January 24, 2012

cowgirl up

tonight I had one of the scariest rides of my life. it's a blustery day, rainy, and I almost didn't ride -- I was running later than I wanted, and was headed straight from the barn to a track meet, which I had been looking forward to for months. but I am committed to three days a week on that horse's back, so I decided I would get on her for half an hour and we would work on basics -- nice straight lines at the walk and trot, lots of circles, listening to my leg.

horses hate wind, because they are prey animals and the wind makes it hard to hear predators. windy days are spooky days, particularly on a worrier like my horse, who doesn't trust that I will save her from monsters. I suspected I was in for it when she had her high-alert ears on as she stood tied at the arena wall, before I was finished tacking her up. she was gazing at something in the distance, head raised, on edge. I could hardly get her to lower her head enough to put the bridle on. nevertheless, I got on. am I afraid sometimes? yes. I am terrified. cowboy up, people.

there was just no having it today. we really did not walk more than six normal steps at any one time before she would freak out. one longside of the arena is a solid wall, but the other is just a five-foot fence; the view on that side is hilly pasture and road, with horses in the distance. Cookie just would. not. walk within five feet of the wall. each time we so much as approached, she would jig and hop and spin so that she was facing the wall, her hind end out of my control. when I got after her, booting her forward, she reared. reared! lord in heaven.

I can hardly explain what the ride was like. petrified of everything, Cookie reared, and bucked, and bolted, and jigged and shied and every other horrible out of control motion you can imagine. it's so hard to tell you what it's like on a horse while they are freaking out. I've been riding a long time -- fifteen years, off and on -- and I've been riding Cookie for three. I know how she moves and although I can't predict what she'll do, I have a generally decent idea. there's the trigger -- a sound, a flash of something going by, another horse spooking -- and there's a moment when all her muscles tense up. then: flight. flight in any direction; flight which may include one end of her (who knows which) hopping into the air. when she flies, I center all my weight over my tailbone, drive my legs down as deep as I can, and open my left rein wide -- a one-rein stop. trying to use both reins, in the normal way, is fruitless on a bolting horse. they just pull and pull, and they are stronger than you. so, you make them turn, and when they turn they have to slow down. you have to make sure the turn is wide, or you can bring them over on top of you. are we having fun yet? ask me how I know all this?

one of my barnmates came down, having heard the commotion from the top of the hill. as she watched, Cookie bucked all the way across the arena. I had lost my right stirrup, so I grabbed a fistful of mane for insurance, and struggled to pull her out of it. we went on like that for a few moments, me yelling "can you please stop, mare, I have dropped my stirrup, sweet lord in heaven!!!" when we finally came to, I yelled GOOD GOD! and the barnmate said, "you know, you might feel crazy but you look like you know exactly what you're doing up there." lynne said, "I'm so fascinated! you stay on her while the others fall off, how are you doing that?" as we cavorted across the arena again, she yelled, "that's it! your lower leg is stronger than theirs!"

the ride which was meant to take twenty or thirty minutes took forty five instead. held prisoner by her bad behavior, there was no dismounting until she calmed down, lest I teach her that by misbehaving, she can avoid work. I always talk to her constantly anyway, but today I found myself just repeating over and over again, it's okay, easy girl, you're okay, you're okay, good girl, don't be afraid, you're okay, until I was no longer sure whether I was talking to my horse or to myself. it took her half an hour, but eventually we could, at the walk, trot and canter, circle half the arena (we avoided the scary, far end) without incident. we did not get there without mishap; on one particularly fast and nasty rear, she clocked my face with her neck, bashing the crap out of my nose and causing my eyes to spontaneously water. I had to stop and take a second, certain that my nose was bleeding and broken. it still hurts like crazy; whether or not it will bruise, only time will tell. I won't be able to blow it for weeks, I bet.

as for whether I fell off my horse? I won't speak of it. it's the one superstition I have in my life.

about ten minutes into the ride, lynne caught some video footage. it's a less dramatic moment, but it does capture one nice teleport across the ring.

yeehaw. I did not sign up for this rodeo. can I have a pokey pony now?


  1. I just love her ears at the end of the clip. I think one of the hardest things in life is getting back on when you know what might happen. I love ridding horses and motorcycles and there is something about logically considering what you are about to do and going for the ride anyway. Amanda claims it is a genetic defect.

  2. Genetic defect!! I think there are a ton of sports/hobbies that are like this. If we let fear of accidents stop us, we'd never ride. It's terrifying sometimes, but I love it too much for that to prevent me from ever getting on in the first place.

  3. Nice blog. Found it by accident while clicking on "Next blog" at the top of the pages.
    All best wishes from Boston.