Wednesday, March 26, 2003

"Quiet Horse? What Quiet Horse?"
Good morning, I am still awake for reasons unknown. You'd think riding a horse bareback for awhile would tire oneself out enough to sleep.

Yep, I thought I was living the American (Quarter Horse) Dream. I had me a fine-lookin' sorrel hoss, a nice Circle Y trail saddle, my very own tack box and saddle rack in a BARN full of HORSES, livin breathin snortin poopin horses--and miles of wooded trails just waiting to be explored. I had mah hat, mah boots, and mah swagger was progressing nicely. Course I didn't have a clue what to actually DO with this beast.

It was already dark when we arrived at the boarding barn and there was only one light above the barn but lots of cars in the lot. Bob from the trader's barn trailered Cheerios out there and unloaded him for me. My parents came along for the ride. Bob slid open the enormous red door and flicked on the lights. A long row of stalls became filled with just-awoken noses poking out--what looked like a football field's length of horses, blinking eyes turned our way. I stopped and stared in awe, inhaling the mixture of manure, hay and horsehair. It was intoxicating. We got Cheerios settled into his new stall and Bob said Good Luck and drove away. My Dad stayed for a short bit to make sure I was ok, then left as well. He thought we'd better all leave since it was nighttime, the horses were "in bed" and it was cold... but I wanted to stay. I couldn't very well just go off and leave my baby alone in a strange place. So they left, and I stayed.

And there I was. Alone, in a barn, with my new horse and an equine audience of 40. I very carefully stepped into his stall and closed the door. I had no idea what to do, so I just talked to him. He moved--to turn and look at me. I was so apprehensive that I was paralyzed. The barn door rolled open. Footsteps. I was talking to my horse and didn't really register the sound. A female voice said tentatively, "Uh, is someone in here? Can I help you?" I opened Cheerios' door. Nearly spooked her off her feet. She was petite, blonde, attractive. I introduced myself and my horse. She smiled and walked up to him and greeted him. Then she showed me her horses and introduced herself as Nicole. I admitted that I had no idea how to get acquainted with him--it's my first horse ever. She showed me what I later discovered were the Friendly and Porcupine games from PNH. We got to know each other a bit then she said that everyone was inside watching a horse training video and eating pizza--you're welcome to join us.

I was thrilled! Hadn't been there 15 minutes and already I felt like part of the Saddle Club. I was introduced to a group of about 12, squeezed into a tiny living room in the caretaker's house. The video was "One Day with Pat Parelli". How interesting that within only a few hours I became a horse owner and was introduced to Parelli. The video was amazing--I could not believe that people were doing such things with their horses: jumping them over picnic tables without anything on the horse at all, riding an obstacle course with a lead rope and halter, dancing with their horses ("At Liberty")... it was so beautiful, so poetic, everything I'd ever dreamed of having with my horse. I left the barn that night filled with visions of sugar cubes and pretty ponies laughing with me.

Of course, I soon found out that horses would much rather laugh AT you than with you, until they are convinced that you know what you're doing. ;-/

Despite a horridly frigid Ohio winter, I was out at the barn every chance I got, regardless of whether it was a 10-below wind chill or not. I worked diligently in the ring on my riding abilities. My modus operandi was to arrive, plod through the snowy pasture, get my horse, lead him through the pasture, let him sail over the creek (he loves to jump it and I loved watching him do it), bring him in, brush him, tack him up, drag him into the arena, hop on, and walk trot canter around the arena while practicing getting my seat, positioning my legs, turning, stopping. Mind you, I'm of the Western discipline, the "hop on and go" crowd; seeing people in those ridiculously indecent "britches" (breeches) with a whip in one hand and a long line attached to their horse just made my face screw up. Too much trouble! What were they doing? After I got too cold, I'd untack him, brush him and pick out his feet, then feed him some cookies and send him back out to pasture. This went on for a few weeks until Spring hit and people started coming to the barn in droves to ride the trails. I hooked up with some of the more avid riders and began my adventure.

There were lots of them. Horses tend to spook at imaginary things; one of my fellow boarders had a horse who jumped ten feet if a chipmunk ran under his feet. A chipmunk! I'd been hearing all the stories for weeks; I was quite surprised that Cheerios wasn't spooky and actually wanted to chase the Forest Cows (deer). I thought "what a perfect horse I have" and "I must be a kick a** rider". Especially after the Day of the Big Jump.

