by Laura Crum
I read a blog post the other day about fear of riding after an accident. The author talked about how some people are motivated to overcome this very natural fear and ride again and others are not. Neither choice is wrong. But the thing I noticed, reading the comments, is that the fear seemed to center on loping (or cantering). And this was very interesting to me. People who were comfortable at the trot were afraid to lope for fear the horse might fall. And the thing is, these people are more or less right. Every horse I’ve ever seen fall did so out of the lope or gallop.
I have loped circles on innumerable horses in my life. It has been as automatic as breathing. But the horse I ride now hates loping circles. I’ve owned him five years, and in the beginning, I made him lope a lot of circles in the arena, cause hey, that’s what I always did with a horse, you know? But neither of us enjoyed it.
Sunny resisted the loping of circles in various ways, and he is not very smooth at the lope. I am getting older and stiffer and loping circles on him made my back hurt. I still have enough skill left that I can collect this clunky little yellow horse and make him lope a decent circle. But it’s no fun.
Sunny loves trail riding and will willingly lope up a hill out on the trail. I bought him to use him as a trail horse and he is great to ride outside. Strong, cooperative, sensible. Loping up a gentle hill he was/is much smoother and gradually I began trail riding more and more and mostly loping Sunny out on the trail, always on a gentle uphill slope. It worked for both of us.
As time passed, I noticed that I kicked Sunny up to the lope in an arena only long enough to lope a couple of circles…and that was enough. Sometimes I didn’t lope at all in the arena, just waited until I was out on the trail again. I didn’t really think about it. It wasn’t a premeditated decision—just how I was inclined to behave. The horse and I both seemed to be of one mind about the whole thing.
Sunny is not a graceful mover in the arena. He feels strong and solid marching down the trail; he feels like riding a small draft horse in the arena. And he stumbles in the arena—almost never trips on the trail. I have seen Sunny fall down loping around in his corral—at least half a dozen times. So when I do lope Sunny in the arena, I am always ready to “catch” him if he stumbles, because I damn sure don’t want him to fall while I’m riding him. Between that and how rough he is, it’s not very relaxing.
Lately when I ride in the arena, we mostly trot. Works for me. Works for Sunny. And then one of my friends rode up to me yesterday at the roping arena and asked if I ever loped this horse any more.
I started in to the explanation… “hurts my back, rough gaited, clumsy, likes to lope on the trail, hates loping circles” and noticed I felt very defensive. As if my friend was accusing me of being afraid to lope my horse and I had to defend myself. So I stopped and took a good look at that emotion. And the blog post I read about fear came to mind.
And I said, “Well, yes, I am afraid that this horse might fall with me loping him in the arena.” As soon as I said it I realized it was absolutely true.
The thing is, it’s not a “fear issue.” It’s just common sense. The only horse that ever fell with me was a good solid rope horse named Billy, who fell (and somersaulted) while I was loping him on a loose rein in this very same roping arena. And to this day, as I lope circles, I’m careful not to lope on a thrown away rein.
Most everyone I know who has had a horse fall with them, the horse has fallen out of the lope. And Sunny is the only horse I ever owned that I have seen fall when he was loping around his own pen. So hey, guess what? I believe it makes sense to be thoughtful.
Anyway, after the conversation with the friend yesterday, I took Sunny out of the arena and rode him up the hill through the forest and let him lope a good long way. We both enjoyed it. I have no fear of him falling there (though of course he could fall—I know this to be true). He feels solid and comfortable to me loping outside like this.
I see no sense in doing something neither of us enjoys and that does worry me a little. We had a black horse last year (belonged to my friend Wally) who was a pretty mover and had a lovely, smooth lope. I rode him half a dozen times and really enjoyed loping circles on him in the arena. Thing was, this horse hated trail riding and was the worst horse to ride downhill I’ve been on in a long time. He stumbled and tossed his head and felt like he was lame—though he wasn’t. He just didn’t like being “outside,” especially walking downhill. But he loped lovely circles in a groomed arena and really seemed to enjoy this activity.
In a perfect world I’d have a horse that was both a delight to ride in an arena and one that was good to ride outside. But in my own world I’ve got a really good trail horse who is not much of an arena horse. And that’s OK with me.
So, I’m curious. Does anybody else have a horse that they don’t entirely trust to stay up at the lope in certain situations? And how do you handle it?