By virtue of falling, I discovered that my left leg is weaker than my right. Had my left leg been an equal to its mate on the starboard side of my body, I would not have fallen when Mo spooked last night. And what did Mo spook at last night? Why, Mo spooked at another horse last night. It’s just a small horse, too, about a year old, cute, wouldn’t hurt a fly but Mo Didn’t Have Anyway of Knowing That, Now Did He? Espeically With That Woman On His Back Who Was Sitting Funny.
I was sitting funny because I was riding with my right leg out of the stirrup. When I do half-seat, my right leg burns, which should have been a clue. Instead of interpreting this clue, I was just cheerful about my left leg muscles not bothering me. Leah suggested that I ride around with my right foot out in order to strengthen the left. I was also trying to post like that (which I kinda sorta did) and then, while totally distracted and all over the place, Mo saw fit to defend himself from Things Unknown (aforementioned colt) and off I went.
No bruises or torn flesh this time. Got back up as soon as I was sure I could do so, went to Mo, kissed him in the nose, and finished the lesson with my crop tucked in my boot. Didn’t want to add to things.
The bareback lessons are what we’re doing for now. The first thing that happens when I get on Mo is that I get scared. That unstable-in-the-vitals feeling washed across me, my hands and arms feel all loopy and shaky for just a moment, and of course I hang on for dear life with my lower leg which makes me slip and slide around. So the first few minutes are all about me trying to find my center and not to fall off. I wobble all over the place and Mo ignores me and wanders around as he pleases while I try to get the thing under control. Today I came off, but it was a very slow coming-off, more of a leaning forward and then a sliding to the ground rather than a falling off. I was suprised to find myself standing up and was also quite proud. It was a good way to come off! I worked very hard in my 1/2 hour lesson and it wore me out but good. Towards the end, I couldn’t really put my leg anywhere useful, plus I had to stop and rest a couple of times during the 1/2 hour.
That’s a good mantra and I’ve employed it more than once when His Mo-ness has been in a less-than-cooperative humor. And when I remember to use the mantra, I hear Leah’s voice and think of how I usually hear that voice, from the ground looking up at me if she’s come into the ring to explain something to me, or from her seat on the mounting block. Since it’s winter, she’s bundled and swaddled in a long quilted coat and maybe she holds a mug of hot green tea as she say “Remember! Forward fixes everything!” When I tell the horse to go forward during a confusing moment (hungry barn cat, the spooking of another horse, strange noises from outside), then he knows he can depend on me and that I’ve got things covered. Well, I guess saying that the horse “knows” is kind of a stretch, but I’ve given him assurance in the form of a command that he understands and he doesn’t waste energy on trying to take care of the problem himself. Someone he trusts, the bossy mare of the herd or his rider, has directed him and the incident transitions easily into a non-incident. But what if I stopped, as I have done so many times, and stayed wallowing in the moment of everything going wrong? I think those moments are confusing for Mo, but they pass. As a former riding teacher said, “One-Two-I-Forgot” to explain a horse’s conception of cause and effect. But for a human (moi), the moment lasts and lasts and then starts reverberating with a bunch of other lousy moments (sometimes lousy moments from things unconnected to riding). It’s easy to do. We remember the past but can’t see into the future — but that’s the beauty of experience! We can learn from specific experience and can make inferences and pretty darn good guesses about stuff. So with Mo, I’ve learned that a spook is best met with a command to keep moving forward and then the bad scary moment passes and we’re on to something else. There’s a lot of faith involved in keeping this concept close to heart and then actually using it. So during the day, out of the blue I hear Leah: “Remember! Forward Fixes Everything!” And then I go forward.
I have indeed continued — I must admit, however, that I’ve been thinking a bit more about the potential seriousness of injury than I have in the past, although the worst part right now is an itchy elbow. The scuffs are covered with new pink skin and a rash, probably due to the bandaid as much as anything else. Every now and again I feel a funny little twinge down in the point of my elbow, but I wouldn’t even use the word “pain.”
I’ve even ridden not being in a lesson. Last week, during some more hot, hot weather, I asked Mo to bend at the walk for about 20 minutes. I tried to ask him to trot but I couldn’t do it. And some of that might have been fear. I paid very close attention to us, and rode inside so that if he dumped me again, it would be on the nice soft thick indoor sand instead of the beaten-down-by-the-rain sand of the outdoor arena. And as soon as I got him to do what I wanted him to do — and as soon as got my own body in a position so that he could do so, I reminded him that he was indeed a good boy and we stopped for the day.
But I’m thinking more about injury than I used to and thinking more about what on earth we’d do if I got hurt and the answer is . . .we would start eating beans and we would see if we could get jobs for the cats. And I wouldn’t be able to lease Mo, as much as I want to keep doing that for a variety of reasons.