"I Thought For SURE You'd Bite It!!!"
I was on the trail with Jenny and Sue. We'd been going for rides for a few weeks. Jenny's horse Redbird is a senior by horse terms--she was 17 then (19 today) and quiet as they come. Sue had Breezy, who had nervous fits sometimes but Sue was able to handle her. We took a long ride that day, about 3 hours. We were getting tired, ready to go home. Jenny suggested a shortcut. Being a newbie, I had no idea that that shortcut could have cost us each $75 if the rangers had caught us because it went through unchartered territory, off the trails. But I merrily followed along. It took us over a creek that runs through the park. There was a rickety "bridge" over it, about four feet long and half as wide--to me it looked more like someone stuck an old loading palette across the creek as an afterthought. The horses seemed to share my opinion.

Breezy wanted no part of it and clattered across with her legs tripping over each other. Redbird crow-hopped across. Then it was my turn. Cheerios looked at the bridge, looked at the creek, back at the bridge. I took a deep relaxing breath and tried desperately to think "waaaaallllk". Remember. He loves to jump creeks. For some reason this did not occur to me until that very moment, that my pasture routine had taught him "it's ok to JUMP creeks". I gave him the slightest nudge to move forward. He took a step. He turned toward the creek. I said "uh-uh", backed him, redirected him to the bridge. Same thing. Nudge, step, turn, uh-uh. Jenny and Sue are ahead, watching. Jenny yells "just make him do it!" I'm like, "I'm trying, just give me a minute". Every instinct said stay with it until he does it my way. But I was so unsure of myself I thought maybe I ought to just give up and go. A couple more nudge step almost over the creek attempts and I just sighed. I said this time we're doing it, we're getting across that bridge one way or another.

Nudge. Step. I sank deep into my seat, wrapped one hand firmly around the horn just in case, gave him his head, focused my gaze ahead of the bridge where I wanted him to go, and let out a deep breath. Cheerios glanced back at me as if to say, "you ready?" I gave him a nudge. He stepped. I heard his legs snap up as he launched himself over the bridge--and we were sailing, flying!!! We landed with an ooof safely on the other side (Jenny said, "all you said was 'uh!'")--Cheerios' feet picked up momentum and we did a mini steeplechase under a group of low trees and jumped a couple of clumps and then shot out and slammed to a sliding stop on the trail ahead of Jenny and Sue. Five jaws had dropped. Cheerios was too busy smirking. I was speechless. Exhilirated. Terrified. Could not believe I'd just done that, let alone survived it! Jenny said "I thought for SURE you were gonna bite it but you didn't! You stayed on! Good girl! My god I wish I had a video tape of that!" Nobody could believe he could jump like that. I still wish I could have seen it from their point of view.

I was the talk of the barn for days after. Cheerios was made out to be the next Olympic hopeful. I was beaming. I thought I was the SHIT.

But all that changed within a couple of weeks. What I hadn't realized was that by letting Cheerios call the shots, I'd given up my right to ask for respect, and he became the leader in the relationship. It resulted in my almost giving up horses out of a newly-developed and paralyzing fear caused by his having had enough of that green rider on his back.

It was Mother's Day. My buddy Bruce and I took Weapon and Cheerios out for a quick jaunt before I went to visit my mother. Well, it was supposed to be a quick jaunt, anyway. Quick, uneventful. But I'd woken up with a nagging feeling that something wasn't right. But then, I wake up with those all the time. I live under a cloud of impending doom... but that can be saved for a different blog.

We'd been out for about an hour and a half and it was great. I was working on posting to the trot and trying to figure out which lead was the one I should rise on. Weapon and Bruce were lagging behind. I posted to one lead. That felt bumpy; I switched rather awkwardly to the other. Hmm. Still not... let me just look down and try to see which leg is going first... all of a sudden, sideways spook, spin: I slide almost out of the saddle to the left, hook my ovaries up on the saddle horn, horse's head goes down toward the ground everything's off balance I'm falling forward I'm trying to right myself horse's head comes back up SMACKS me in the face and blam. I'm on the ground. On my back. Blur of hooves. Get up, get up, get out of the way of the hooves but all I can manage is to roll over onto my hands and knees I can't breathe why can't I breathe oh god is this how I'm gonna die? Bruce rounds the corner with Weapon, screeches to a halt, jumps off his horse to help me up. can'tbreathecan'tbreathecan't-- UUUUAAAGGGGHHH!!! thank GOD I can BREATHE again!!!

