Sunday, May 30, 2010

Stacking the Odds

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.


Laura Crum said...

Jami--I can certainly relate to this post, though I don't take all your precautions (maybe I should). I do tell someone when I go off on the trail alone and I carry a cell phone. I don't ride horses I don't know. And I try to stick to riding gentle horses. Though I am now riding six year old Smoky, he still qualifies, as he is truly very broke and gentle. I do most emphatically believe in the point of your post. Within the parameters of the rider you aspire to be, stack the odds in your favor. Back when I rode colts for others, I always gave myself permission to refuse to ride any horse I felt unequal to. It didn't make me popular at times, but I think it helped keep me in one piece. Today I don't ever consider getting on any horse I feel uncertain about. I know this won't prevent all problems, but I do think I'm "stacking the odds". And I'm always careful to listen to my gut. If it doesn't feel right, I don't do it. Even on my trustworthy broke horses. Thanks for a helpful post.

Jami Davenport said...

I'm probably not nearly as cautious as I sound with Gailey. I just don't see any point on taking chances riding other people's horses. There's no reason for me at this stage in my life, unless they're school horses I can learn something on.

I guess my point was stack the deck with what you're comfortable with at whatever stage you're at in your horse career or experiences.

Shanster said...

I'd call you cautious and smart as well! After my current green horse... I'm so done with them.

When I headed up to my barn today for a lesson with said green horse... another woman was in her lesson... on her older horse who just got over some lameness issues...she had her green horse tied to the trailer.

We both talked about how we would rather have fun riding our broke horses and learning fun stuff vs. dealing the breaking in and some times drama of a greenie... I think we are both capable and will get thru it with the help of our trainer... but yeah.

You reach an age where you just don't want to have to go thru so much ... shrug.

Janice Grinyer said...

Not over the top at all. If this was my friend I would probably recommend a good trainer to her for her to hire to scope out a new prospect.

I think in these instances, esp. in green horse purchasing, it is very much worth it to pay a qualified trainer to ride for you, and give their professional opinion on the horse you want to purchase. Most importantly, it gives respect to the art form of professional riders. It takes a special talented person to be able to catchride on ANY horse and pass judgement on the ride; we honor the art of horsemanship by qualifying it with respectable payment.

As with yourself, I certainly know my limitations, and just as I wouldnt ever want to overface a good horse, I certainly dont want to overface ME lol...

Anonymous said...

I totally understand this. I don't like riding other people's horses the same way I don't like driving other people's cars!

I'm not a confident rider to begin with, although I can fake it fairly well if need be. It's not even a matter of me having been horribly injured. I've come off a few times, sure, but those have resulted in nothing more than bumps and bruises.

It's either an overly well-developed imagination, or an overly well-developed sense of self preservation. I choose to believe it's the latter :)


Leslie said...

Definitely agree with stacking the odds in our favor, Jami. I tend to be overly cautious but it's saved me plenty of times, and not just around horses.

One reason, among a few, I left a barn job was because even though we were required to wear helmets(we taught kids to ride) one person was left to tend and ride the horses during any given morning.

The morning I got bucked off a big 16+h mare, well known to be cantankerous, but I was scheduled to ride her. I had groomed and tacked up Cleo with no problems. I'd done some groundwork with her prior to mounting. She was acting fine, for Cleo. As I was walking her the buck literally came out of nowhere, in an open, outside arena. Didn't feel it coming. Nothing had been amiss.

I landed hard on my left hip, which still bothers me sometimes.I laid there for a while,thinking, "No one is here, sure hope I haven't broken anything. Guess I can try to crawl to the office and dial 911...." Finally, I did get up but boy did my hip hurt. And I did not get back up on that horse that day. Actually, I think I finished up the other work went home.

That was to be the last time I rode alone there. I thought it was extremely dangerous not to have at least two staff people scheduled. I told the manager I wasn't going to ride unless someone else was on the property. The manager never did schedule two of us together. I think on Fridays all three of us were there.I'd work the horses on the ground but refused to ride if I was by myself that day. One of the other staff members, also around my age (late 40's) would ride alone and the twenty year old, fearless youngster rode alone all the time.

We had 14 horses at that facility. Even the ones I knew well because I rode them regularly I decided it just wasn't safe practice to be riding unless someone else was at the barn.

I think my manager, who was in her mid-twenties at the time, thought I was probably just a scaredy-cat old lady, but I'm sure some time in her life, she will feel the same. Time has a way of doing that to us. These days, I prefer safe to sorry and it works for me!

Jami Davenport said...

I bought Gailey as a barely broke three year old. I've chronicled a lot of my experiences with her on this blog. She is the last green horse I'll ever own. Because of her basic laid-back nature, I survived her green horse days. My next horse will be a well-broke, but younger, horse, maybe 5 or 6? I know those horses don't come cheap in this economy so I'm hoping Gailey stays sound enough to ride for a few more years.

Gayle Carline said...

I have a spooky girl, too. I've only come off her twice, in soft dirt, with only a bruise to show for it. But I do stack my deck - she gets extra spooky during strong winds, so I don't ride then. I don't try to take her out on a trail. And I never ride alone. My gelding is not spooky at all. As a matter of fact, he's better under saddle than on the ground. He doesn't care about wind, and I don't take him on trails because he's a showhorse who has JUST gone back to work after two years' layup with a broken sesamoid. But I'd still never ride him alone.

Francesca Prescott said...

I can relate - as I've mentioned here before I've had my share of accidents and prefer to stack the odds in my favour. My Kwintus is virtually bomb-proof; we even came within a few metres of the train the other day and he didn't care at all. But he stumbles easily...

Kwintus' ex-owner had a horrible experience last year with her new horse. She was riding in the outdoor arena at the end of the day when her horse spun in walk and unseated her. She broke her back. Lay there in the cold (northern England in late October) for hours until someone found her and called an ambulance. The angels were on her side, an operation on her back was successful and she's already back in the saddle again. But I doubt she'd ride alone, after hours, without a phone in her pocket.

I think a little imagination around horses is a good thing. And I often wish drivers who zoom past us had more imagination...