Monday, December 8, 2014

Back on the Horse

So, I fell off (well, she bucked but a better rider coulda stuck it, so I don't really like saying I was bucked off) two weeks and one day ago, and am just NOW getting back on the horse.  Yes, I got back on her again that same day, but this is the first ride after having a chance to process it, and as Shar and I discussed today, both first rides are difficult in their own way.

The first ride RIGHT after falling off is tough because you might be physically sore, you'll definitely be shaken mentally, and emotionally, you're probably either pissed or scared.  You've told yourself a few versions of why/how it happened, attempted to mitigate them however you can, and now you're getting back on, which is a test of those theories and remedies.

However, the first ride after you've been away from the horse for a while, whether it's the same horse or a different horse, and whether it's the next day or weeks, months, or even years later, though, is hard in other ways.  You've told yourself why the fall happened, but now it's distant enough that you're doubting your rationalizations.  And now it's a whole new day (/week/month/year/horse) so you can also worry that something entirely different might happen.  Is this the same horse you fell off and you only have to worry about what triggered that fall, or maybe she's in a whole different mood now, or you're getting onto a whole different horse and you don't even know what might set it off...

(Or is this all just me and I'm a worrywart?)

So anyway, Shar texted me today to ask if I wanted to ride tonight.  I had the gear I'd need with me, and it was a really nice day--partly cloudy, unseasonably "warm," full-ish moon...  So sure, I was in.  I showed up at her house, though, and it sure seemed dark.  I had to halter Arya by braille and lead her to and into the very dark barn.  But then we were in the barn with lights blazing and I got her cleaned up and tacked up.  Then we headed to the round pen, which was out of any beams of light from the barn, so leaving the bright barn and heading to the round pen left BOTH of us night blind--I couldn't see the round pen until we were right on it, and Arya misjudged the entrance when I led her through the gate after opening it--she caught the stirrup on it and startled herself.

I got my keychain out and used my little LED flashlight to find the lunge whip and start her off.  She seemed confused, since she couldn't see my body language, but our eyes adjusted (and the LED light helped), and we got some good lunging in.  First I just had her trot in only one direction to watch for any bucking that might be attributable to the tack, but she didn't buck at all.  Then I did our usual direction changes, both trotting and walking, just to get her paying attention to me and following my directions.  She did perfect, considering the conditions (dark plus still a bit slippery), so it was time to mount up.

But it was SO dark and I was SO nervous.  I was really tempted to just tell Shar I didn't want to do it.  But I couldn't wuss out, and while it would be nice if it was light for it, I was gonna have to get back on at some point.  So why not now, right?

However, after her difficulties finding the opening to the round pen before, I decided not to mount in the round pen and ride out of it, so I hauled Arya and the mounting block back into the light from the barn.

That's when R got home from work and pointed out that one of the bolts on my stirrups (I'd just changed from the ones that came with the saddle to the caged stirrups I already owned) was really loose.  Good catch, R!  I might have lost a stirrup in the dark at the very least, or possibly fallen off if she'd spooked (or even trotted, with my balance, especially in the dark) while I was riding home with one stirrup.

So, with that fixed and Shar ready to go, too, it was time to get on.

Deep breath.  Mount up.  She was fine.  I was rather nervous, though.  The cinch seemed a little loose, so once again, R came to my rescue and tightened it up for me.  I only tighten it enough to keep the saddle from falling off when I lunge, but I'd tightened it before futzing around with stuff.  Apparently not enough!  With that taken care off, we were off like a herd of turtles (as Shar often says).

Arya did fine leaving the property and following Flash down the road.  We were even going a different direction than we usually do, on a route she's only seen once, and from the other direction.  Her eyes and ears turned to the side every once in a while to check something out, but for the most part her ears were forward and she was striding out down the trail, even passing up Flash and taking the lead.  I was still rather nervous, but some deep breathing and attempts to sit deep in the saddle (and lean back a bit rather than curling forward as is my instinct).  Then we turned and headed down a road she'd never been on, and she still did fine.  I was chatting with Shar and trying to keep breathing.  Everything was going fine.

Then Arya spooked at something.  We think it was Shar's dog, Noelle, coming into her vision suddenly after being behind her, but who knows.  Luckily, she didn't go sideways, so I didn't lose my balance.  She took a couple of canter strides.  I instictively panicked a moment--cantering doesn't feel much different than bucking when your brain isn't really thinking, but then she slowed and my brain kicked in at about the same time, and we were fine, though my heart was racing a bit.  But I was more okay than I would've thought a few moments earlier, and we kept on going.  We got down to the house with Christmas lights we were heading for, and there was also a horse (or pony?) nearby, who whinnied at us.  Between my nervousness, the funky lights, and the presence of another horse nearby, Arya was a little on edge.  I was a LOT on edge.  It didn't seem like it'd be getting any brighter, and it didn't seem like I'd be getting any less nervous, so I asked if we could just retrace our steps and head home rather than taking a longer route home or doing anything more adventurous.

Shar is such a good mentor--she agreed to that, and told me she was proud of me, and didn't push me any further outside my comfort zone than I already was.  I really appreciate that!  She encourages me without sounding patronizing me.  She encourages me to push my comfort a little bit without being pushy, and of course by allowing me to board at her house, she's very supportive with her actions and not just words.

We made it home totally safely, including when a driver came toward us, saw our funky reflective gear and wondered what he was even looking at, so he slowed down and chatted with us (well, with Shar--Arya and I were further off the shoulder and she was eating and/or scratching her face).

After arriving home, I untacked, and Arya was SWEATY!  Not all over, and not under the saddle, just on her chest and neck.  We ONLY walked.  Guess between my nervous energy and her own, she got a bit of a workout anyway, somehow.

We went a whopping 2-ish miles (my tracker says just under, Shar's says just over) in 40-ish minutes.  Woo.  ;-)

I didn't take any pictures, but here's what it would look like if I had:

We discussed when our next ride should be, and I just don't think I'm up for another night ride before getting in a nice daylight ride, so most likely won't ride until the weekend.  :-)

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