Sometimes, when you get dumped by your horse you know it's coming. Everything seems to proceed in slow motion-- although it's really happening in microseconds-- and you have the eerie presence of mind to say to yourself, "Uh-oh. I'm coming out of the saddle. Hmmm.... Let me see. How best can I eject myself?"
Then there are the times when suddenly blam! You're on the ground, eating dirt. That's what happened to me two days ago while I was riding Lexi. But much like my mare, let me back up first.
Just the day before I had gone on a very pleasant 2-hour trail ride with Natalie, a gal I've come to know who lives a few streets over. Though she owns a pretty palomino and a pair of handsome grullas, she spent many years riding hunters and dressage, so we have a lot to talk about as we cruise the trails in our western tack. One thing she told me on our ride was how she feels that she knows her three horses well and therefore how to handle them when something scares them on the trail. And believe me, there are plenty of scary things along the neighborhood streets in our horsey town.
"I figure that at my age (30-something) and with my experience, I don't have anything to prove to anyone," she said. "So even though some people in town will try to tell you to never get off your horse and lead it past a scary object, sometimes that's exactly what I do. I assume the role of herd leader. I show my horse that there's nothing to be frightened of. I lead them up to whatever's bothering them, we investigate it a little. Then I get back on and we ride past it a few times and it's over with."
Made sense to me and I agreed with her. We both concurred that there's also a difference between a horse that's genuinely scared and one that says, "Ya' know, I've considered what you're asking me to do. And my response is that I prefer to NOT go past that object. Period. So there."
Now skip forward to my unplanned dismount the following day.
I was riding to the arena a few doors down from my house. The trail that accesses the arena winds between two houses and along a dry wash. Lexi turned up the trail (the same trail we've ridden on approximately 78 times since March) and stopped. She began to back up. Her head went up, her ears pricked forward. She was seeing dead people. I clucked to her. I nudged her with my spur. Nicely, mind you, but firmly. She bucked and whirled to the left. I turned her back to the right and settled her, patting her neck.
"What's the problem?" I asked her. Really. I literally asked my horse what was bugging her, because I saw nothing out of the ordinary.
So I kissed to her again and... then I fell off.
How or why I do not know. But I was face first in the hard-packed, decomposed granite trail. Immediately I ran my tongue over my front teeth, because I have already exceeded my lifetime warranty on front tooth repair due to equine calamities. But my teeth were fine. My head was fine, too, because I was wearing my helmet. But my right cheek bone had landed against the earth in a classic Face Plant. It burned and when I reached to touch it, there was blood. Everywhere.
I stood up and looked at Lexi. She had the most innocent expression on her face, as if to ask, "Why did you get off?"
It was then that I recalled quite plainly Natalie's advice and our entire discussion about not having any qualms about making the safer choice to dismount and LEAD our horses past scary objects. So I picked up my reins and led Lexi the 20 yards to the arena, knocking dirt off my shirt and spitting out grit with each step. I paused once to allow her to investigate her environment. She seemed to gaze into the adjacent backyard, snorted softly, then sighed and relaxed. It was as if she was saying, "Well, huh. What do ya' know? There wasn't anything scary there, after all."
Being the determined person that I am, I climbed back on and rode Lexi in the arena as planned, although I had to ignore the dirt in my mouth, the coagulating blood on my face and hematoma forming on my kneecap.
I feel fine now, but I'm sporting a lovely black eye and a rather hideous mark on my cheek. It resembles either flesh-eating bacteria or a bad burn. Take your pick of visual images. (There will not be photos). With every passing hour my husband inspects it, hoping it will heal miraculously in time for me to look festive when we go to a performance of The Nutcracker Saturday night.
All of this could have been avoided if only I'd listened to what Natalie had said, and what I had agreed to. Trust me, next time Lexi's body language tells me that she's really, really, really, really scared of something on the trail I'm hopping off, demonstrating to her that she has nothing to fear, and then remounting and riding past it. I have nothing to prove to anyone.... other than I'd prefer to look like a sugarplum fairy, not a female prize fighter.
Have any trail riding war stories that have left you black and blue? Share them by clicking on "comments" below!