Ya know, it’s not a good story without a dragon.
I was teaching a clinic at Verde Valley School, Sedona. Stunning, breath-taking scenery with the arena tucked at the base of the red rocks. Sort of near nothing. All the school buildings, barns, etc were quite a ways away, as in couldn’t see them. I had turned Peka, one of my relatively untrained heathens (about 250 or so rides in her) loose in the arena while I was working with the ten girls and their horses. She was my demo horse for the day. One of the reasons she was loose was because I wanted to see if she would come to me in a strange arena when I called her by name.
Yep. Fabulous horse!
I put a string around her neck and demonstrated a couple of things like sidepassing, turns on the forehand and hindquarters.
Then, it was time for a break. I Curbsided her on the fence and bareback with just the string I set off for the trailer to get her some hay and grab a PB&J for me.
The trailer was up a pretty steep hill about 300 or so feet away. We were about half way there when her whole body went rigid. Her head went up and she turned sideways at something we couldn’t see. She’s normally a pretty good girl so I figured that some little nervousness wouldn’t be too difficult and I asked her to turn back toward the trailer and met with… Nothing. As in no inclination or indication that she was going to do that. That lasted about a second. And she took OFF for the hills.
I pulled back on the string and it had absolutely no effect. Didn’t even remotely slow her down. Now as I’m sure you realize that hilly/mountainous terrain that’s covered with bunch grasses and shrubbery also has — cue scary music here — erosion arroyos!!! As in 1-3 feet deep with straight sides and 2-4 feet wide.
I knew they would be there, but she didn’t as she’s never been in that part of the country. Besides, she wasn’t looking down AT ALL. She saw them (yes, them. There were quite a few) just as she got to them. I couldn’t do a ding-dang thing but go with her as she jumped. Luckily she’s a very smooth jumper. But still, at a gallop, bareback, with a string, in strange country jumping arroyos where the steep edges just crumble away is not really – ya know – a good idea.
So, what’s going thru my mind while she’s galloping: “Huh, this could go badly.” “Sure will put a damper on the clinic.” “I guess if I got to go, this isn’t a bad way, but I don’t want to be mangled and live.”
Then, we came to a steep hill with 2 dead pine trees about 4 feet high at the bottom. The dead and dried limbs were sticking up and everywhere, waiting to impale the errant runaway horse and rider.
I couldn’t stop her, but I used every skill and signal I had to turn her and somehow managed to get thru to her. We went left. Sharply. I then realized that she was starting to come back in her head and when I pulled on the string again, she just stopped quietly. And stood there. She looked at me and said, “Whew, lost my head there for a bit, mom.” I said, “No shit!”
I leaned over and put the string over her nose and rode her back to the trailer.
While I had no intention to test our skills like that it was helpful to know that could happen. I always tell students that you can’t learn to canter at the trot. That’s also not a good time to assess your riding skills. You need to already have them.
Peka was perfect the rest of the clinic. Of course. And yes, all the clinic people all saw us go. I did mention that I wouldn’t recommend that for any of them.
In retrospect here are some more of my thoughts:
If you want to achieve a high goal, you’re going to have to take some chances.” — Alberto Salazar
“If anything terrifies me, I must try to conquer it.”
— Francis Chichester, adventurer (so me!)
I’m a quote collector. I love them. They inspire me in myriad directions. And I’ve selected this batch to support my thoughts on how I feel about moving forward after my brush with mortality on Peka.
“Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade.” — Rudyard Kipling
“Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure.” — George Woodberry, Poet
It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.? —Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own
“In order for you to profit from your mistakes, you have to get out and make some.” — Anonymous
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” — John Kennedy
Fear is the best crutch ever. It’s always easy to rely on and keeps you from fulfilling your dreams. Brendon Burchard
“You can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price”
— Vince Lombardi
Now then, when I recounted my Peka story, many people (including my husband) had the same sort of response. That being: Well, I guess you won’t do that again!
In my husband’s case- I looked at him and said, “You’ve met me, haven’t you?”
As a matter of fact, the next two days I was on Peka in the pasture bareback without even the string just to see what she would do. She was a pill and took off again. But, then again, I virtually never do that due to a lack of time. So, obviously we needed to practice—not avoid.
How would I fix that if I avoided it? Why would I avoid it when I like to ride her with a string. Walking with a string isn’t the answer. For starters, we were walking when we suddenly weren’t walking. This is a common problem I deal with when I meet people who tell me they don’t need to learn how to ride well because they ‘just walk’ on trail. Well yeah! Until you don’t.
Avoidance is the best short-term strategy I know of to ensure long-term misery. –Brendon Burchard
Good one, eh? Horses actually appreciate the opportunity to learn that fast and high energy/anxiety are not the same thing. They should be able to gallop with a relaxed and thinking mind with a person. After all, they do it without people, so therefore – it must be the people that are the
problem. And it’s impossible to teach a horse how to do that without doing it.
So, get out there and stick your toe over the line. Dip it in the water. Then dive in. What have you REALLY got to lose?
Upon hearing the story, Kay felt compelled to record it in her inimitable way for all of posterity so you get this whole bonus story/training concepts AND a great cartoon!