Laura’s post on the dangers of riding had me thinking about the dressage schooling show I went to a few weeks ago.
An acquaintance of mine was trying to sell a mare she bought about a year. Knowing I rode dressage, she emailed me to ask if I’d be willing to ride her mare in the show. She’d already paid for two tests (Walk-Trot A&B) but had injured herself on this very same horse and couldn’t ride. Her injuries were the result of her sitting too far forward in the galloping position and the horse rooting downward with its head and not really the horse’s fault. She volunteered to haul the horse and have it ready for me.
It took me one second to say “thanks, but no thanks.” I don’t ride other people’s horses that I know nothing about. In this case, I was pretty sure she didn’t know much about this Thoroughbred mare either. Nor was she ridden with any consistency. Add to that an unfamiliar situation for the mare.
All in all, a recipe for disaster. Not a smart move for a courage-challenged rider anyway. Not that I’m a coward, but I choose to be brave on horses I know inside and out.
I tried to explain to her that I didn’t ride other people’s horses and finally recommended a friend who’s younger and braver. As it was, the mare did fine at the show, but that’s all beside the point. She did fine without me on her back getting nervous and tight and falling into all my old bad habits.
I know some people thought it was odd that I wasn’t willing to ride this green horse when I’ve ridden dressage for close to three decades and especially when I ride a huge drama queen mare on a daily basis. But I know my drama queen. I know what she’s capable of. I know shying is her worst vice. I know she shies in a certain corner of the arena. I know she likes to fall on her forehand and speed up like a runaway car going downhill on a winding mountain road. I know she’s hotter and more prone to shy when the weather is cool and stormy and dull and dependable when it’s hot. I know she’s afraid of small spaces to the point of it being a phobia. I know not to jerk on the lead rope when taking her out of her stall, but to wait for her to come out on her own after she determines the danger of hitting her head is minimal. I know she doesn’t fit in the barn wash rack designed for Arabians. I know she has to back into a trailer. Yes, I know all these things about her. I know how to deal with them.
I know how to stack the deck to have as safe an experience as possible with her every day. I don’t know how to stack the deck with strange horses, even worse, a green horse. So I don’t ride them. Call me a coward, I don’t care. I call me cautious and smart.
I’ve been hurt before riding horses. My most recent experience happened last fall when I came off the drama queen for the first time ever. I wrote about it here so I won’t bore you with the details. Luckily, I didn’t break bones, just sprained a wrist and received some arena burns because the sand was as hard as a rock where I hit the ground. Without warning, Gailey had shied in her usual corner at the canter, even though she’d gone by that corner for at least 20 minutes without batting an eye. That’s how I came off. I knew better. I knew she did shied without giving notice. Now I make sure I over bend her every time we come to the scary corner because I never know when she’ll execute another leap sideways across the arena.
I’m not getting any younger. I’m leaving the green and unruly horses to riders much younger than me. I don’t bounce anymore when I hit the ground. My body isn’t as supple as it used to be. Give me an old, dead broke horse any day of the week.
Horses are dangerous, even the old, dead broke ones, even when a person takes all the precautions necessary. Stack the deck in your favor. Stay as safe as you can for the type of rider you are or wish to be. Obviously, if you’re an aspiring trainer, you have to ride some pretty green horses and horses with vices. That’s how you build a name. I’m not a trainer, and I’m not great at sitting a buck. I know my limitations, my strengths, my weaknesses. Even more so, I know my horse. I wear a helmet. I wear full-seat breaches, in which the material on the seat is sticky, rather than slippery. I ride when other people are riding. If I go out on trails alone, I tell someone. When I ride in my arena at home, I call someone to say I’m getting on and should call them back in an hour and a half after I’m done.
Maybe you think I’m over the top. I think I’m just stacking the deck.