By Laura Crum
Reading Jami’s post early this week had the effect of reminding me how unpredictable life is. Just as I toddled down to the barn last January expecting to catch my son’s horse for his little friend to ride and instead found Henry colicked, dealt with the colic persisting for 48 hours, eventually culminating in our sending the horse to colic surgery to save his life (they removed a stone the size of a big cantalope), and plunging me into three months of rehabbing the horse…well, Jami’s story reminded me that you just never know what will happen next (and I hope your mare is doing well, Jami, and your husband, too). Its not that I don’t know this truth intellectually, but sometimes life seems calm and predictable, as if nothing will change. Its an illusion, I know, but life can seem stable, reliable, downright boring. I think we all forget that it isn’t really like that. Until something happens to remind us.
So yesterday, when I took my son for a ride on the beach, the unpredictable quality of life was big in my mind. Though I love riding on the beach, and in most ways its very safe (big, wide open, nice soft sand, few obstacles), it, like all public places, is unpredictable. People show up with surfboards, kites, tents, big billowy dresses, wild dogs, fishing poles…etc. You never know when your nice quiet ride will become a spookfest. And though I’m pretty Ok with my horse being boogery, I am not Ok with my son being scared, or God forbid hurt. So, I worry.
But it was a beautiful day, perfect for a beach ride, and I don’t want to spend my life hiding from shadows. I hauled Henry and Sunny down to the beach and we climbed on.
Henry and Sunny both felt good. It had been a week since we rode them and they are fat. (An aside—its not entirely my fault they’re fat—they’ve been eating the acorns dropped by the oak trees in their corrals). I felt a little nervous. My mind was on the unpredictable…combined with two steady horses who were feeling good. But we rode down the beach with no problems.
Sun glittered on the water. It was low tide (which I had checked ahead of time, always being one to minimize my risk of problems) and the waves rolled gently a ways away. The temperature was in the low seventies. Our horses marched down the smooth, firm wet sand, looking alert and very happy to be there. My kid and I watched the pelicans dive. It was beautiful. I started to relax. We were having fun. We were about halfway through our ride and everything was great.
And then…. Two helicopters appeared in the distance, flying along the water line, flying very low. Who knows why, but aircraft seem to like to do this. But helicopters are the worst—they’re so loud. I had almost been killed once, riding a spooky horse on the trail when a helicopter came over, flying low.
However, I’d had helicopters fly over me when I was riding Sunny on the trail and he was fine. In the minute remaining I got Sunny next to Henry. I told my son to shorten his reins and get hold of the horn. The helicopters were almost upon us, the noise was deafening. Henry’s head came up and his eyes got big. He started to move backwards, as if to get away from the choppers. My son said, “Mama!” in a frightened voice. I grabbed Henry’s halter, which he wears under his bridle, crowded Sunny right up next to him and said, “Whoa.” Sunny stood like a rock, unfazed by the choppers. I held onto Henry. On another horse it might not have worked. But Henry is a steady trooper. He stood still. The helicopters passed overhead and went on down the beach.
I let go of Henry and told my kid he’d done fine. We were both a bit shaken. We rode on, but I had a tight ball of fear in my stomach. My mind was fixed on the unpredictable. What if the helicopters came back? What if Henry panicked and ran off? What if my kid fell off and was hurt or killed? What if…? You can imagine.
My kid was not as spooked as I was. When we turned around to ride back, he asked if we could lope, which is something we often do. I was a bit dubious. But the horses seemed fine. So we kicked up to a lope.
Now it was Sunny’s turn. He felt good; he wanted to run. I held him in and he crowhopped and bounced around. It felt like I was riding a pogo stick down the beach. Sunny can’t really dish anything out that I can’t ride, but I also can’t pay attention to much else riding a horse who is behaving like a pogostick. Henry was rapidly loping away from us. I was in no position to keep an eye on my kid. So I called a halt.
“We need to trot,” I said.
So we trotted down the beach. It was almost as fun as loping. Sunny settled into a steady gate, still feeling good, but not fighting me. We trotted a long ways, all the way back to the parking lot. The horses were relaxed and seemed happy. The choppers did not come back. But I have to admit, I was relieved to get back to the rig. We’d had a nice hour’s ride on the beach with only a couple of setbacks. All in all, a success. But “what if” was still big in my mind.
It wouldn’t have taken very much to turn our nice ride into a disaster—I was acutely aware of that. The unpredictable is just that—unpredictable. I pondered the broken bottle I’d seen on the beach, remembering a friend whose horse had stepped on just such a bottle riding across a field and cut his pastern to the bone. The unpredictable.
No, I don’t want to spend all my time riding around my own little arena where I feel safe. But I do, at times, struggle with this fear of the unpredictable. I’ve tried to minimize the risk by buying two reliable horses, and I think this choice has paid off. But as demonstrated yesterday, any horse can spook.
So my question for today is this. Do some of you struggle with this issue? And what are the choices you make? I know there is no simple answer. The unpredictable is just that. If we ride horses and love horses, we are taking a risk, both of getting hurt ourselves and losing the horse that we love. However, life itself is one big risk, and nobody gets out alive. It doesn't make sense to me to give up horses because they are one more form of risk. But I also struggle with my huge need to keep my son as safe and happy as I can. I'm never sure where the line is between acceptable risk and undue risk. I’d welcome any advice or insights from other horse people on how you cope with your fear/anxiety about this.