Friday, December 7, 2007

And Then I Fell Off

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!


Anonymous said...

You never know - perhaps it'll miraculously heal in time for Saturday? If not, you definitely have a conversation starter.

I haven't been dumped on the trail - yet. But once I was riding my OTTB with a group, and we decided to go for a quick gallop. I wasn't watching where I was going (I still kick myself for this) since I was watching my friend's horse who was taking HUGE leaps across the field. I looked forward just in time to see a tree branch approaching disturbingly quick. I tried to duck out of the way but the branch slammed me in the face, blacked my eye and bloodied my nose. Once we rode back to the barn, the barn manager saw my face and asked, "What happened? You get hit by a tree?"

My group never let me live that down.

Another time, I was taking a green pony cross-country. This was back when I wasn't afraid of jumping anything. It was the pony's second or third time going XC and he was super - he jumped the ditch fine, didn't blink at the table, and hopped over a bench without missing a step. My coach told me, "Let's take Henny to the water complex! It'll be something new."

The water complex had a small drop into the water, a slightly higher jump up on the bank, then over a bench.

The first time, Henny took the complex just fine, never missing a step. I rode him around the complex to do it again before calling it quits.

Well... that was when Henny's greeniness kicked in. He jumped down the bank, spooked at the splash, leaped sideways and bolted. I was caught off-guard and landed face down in the water.

And I had a white shirt with an orange bra on.

Anonymous said...

Once while i was on the trail, i had sort of the same thing happen as what happened to gina. I was riding a younger horse that had not been out all winter, and our intructor at the time wanted to canter up a small hill. well, we had a green horse in our group that started to gallop, so my horse follows,except instead of just galloping, my horse takes off buckinguntill he ran up the green horse's hind end.

Cindy Hale said...

Wow, and I thought I had exciting trail rides! I'm exhausted reading about these adventures. Thanks for sharing!

Heather said...

I too have done the face plant, not any fun! There is this phenomenon that occurs after the age of 35 when we no longer bounce, but rather splatt instead.

I hope your face heals soon, although thank God our horses love us despite our physical flaws...even if they do snicker behind our backs. : )

Anonymous said...

I LOVE reading your blogs...being a horse crazy, young, amatuer, but nonetheless enthusuatic writer, I really enjoy reading about other people who love equines just as much as I do! Many of your experiances I can relate to!

Anonymous said...

I know how you feel about sudden dismounts. The one time that Eunice bucked (really just kicking at the dogs) I was leaning forward to go under a tree. Luckly, only the wind was knocked out of me, and Eunice stood nicely for me to use her to stand up again and catch my breath.It was also one of the rare moments where she stood for mounting.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately, I've never had the pleasure of a instant face plant, only landing on my face(knowing I was going) all 5 times I've fallen off in my 15 year lifetime. I've always laughed,too,except for the two last times. The fourth time (second last), I was too concentrated on escaping a broken leg to think of anything other than "roll away from that horse as fast as you can" because he tripped, fell, and started rolling. The fifth time (most recent)I was just annoyed at the horse. Was one of the best lesson horses we had and I decided to ride bareback. He saw another horse running and decided to take off cantering when I was half on. I slid right off his butt.