Monday, October 31, 2011

My Scariest Ride

Happy Halloween!  In the spirit of this spooky day, I was thinking about fear, and times that I have been scared while riding.  I haven't had too many bad wrecks, but like anything else, it is the anticipation of something scary that is the worst, especially since it can cause things to spin out of control when you are on a horse.  I'd like to share such an experience with you....

Many years ago, when I was fresh out of college, I went to work for an Arabian/National Show Horse trainer as her assistant. This meant that I was tasked with many different things; feeding, grooming, working horses, of course, but also starting young horses under saddle.  The trainer, myself, and the other assistant each had a list of horses that we worked, and of course, some of them were nicer to have on your list than others.

Through either fate or bad luck, somehow I got Ladyhawke on my list.  She was a tiny NSH mare, and deceptively cute.  She had had very little handling before coming to me, so I did the normal things with her; groundwork and lunging, eventually climbing on her while being led.  I would have described her as 'a bit squirrely'.  She was extremely sensitive to my legs, easily surprised when presented with new things, and not exactly "joined up" with us, but at the time, I was in my early 20s and had ridden some pretty feisty horses, so I was typically cavalier about it.  After working with her for about 2 weeks, I started taking her around the arena on my own, and had even started trotting her (no doubt BEFORE I was sure that she knew the word 'whoa').  As they say, hindsight is 20/20....

One day, I was riding Ladyhawke in the arena while the shoer was there working on horses.  The arena was connected to the barn by a dirt ramp that goes up to the barn, where, to the immediate right, there are crossties, and where the shoer had his truck parked, in the barn aisle, so as to have access to his forge.  The barn was very noisy that day, with everyone moving horses, people cleaning stalls, hollering over the forge and the shoer's hammer.  As I rode past that end of the arena, something spooked Ladyhawke, which caused my legs to bang against her, and she was OFF. 

There are times when flight animals are so terrified for their lives that they are no longer thinking; their only conscious desire is to get away.  That is where Ladyhawke was, and I quickly realized this as I did everything I could do to get the horse to stop.  But because the mare was so green and hadn't put any trust in me yet, every movement I made only scared her more, and she flew around that arena like she was on fire.  I had her head on her chest, see-sawing, trying to circle her, saying whoa over and over. None of it was did any good - and as the mare came back around to the ramp end of the arena, she saw it as her way out, and made a quick 90 degree turn up the ramp and another immediate 90 degree turn into the barn aisle, all while running blind in terror.  I managed to stay with her and she somehow made it past the shoer's truck; there was only enough space to lead a horse through there, and am surprised that I didn't take out his rear view mirror with my knee.

At this point, I was scared.  When I had been flying around the arena on her, I was upset, of course, but had tried to focus on solving the problem and getting her stopped.  The second she decided to exit stage right, I realized that this could end very badly.  As she ran down the barn aisle toward the two barn doors, which were partially closed that day due to a cold wind, I experienced for the first time my life flashing before my eyes.  She made it through the doors - I swear, if she had been any bigger, she would have broken both of  my legs - and out she went.  I remember thinking, as long as I am on her back, she is going to keep running.  Get off.  Now.  The anticipation of what that meant made me hesitate a moment.  You know it is going to hurt to hit the ground, but I knew running through a fence would hurt more.  And I saw a patch of grass and literally dove for it.

As I got up off the ground, slowly, and everyone came running out of the barn to see what happened, I was SO grateful.  While I was very sore for about a week, there were no broken bones, no serious injuries except to my pride.  It was terrifying to be so completely out of control of a horse I was on, but I learned some valuable lessons that day, like how to take my time with the young ones, and not to move on to the next step until you are really sure the horse is ready.  I also spend a lot more time in a confined space teaching them the basics, and I always wear a helmet when starting young horses now.  But most importantly, I think I have learned that the anticipation of an event can be worse than it actually is.  Sometimes we don't have good choices in life; we have to go through certain things to learn our lessons, but we can't let fear be a distraction.  We have to swallow the fear, take the leap, and have faith that we can handle whatever happens next.

* As for Ladyhawke, she ran to the other end of the farm, but was caught and brought back without any incident or injury.  A few days later, the head trainer had a local guy who did rodeo and rode broncs come out to work with her.  Unfortunately, she wasn't going to go along easy and dumped him the first time after he had only ridden her about 25 feet.  He got back on, and this time he lasted about a minute.  He wasn't inclined to get back on after that, and neither was anyone else.  The trainer, who happened to own her, then decided to turn Ladyhawke back out to 'grow up a little.'  I don't know what happened to her, but I hope that her good looks inspired someone to put in the time with her.  No doubt she would have been quite a project for someone, but ultimately worth it.  She was definitely athletic!  haha!