So I think what it boils down is, much as I hate to admit it, I’m still a little scared. And it’s no good being scared because when you get scared while you ride, you “protect” yourself (Leah pointed this out) but it doesn’t actually do anything useful because curling up in a ball to cover your vital organs does nothing toward making your ride safer. Isn’t it ironic?
That was the sound my body made as I hit the ground in the outdoor sand arena, yea for it was even on little Mo, only Mo, No Problem it’s Just Mo, Oh I Used To Ride Mo When I Was a Beginner, Mo Who Is Not Gabby . . .yes, it was that Mo and he spooked sideways and off I went. It was worse than December (although obviously not too bad or I wouldn’t be here using both my left and my right hands) because I was wearing short sleeves (my elbow is skinned and I’m working on a charming bruise) and because the ground was harder. And I also think Mo spooked faster and moved with more alacrity than Gabby did because he’s a smaller horse. So what they say is true: you can find yourself in mid-air when you’re riding a little guy. It took me a bit longer to let go the reins this time — I actually saw my own hand (left) holding then. I knew it wasn’t worth doing but my hand held on anyway. I also hit harder this time (see above) and had to lie still and think about things for a moment before I got up. I knew I was breathing and not paralyzed or dead, so I raised my hand and waved at the air, the sun, anyone who might be watching, and God bless her, a nice young woman dismounted and held Mo for me while I staggered upright.
I was amazed at my first physical sensation — thirst. I was so thirsty I thought I couldn’t stand it and wanted to gulp water. Then I wanted to cry, so I walked Mo back and forth and let a few tears out and that seemed to do the trick. I didn’t want to cry anymore so I got back on and walked him. I tried to ask Mo to trot and we did kind of shuffle-trot in a circle, but I realized I couldn’t make myself. When I grazed him, he was kinda pushy and I wasn’t pushing back, so that was interesting too.
I think I came off because, 1) Mo spooked and 2) I wasn’t paying proper attention. I noticed that he got faster all of a sudden, but that happens sometimes and usually doesn’t signify anything — he likes to go fast. I was mulling over in my mind, “Gee! I wonder what this uptick in speed is all ab–” and then I was flying through the air. Flying down, but flying.
There is so much to master with these creatures! Mastery of them, mastery of ourselves! It’s endless!
Yesterday we rode to music! Leah started working with another student on a show piece, so she had the boom box out in the arena and was playing some new-age, sorta Lord of the Rings type music. As soon as Mo heard it, he started trotting away — or as soon as I heard it, I felt happy and started telling him to trot without realizing what I was doing. “This is great!” I said. “OK!” said Leah, “Then we’ll ride to music!” Using her best Socratic method, she then asked me what I thought the benefits of riding to music might be. The main one I could think of is that it would relax me-the-rider, which it does indeed. Not only that but with the right kinds of music, you feel like you’re in a movie! And when a “canter” tune comes on, it’s very dramatic and all of a sudden you’re out there saving Ireland or Scotland or Middle Earth or something, surging ahead on your noble steed at the head of an invincible army or you’re delivering the message that will save the good people of Rivendell (or Union Center, Ohio) from a fate worse than death — heroic, know what I mean? Plus I got so into it that I think I was doing a bit better of a job of asking Mo to do stuff. By the end of the lesson, I don’t know what we were doing exactly other than some fantastic collected little trot that neither he nor I normally do. Leah says he never got that far in his training. Does that mean I was *training* him to do something in spite of myself? But oh riding him to music was that kid-thing, where you get all wrapped up in what you are pretending and you’re having fun pretending stuff!
Meanwhile, Gabby’s got a new official name: Avalon’s Fallen Angel. Isn’t that great? I burst out laughing when I saw the name on the white-board at the barn (something about vet certificates for an upcoming show) because it was just so darned appropriate. Gabby was born of excellent stock and valued at thousands of dollars, but she was moved about the country like a large and expensive piece of black walnut furniture that no one knew what to do with, like a wardrobe or an ice chest or a wooden commode chair that has to be made into something else since we now have built-in closets, refrigerators and indoor plumbing. She refused to jump despite extensive and special training, wound up at a teaching facility and then got sold to me, me who had some idea I could handle owning a 16 hand TB. She got sick, she pulled out of it, and now everyone loves her. I was so happy for her great new name that I made sure to give her some treats and rub her pretty, pretty head. The Angel Gabriel — a messenger from God who might have passed on to her earthly reward were it not for the efforts of many people and the plunging into debt of me with that horrendous vet bill. Ooof.
Hey, I forgot to mention that I’ve been cantering Mo without stirrups! How cool is that? We just rock along (probably not today; the air quality is forecast to be very very bad) and I don’t have my feet in the stirrups and it’s just fine and dandy! Hooray!