Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Barn

Yes, it's about me again

Two weeks before Christmas I had a clash with Major or should I say a crash.  Yes, that lovable Eeyore character that doesn’t like to move too fast, literally gave me a run that would have lit the forest on fire.
Heading out on the path

I had about an hour to get a quick ride in before my son’s home school class was finished.  Having not ridden for about three weeks, I was feeling some pressure to exercise the horses.  Once Major, our Appaloosa pony, was saddled I took him into the arena, walked around once and got on.  No pre-flight exercises were done, like moving his back legs or backing him up to see if he was listening to me.  Heck, I’ve been riding him all summer, two, three times a week, we’re well trained buddies. 

As we trotted around the arena, he gave a little buck.  I figured he was feeling fresh, so I didn’t give it another thought.  The students in my son's home school class could see the arena from the window.  Not wanting to distract them, I decided to go into the woods behind the house.   Off we went and all was going well; a little walking, a little trotting- Yahoo!    The path we took lead to an open field.   There we stopped and listened.  It was a beautiful day, very little wind, and peaceful.

In the clearing
It was still hunting season and Major seemed to have a heighted awareness.  His ears were straight up and listening.  I decided to turn around and head back to the arena.  

Coming back

We always walk back.  It’s the rule, but the minute I turned his nose he tried to bolt. “Damn,” I thought.  I quickly slid my right hand down the rein and pulled his nose to my knee.  He spun around in a half circle and stopped.  “Good boy,” I said, as I gave him a pat.  I relaxed my body, sat back into the saddle and commanded, “Walk on.”  I’m not sure saying anything with authority matters to a horse, but it gave me courage.   Major wanted none of it.  I didn’t know if we were trotting, jigging or cantering, but it occurred to me he wasn’t listening to any of my cues and it would be wise to get off.     But I didn’t, I stayed on and managed to slow him down by see-sawing the reins back and forth.   That’s when he got mad and decided to get this monkey (me) off his back.   With ears pinned, I could feel the tension building in his muscles.  The last thing I saw was Major’s head curling down.

frightened Major

“Get up,” my son said as he helped me get to my feet.     He told me he saw Major flying back to the barn alone and knew something was wrong.     Once he was satisfied I was moving relatively well, he went to make sure the horse was ok.  I stumbled my way out of the woods, sat down outside the barn to get my vision back.   I took my helmet off and was amazed as it came apart in my hands.  “What happened,” I thought, and thank god I always wear a helmet.

Major getting the monkey off

In the house, I assessed my condition.  My body felt fine.  Nothing broken and nothing pulled.  My vision was back, but my head ached, I felt queasy, and embarrassed my horse had gone barn sour and the home school group saw the outcome.
My initial reaction was, “I’m so done with this horse!”   I’m sick of his personality and pony mentality.  I’m also finished with riding.  How many more falls before they carry me out on a stretcher.  I’m playing Russian roulette and don’t like the odds.  I need to find a safer sport.
It’s been a month since the fall and it’s taken me time to recover from feeling angry at Major and disappointed with myself.    I took Major’s behavior as a personal insult.   I’ve worked years with him on the ground and in the saddle.  We were passed all this running back to the barn stuff.  Wrong.   Major was following his horse instincts.  He perceived danger and took charge by high tailing it back to the barn.  Horses don’t do anything personally to anyone.  
Barn sour can happen to any horse; the underlining issue is trust.  He did not see me as the leader to guide him out of danger.  If I got him using his thinking brain instead of his reacting brain by doing some groundwork, would the situation have turned out differently?  I don’t know.   For now, I’m back to basics with him, building trust, and hopefully, in the future, riding into the woods without bolting back.