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?