It’s been a long time since I parted company with a horse involuntarily while riding, but on Friday I got a crash-course refresher. First observations:
- the ground has not gotten softer
- I have not become more graceful
- falling off is much funnier when the horse didn’t intend for it to happen
I haven’t ridden much this year at all. My January-to-May work schedule kept me busy and exhausted, so I only rode a few times in all of those months. At least, I think I rode; I don’t remember for certain. I had big plans for a summer filled with early-mornings spent on horseback, but found myself unable to be up early enough (would have had to get up before 6 AM) to beat the heat, courtesy of hyperthyroidism and, later, Propanolol.
But now that the weather has turned indecisively toward autumn and my mind and body have adjusted to the medication, I have been making an effort to ride more often. Friday’s ride makes four this month, which is a pretty big step for me. I’m getting back into riding shape, evident mostly by the fact that I am able to sit down the day after I ride, and Soldier is softening up pretty nicely.
Even so, riding is a skill that you loose to some degree when you don’t practice. So, even though I’ve been riding for 17 years and am a very confident and competent rider, my balance is just slightly less secure than it is when I ride regularly, and my body lacks the muscle control to maintain a correct position without a dedicated effort.
Soldier and I had enjoyed a lovely but decidedly imperfect ride. We were winding down, loping softly across my riding arena when I asked Soldier to perform a difficult skill. As he attempted it, he stepped funny, causing him to pop up in a jarring, awkward way.
And I found out then that I had made a huge mistake.
A rookie blunder, really. My body was too far forward; my weight was not balanced and concentrated in my seat. Soldier’s rough step propelled me forward, just as the laws of physics and my awkward position mandated and would have foretold to any experienced horseperson watching. Because I was riding in the English saddle, there was no cumbersome pommel stop my momentum, no saddle horn to hold onto. As I wildly tried to regain my balance, pulling (I’m sure) roughly on the reins, Soldier also stumbled to maintain his balance and move back underneath me, but there was no recovery.
It’s always funny to me that the few seconds it takes from the beginning of the incident to traveling from atop a horse to the ground always seem to pass in slow motion. My brain processes the entire situation and my senses seem so much more acute than normal–I know where the horse’s feet are and what direction he’s likely to move in after I’m off and, therefore, which direction I should aim myself; I am aware of safety issues that riders learn until it’s instinct like getting my feet clear of the stirrups, hands away from the reins, and problem solve how to deal with any deficiencies in this area; I somehow manage to contort my body so that I fall relatively safely.
This seemingly-super ability to slow down time (at least for my brain) is, by the way, the horse-related skill that I would most like to transfer into the rest of my life. Why, for example, do the seconds seem to pass even faster in social situations when I need a witty reply, a measured-but-scathing response, an appropriate reprimand in my classes, an intelligent retort? Or, when taking a test, why do the minutes seem to tick by as quickly as seconds while my attempts to access information in my brain yield results at the speed of the finest 1984 personal computer?
Anyway, I was able to land in a moderately controlled way and so avoided injury. I laughed, especially when I saw the penitent confusion on Soldier’s face. He was extra careful with me after I climbed back aboard. Of course, there’s no way to tell a horse that it wasn’t his fault. He seemed overcome by the gravity of the situation. I just laughed and enjoyed the rest of my ride.