From racing to riding... the training diary of an off the track Standardbred

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dear Horses, I Do NOT Like the Taste of Dirt

My knee FINALLY stopped bothering me when I was riding and guess what happens? I fall off...again.

Before this little streak that I now have going, my last fall was nearly two years ago. Now it seems like I fall off all of the time but strangely enough, I don't mind. It just gives me things to work on. The fact that I always get back up, without fear, and try again makes me proud and gives me inner strength. If at first you don't succeed, try try again.

As some of you know, I am part of my school's equestrian drill team. Today we had open tryouts and the current team decided to work the other horses after tryouts. It seemed like just another normal day.

I have been working with this particular mare to help break some habits and get her less tense under saddle. She is a little 8 year old 14/14.2hh chestnut pony mare who we shall call "S." She has bucked off several intermediate riders in the past few months and the school instructor is hesitant to put anyone on her at this point. I'm always up for a challenge and the instructor knows I can hold my own with most horses.

Lately, S has been AWESOME! I have her going consistently well walk, trot, jog. She has finally accepted pressure on the bit without tossing her hand. She has also begun to understand leg pressure. Before, she would just bulge through what ever leg pressure I applied and if she gets too annoyed, she bucks. She doesn't care if you kick with all of your strength; if she doesn't want to do something, she will do everything she can to get out of it. Oh, did I mention she kicks other horses if they get to close? This mare has learned every trick in the book to get her riders off. Her past owners were scared of her and she learned that if she got them off, she didn't have to work. Little does S know, I always get back on after I fall.

I have been working on her canter the past few rides. The canter is when she pulls 99% of her stunts. Usually, she just bucks or crow hops but today, it was her goal to get me on the ground. She did not want to work. It took three people to hold her still enough for me to even get on. She was rearing and jigging but I finally got my little bum in the saddle.

After she was warmed up (her warm up was amazing by the way, forward, engaging trot and she even offered to take the bit a few times!) I asked her to canter. I got her usual "I don't want to canter - buck buck kick kick" routine but I got her going a few times around the ring at a nice, balanced canter. She was swishing her tail and I knew she was thinking of something. But after she got into the canter, she was fine.

I walked her around a bit and switched directions. Apparently, I gave her enough time to let her think of a way she has an excuse to get me off. She pulled the same stunts when picking it up and even threw in a nice grunt and tail swish. I had her going maybe half way around the ring before I had to come off of the rail to pass another horse. S will deliberately go after another horse to kick them when the opportunity arises so I made sure to cut in a lot. However, S believe that if she bulged far enough out, she would be able to reach her destination. after politely asking her to straighten out and go back on the rail without success, I gave her a nice boot with my outside leg to remind her that I actually meant that she had to stop bulging towards other horses. Needless to say, S did not like my reminder.

After popping a few bucks, I squeezed her on. She was getting annoyed that I wasn't already off. So what does she do? Out of nowhere, she goes from giraffe mode to having her head in between her front legs, bucking, then crow hopping, then dead stopping. Without having anything in front of me to put my hand on to stop me, I went straight over her head. I do admit that I was leaning forward to try to gather my reins and that also helped me get to the ground. What did I land on? My screwed up knee. Awesome.

As I was plummeting to the earth, I saw her hooves coming at me in the corner of my eye. My heart dropped. I knew she was rearing and that she was right above me. I covered my face and shut my eyes. A few seconds later, I opened them and was relieved to see S walking to the side of me. Its school procedure to stay right were you fall and wait for the nurse to come and check you out before remounting but I'm a rebel and got up and got back on before anyone could come over to me and see if I was ok.

I quietly dropped some F-bombs to myself because I could feel the pain in my knee. Obviously, I sucked it up and told the instructor that I was fine and that there was no need for the nurse. She wasn't too happy with me but she was glad to see that I was physically and mentally able to get back on after falling off. Within a few minutes, I was cantering her around the arena again. She finally gave in and behaved so I got off and called it a day.

99% of the time, I take complete responsibility for any accident or fall. This time, I partially blame the horse's past owners for installing bad habits into this poor little mare. She thinks that if she gets you off, she gets out of work. Hopefully I won't fall off again but if I do, its a good lesson for this mare.

The most painful part of the whole ordeal was walking away. Literally. Each step felt like my knee was being hit by a sledge-hammer that was being swung by the world's strongest man. I got home, iced it, and took some Advil. Oh, guess what I have tomorrow in school? Gym. And guess what we are playing? Soccer and kickball. It looks like my poor knee will take longer to heal than I thought.