses -- and almost anyone who rides horses in general -- is bound to fall off eventually. Considering I've spent the past few years riding nothing but green horses, I've sensed for some weeks that my number was just about up. Sure enough, last Sunday's ride on Consolation proved just the one I'd been waiting for.

Consolation is at a point in her training where I've begun riding her several miles at a time, even along roads and trails that are new to her. We trot much of the distance, walking only when she needs extra time to absorb her surroundings, or else tries to hurry toward home. She's proven watchful but sane, and her typical spook consists of a hasty, stiff-legged halt followed by a moment of staring, then cautious progress. The occasional whirl typically precedes a hard stop and a sigh of relief.

I much prefer Consolation's spook to Aaruba's high-headed prance-and-snort style. It has the added advantage of encouraging me to ride with a long leg and deep seat, for Consolation is quite athletic and can, to borrow from Marty Robbins, "turn on a nickel and give you some change." Last Sunday's ride featured two such turns. I'm pleased to announce that only one of them resulted in an unscheduled dismount.

We'd been out for our longest ride yet, much of it through new territory, and were returning home after a long discussion about whether or not Consolation would cross a particular puddle. We'd survived a breezy orchard, roaring farm equipment, loose dogs, fanged trash cans of death, the aforementioned puddle, and a flock of pheasants. I felt Consolation's concentration waning as we made our way back to In the Night Farm along an irrigation road with a flooded ditch on one side and a 40-foot dropoff on the other. Naturally, it was there that Consolation met her match...a horse.

The skinny bay was nosing about his drylot when Consolation and I rounded a bend. They saw each other at the same time. Holy handspun horseshoes, Batman! The bay leaped two feet in the air and came down running. Consolation spun 180, swinging her front half right over the ditch. I got a good look at the watery depths but stayed astride and (mostly) upright as Consolation bolted.

Digging in my seat and commanding "Whoa!", I managed to regain a stirrup while I considered my options. A single-rein-stop was out, considering the ditch and dropoff. I'm not a fan of employing the SRS once a horse has reached a full gallop, anyway, due to the risk of causing a fall. Instead, I applied a series of hard pulls and releases on both reins. Consolation charged on, flexing only slightly in response to the reins.

I was about try bracing one rein while continuing to pull and release the other when she slowed, probably in part because she'd put significant distance between herself and the Killer Bay Horse. I immediately released all pressure on her face. Counterintuitive? Maybe, unless you understand that a horse who feels trapped is more likely to continue its efforts to escape.

"Whoaaaaa." Consolation stopped, snorting and trembling. I rubbed her withers, flexed her head in both directions, then dismounted to lead her several hundred yards back to the home of the Killer Bay Horse. The KBH seemed have recovered from his fright, but both horses eyed each other with deep suspicion as we passed.

With the KBH safely behind us, I remounted for the final mile of our homeward trek. Consolation's red alert status faded to yellow, but I kept my heels well down as a chill breeze washed up the hillside, rippling grasses and our reflection in the irrigation ditch. I breathed slowly, deeply, communicating calm to Consolation. Eaaaasy, Lady. Eaaaasy now.

And then it happened. One moment I was riding peacably along, and the next I was on one knee in deep, moist sand, with Consolation dancing at the end of her rein. The pheasant was still clearing the grass. I've never ridden -- or shall I say, failed to ride -- a faster spin in my life. Maybe we should take up cutting.

Remounting to try, once again, to cover the road home, I considered my good fortune. Not only had Consolation moved out from under me so fast that I'd nearly landed on my feet, I'd caught my balance on such soft earth that my knee didn't even bruise. (Later, I discovered that the middle knuckle of my right ring finger found a less forgiving surface, but a chipped knuckle seems quite a small price to pay for my first fall in several years.)

And so I have paid my dues. I figure I shouldn't fall off again for another two years, at least...and when I do, it's bound to be off 13.1 hand Acey, right?



Shana said...

Glad to hear it wasn't worse. Like, you could be on crutches for 2 months (grin!)

Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

I thought of you almost right away, Shana!

Carol said...

I'm glad to hear that you are ok!! !!!

Griffin used to be able to do some pretty quick spins like that in his younger days (and admittedly rattled my cage a little). Now that he'd older, his spooks aren't as dramatic, but I still don't let my guard when riding in a strange place.


Anonymous said...

" I immediately released all pressure on her face. Counterintuitive? Maybe, unless you understand that a horse who feels trapped is more likely to continue its efforts to escape."

Such a good point. especially pertinent to riding young horses.

I am so glad you didn't fall when you encountered the Bay horse.

Glad you're ok.

Susan Catt said...

Good to hear that you are alright Tamara!! SOmetimes riding with the sppok rather than trying to contain it is the best solution when only one of you are thinking of partnership at the time. You automatically lose status from leader to predator and need to allow for reason to return.

You did however inspire me to take up cutting training with my next trial horse. Great way to enhance the intuitive feel between horse and rider when things get down and dirty and "quick"!

THUMBS UP! You did ride her home right?


Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

Bingo, Susan. I was happy to regain a modicum of control, then let her finish "escaping" before asking for a full stop. No point becoming part of the problem! And yes, I did ride her home. :-)

Spartacus Jones said...

Glad you're both ok.

Good move on that release; not sure I would have thought of that!

I've only been down a couple of times -- but I'm sure there must be a fall out there with my name on it.
One time, a spin away from an equinivorous deer almost catapulted me out of the saddle.
One time, riding bareback along with a herd of six, another gelding decided to bite my partner on the butt -- couldn't recover my balance on that one and suffered a "flash knock-down."

Good reminder against complacency, no?


Chris said...

One fall every two years? I wish... I figure I'm up for one every six months based on the current ratio of falls to years riding!

Glad it wasn't a bad fall.

Jonna said...

Well, from someone who has experienced the feeling of the quickness of these barbs, I am glad you are ok. On the upside, just think of the possibilities of that athleticism...right?? BTW- should you ever decide to get rid of Consolation, JB would love to get to know her...!!!

Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

Hi Jonna -- Athletic, indeed! If I ever do decide to sell Consolation, I'll certainly let you know. I can't think of a better home for one of my horses. :-) By the way, JB will be guest-starring here soon...stay tuned!

Jonna said...

Aww.. your sweet!! Can't wait to see JB up on your site.. thanks!

Strawberry Lane said...

Wow! Now that's impressive! Great tactics you used. Will remember that ... next time.

Congrats on no major injuries!

LizGoldsmith, EquineInk said...

You're lucky! Last time I "paid my dues" I broke my glasses. I finished the hunt, but it was like riding through an impressionist painting!

Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

LOL, Liz. You're either brave or on a very good horse (or both!) to finish the hunt without being able to see. Love the impressionist painting image. Too funny.

Endurance Granny said...


Right..................*LOL* Glad that one ended alright. The spinning rollback and unplanned dismount are the bane of my existence. It is like a bomb going off...~EG