Something happened during my training session today that doesn’t happen often. I came off a horse. Soil test, unplanned dismount, rider relocation, call it what you will, I was on the horse, funky things happened, I was looking up thinking “What a beautiful blue sky… hey, wasn’t I riding a horse a moment ago?”
For the record, I was not hurt, though my helmet did come into contact with the ground hard enough to give me a headache, one I still have some hours later. This is the first time my helmet has ever touched the ground during a fall from a horse. In the past, I have always managed to control the “get off” well in enough to allow the training I gained on how to fall from martial arts and motorcycle road racing, to prevent any helmet impact. Unfortunately the nature of this fall was such that while I controlled it well enough to walk way without a mark, the very expensive helmet Nancy bought me a while back actually did its job.
Which brings us to the title of this posting. If a day you come off a horse, at speed, isn’t a bad day, they what is? Well you might ask. :> At the time, it certainly seemed like it was going to be bad day. While I sat on the mounting block and took inventory of my body parts, it sure could have turned out that way. But as I was determining that I was in fact not hurt, I watched the horse walk back in my direction, head down, and very unhappy about what had happened. While watching the animal approach, asking to be allowed to join up again as rider and mount, several things went through my mind very quickly and by the time I stepped back up in the saddle, my outlook was somewhat different than one might expect.
First, neither the horse or myself was hurt. That would have made it undeniably a bad day. Second, I could not be angry with the horse, as the mantra “In this, as all horse training, the horse is an innocent victim.” Third, the other mantra that came to mind was, “When you learn something, it is a good day.”
So since I was not hurt and the horse had not done anything wrong, if I could learn something from the experience it would have to be called a good day. I therefore set out to determine what had gone wrong, why, and how to make sure it didn’t happen again.
I have always found it interesting when a person is asked why they came off a horse and the explanation usually starts off with something likes “Well that damn horse…” which is followed by what ever the horse did just before the fall that caused the rider to come out of their saddle. In a situation like this I become a detective looking for clues at a crime scene. However, first I have to remember that the horse is not the perpetrator, it is the victim. Then I can start to break down the order of events the lead up to the incident. Since I refuse to put the blame on the animal, I am forced to follow the chain of events back to where I made my first mistake and then go forward again to see at how many points along the way I could have prevented things from ending up like they did. Embarrassing you say? To some extent yes. But absolutely required if I am to learn from the experience and use it to improve my training and/or riding.
I am now going to detail the mistakes I made that led up to my needing to dust off my clothes and get back up on a horse. You will note I am not naming the horse or giving too many clues to which one it was, because I do not want this to color how someone might look at the horse in the future. Again, not the horse’s fault.
- I took a young horse from the pasture that had not worked in a while and did not begin the training session with ground work to reinforce previous training and to get the horse’s mind on the job. This is something I should do EVERY time I work a horse, regardless of its training level, but sometimes time constraints influence me to skip it once in a while.
- When separated from its pasture mate the horse started looking around wide eyed at things the animal was completely familiar with and I did not turn around right then and there and head to the round pen.
- I picked the traill saddle with long leather ties the drape over the horses sides, when this horse has a history of not liking thing bouncing around against its body. I have been using it on other horses so it was handy and it fit the horse very well.
- After saddling, when I notice the horse jumping from the contact with the ties, I thought, “Well it has to get used to that eventually.” Which is true, but for a horse that is already jumpy because it has not been worked in some time, not a good idea to pick today for that particular session… certainly not while riding.
- Upon arrival in the arena, during the walk around I do with all young horses, to allow them to become reacquainted with things, the horse was very nervous about the end of the arena where we recently encountered the family of bears. My mistake here was underestimating just how nervous the animal was.
- So when I stepped up I was sitting on a green horse, that had not been warmed up with ground work, that had a saddle on what was sure to cause problems and which was already scared of part of the arena.
Clearly not my best day for, well you know, anything. In my own defense, this horse had been so good the last several times I worked it, that this behavior was very different from what I had come to expect as its character, but none the less, I allowed myself to be a little too confident and payed the price. Fortunately, it was a small price.
In the end, no harm done. Next time I will apply what I just learned and that will hopefully prevent a repeat in the future.