Cheerios is a few feet up the trail eating grass like nothing happened. Bruce is white as a ghost. His reputation for dumping girls is firmly in place now; every newbie he takes on the trail with him winds up eating dirt, usually through no fault of his. One had a separated shoulder, another broke something small, and Nicole had an encounter with a tree that put pins in her knee after it shattered. Here I was, in a heap. (Bruce, are you cursed?) We assessed that I was ok, now that I'd recovered my breathing ability, nothing was broken but I'd likely be awfully sore tomorrow from the impact. He retrieved my horse and helped me back on. Broken or not, we had to get back to the barn and it was either gonna be a long walk or a long ride. I opted to ride. It was ok, but I was shaken. The longer we went, the more my back started to hurt. Every little motion became agony. I began to worry that I had broken something.

By the time we had minced our way back to the barn, an hour and a half later, I was almost in tears but true to cowgirl form, hiding it well. Then I tried to dismount. My right leg was not obeying my orders. It refused to swing up over the saddle. I tried and tried. I thought my god I'm paralyzed--well, no, I can still move it just not where I want it to go--did I break my back? How the F*** am I gonna get down I wanna get down I want OFF this horse NOW OH my god I'm going to be trapped on top of this horse forever!!!! (Rational thought was leaving me)

Bruce had to come rescue me, which had to have been comical to watch since I'm somewhat taller than he is. Somehow I got off that darned beast and was finally touching solid grou--OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWNNNNDDDDD! Ow ow oowowowowow. No. Don't wanna stand. No. Left leg no good. Ouch. No god please let me just lie down here. Ouch. Bruce ran and got me his lawn chair and I lowered myself into it. Kind of. Cheerios was looking at me. I know he was thinking "Whattheheck's wrong with YOU?" I sat for a moment then used the hitching post to haul myself back up. I tried to cowboy up and untack him but lifting the saddle even a millimeter sent agony screaming down my back. Bruce took care of my horse for me. The enjoyment was not over yet. I still had a half hour's drive to my parents' house, in a manual transmission. Everyone was concerned that I'd be able to drive; my feeling was, if I could ride the damned horse back to the barn, dismount, and hobble to the car, I could last long enough to drive to where someone could take care of me.

So I did. It was the most painful drive I've ever made. I wasn't home for 15 minutes before my parents insisted I go to the ER. But I was STARVING so I waited until after dinner. Again, I rode the horse, I can walk, I drove to the house, I can at least eat some food, I'm not in danger of dying and I'll feel less bad if I'm sitting in the waiting room for three hours with a full stomach rather than an empty one. Sure enough, three hours of waiting and several excruciating xrays later (along with lots of curious staffers quizzing me about my horseback activities, I was the entertainment of the night and secretly relishing my Rodeo Star role), they sent me home with a note for work, a bottle of Darvocet and a sprained back. When I asked the doctor how long before I can ride again, he snorted in disbelief. "Two weeks at the very least! But I doubt you'll feel ready for about six."

SIX WEEKS!!! But it was May! Riding season had just started! In six weeks it would be summer and too hot to ride. I said whatever, I'm riding in two.

It was the longest time I'd been away from my horse since buying him. Sure enough, two weeks to the day, I went out to the barn. Yes, I was still on crutches. Yes, I still hurt like the devil. But I was beginning to wonder if I'd be able to get back on if I waited longer than two weeks. So Jenny got him for me, tacked him up, and lead him to the arena. My dad was there... they both were exchanging looks. Mounting him hurt. I couldn't do it without the block and felt like a greenhorn. Sitting in the saddle woke up traumatized muscles but I held fast to my resolve. The huge bruise from the saddle horn was changing colors and by some miracle my face had come away without even so much as a fat lip, despite kissing my horse on the neck. I sat there, a ball of nerves. Cheerios shifted his weight. I clenched in pain. His ears pricked up. He shifted again. I winced and tightened up and tried to relax, but even relaxing was difficult and painful because it involved altering the tension state of the muscle. Cheerios took a couple steps. I pulled back on the reins and winced in pain. He paused, then continued walking. Didn't take him long to figure out I wasn't going to be able to stop him effectively because every movement brought on more pain. The terror was rising inside. God, please don't let him run, I can't stop him and I don't know if I can hold on.

He was heading toward the mare's pasture; the gate was open. I smelled immediate disaster because the mares don't like the geldings much and vice versa and I had visions of being powerless to stop him when they took after each other, kicking and biting. Jenny saw I was in trouble and ran over to collect us. She lead us back to my crutches and I dismounted, discouraged and afraid.

Too afraid to get back on him again. It was a very long painful summer.

No comments: