A Guide to Falling: Shout out to Sierra, the most scareable mare
Yesterday, for the first (and second) time in my life, I fell off of a horse.
I've been riding since I was 12, when my parents decided I needed a hobby that didn't involve remaining stationary for hours, moving only enough to turn the page of a book. And so came Jack, a bah humbug retired race horse, measuring in at a slightly-too-tall 16 hands, but whose hair color matched mine almost exactly, making any argument for a shorter horse moot. And so I began to horseback ride, never really competing, just happy to sit on Jack while he mosied around the pasture, trail, or arena.
Perhaps because I grew up whining about mucking stalls in the winter, trying to catch flighty horses in pastures, and seeing family and friends get bucked off every once in a while, I never thought much of 'being an equestrian.' It sounds a lot more like 'outdoor chores' to me. As a result, I never really considered myself well-versed in the ways of horseback riding, but when I moved to college I was shocked at how my peers lacked knowledge of any and all things equine. I went to the University of Michigan; weren't these supposed to be the rich kids that got to board horses in fancy stables in New York's countryside? There were a few of those, but not nearly as many as I had thought there'd be. What there were more of were kids that had ridden once, on a trail ride, with a guide who probably gave them a hot cider and a pat on the back afterwards.
Along with the stories of “I went on a trail ride once! It was so fun...” I also heard a lot of stories of kids who went for one ride, on one horse, and inevitably found themselves on the ground very suddenly, and now refuse to go within ten feet of the beasts. I do not like these kids; they're wimps. Don't be one of those kids. You can be better. Here's how:
1. Wear a helmet. This is a gimme. You're a ridiculous person if you don't wear a helmet while riding a horse. Keep in mind that you're sitting on top of a living breathing thing that can decide he/she doesn't want you on top of them anymore. Is this likely to happen? No. But just in case, you need to wear a helmet. Which brings me to...
2. Horses are people too. Do all people have the same personality? Do all dogs have the same personality? No. The same is true of horses. I would also go so far as to say that they have feelings, although I would also categorize their main feeling as “needing something.” Still, I maintain that horses all have different personalities. For example, Cozy, a very oddly named horse that lives in my parents' barn, is a high-strung, fearful, and bossy gelding. He has been afraid of almost everything at some point in his life, but not so scared that it hinders him from being first in the pecking order. He is not cozy; he is sassy. Then there's Sierra, technically my horse, but I've been thinking about disowning her after yesterday's shenanigans. Sierra is typically calm, stubborn, and the only mare in her herd, so understandably vain. Try to keep personality in mind when choosing a horse to ride.
3. Bareback pads don't always translate well to trail riding. After learning how to ride in a standard Western saddle, I discovered the wonder that is a bare back pad a few years ago. Bare back pads are smaller, lighter, and, if you ask me, cuter than most saddles. The particular one currently residing in our barn is apparently English style (or so my mother says), but what I love about it is that it's really, really easy to put on and cinch up. Bare back pads are also much warmer and allow the rider to feel what the horse is doing based on muscle movement. They also, however, lack stirrups or any kind of stabilizing aspect. So when your horse is very suddenly spooked by the rustling of corn stalks, you 1) won't feel her muscles contracting soon enough and 2) will find yourself on the ground next to said cornstalks while your horse is half way across the field. I would advise only putting a bareback pad on a horse that you're very comfortable with, especially if you're about to go out into a field. This was my main mistake: I'd been riding with the bare back pad all week, just on a different horse.
4. If your sister sighs and says, “I was just worried she would step on your face,” don't panic. I know it's tempting to let your heart start racing, but the danger is actually over. Regardless of the terrible thing your sister may have just said, somehow happily still atop her much more easily spooked gelding, you are okay. Yes, you're sitting in the middle of an untilled corn field, making sure you can still wiggle all of your toes, but you're pretty much okay. Just overall, try not to panic. Your horse is already freaked out, and if you're okay-ish, there's no reason for you to get all riled up too.
5. Fall off the right way. It sounds silly, but there is a right and a wrong way to fall. Three things to remember: relax, roll away, and remain calm. First, relax. I've always found this tip hilarious, because, hi, I'm falling off a horse, and I don't feel very relaxed. One way to do this is make sure your elbows are bent. If they're not, and you land in an unforgiving way, it's likely that you'll break an arm. Next, roll away from the horse. It's tempting to curl up in the fetal position right where you drop, but you're more likely to get stomped on this way. Finally, remain calm. If you scream, or create any kind of big scene, you're only going to scare your horse, not to mention any others around you.
6. Don't let your horse run back to the barn sans you. This is particularly important if you have a nervous mother who scream-cries whenever she thinks something may have gone wrong. In fact, I cannot stress the importance of this point if this is the case with your mother. Also, your horse will probably find a way to get into the grain bin, which means that while you're trudging back to the barn, he or she is triumphantly munching away.
So if you're wondering, “Are horses more trouble than they're worth?” then you're on the right track. I would absolutely describe them as trouble. However, there are few things nicer than when they nicker at you when you visit them. It's very much a give and take relationship. You give them all your time, you get a nicker. You give them all the apples you had originally picked for apple crisp, they let you take them for a trot now and then. All in all, they're not so bad. And if you do fall off, which you inevitably will if you ride with any consistancy, just get back on. Most likely the horse was spooked by something else, not by you or your inadequacies as a new rider.
Now, if you'll please excuse me, I'm going to ice my...entire right side.