Growing up riding I was told that if you fell off a horse three times you were a real cowgirl. Whoever started this statement needs to make some things clear, because you can have stupid uneventful falls from a horse all the time, especially when first starting out. I have had plenty of those falls, uneventful and could have been prevented if I listened to my coach and did what I was supposed to do. Now, every time I have fallen off of a horse in the, I think, 16 years that I’ve been riding has been entirely my fault. Horses can be real dicks sometimes, but those times seem to be no problem. So really, the maker of this statement needs to set some ground rules for what really counts as ‘falling off’ to be a real cowgirl. Slipping off the side of the horse or subconsciously emergency dismounting do not count. If you straight up human lawn dart into the ground, THAT is what should count. Granted, I’ve done that probably more than three times in my esquatarian career and totally meet those cow girl guidelines, I just don’t want people to think that because they can’t keep their butt in the saddle at the walk makes them one also. That’s a little degrading to people who have really put in that effort to skid through the dirt and get it everywhere humanly possibly.
What gets me on this subject is that this is exactly what I did today in my lesson. Now I’ve come quite a ways in my almost 5 years at the barn I ride at here in MD, thanks to the excellent teaching of my coach, we’ll call her Chief because I’ve told her I’d start calling her that far too many times and have not done it once ever. The last time I really made the effort to go the full mile was about 2 1/2 years ago during the team lesson. I was riding a fairly new horse to the barn, not a difficult ride by any means, and when it came time to jumping the warm up jumps went pretty good, I think. Then we got down to the real work and started jumping the real jumps, only like two foot, so not big. This was one of those instances where you listen to your coach because there IS a reason you are paying them to teach you and they DO know what they’re talking about. In this instance it was ‘don’t lean forward to get the horse to jump‘ because it never works and it’s not even remotely close to the correct way to do it. For any non-horse people, the main form of communication between yourself and your horse is done by using your legs. Using the reins are second due in this tier. So simple enough, when you want the horse to go, you squeeze your legs to tell them. Not that day though, that day I decided that I was going to just use body weight to convey my intentions, and that day the horse said, ‘yo bro, fuck no’ and veers left and then I promptly do not try to save myself and fall right off and land head first into the dirt. It’s a good thing ‘implied consent’ is a thing in the medical world because never would I ever agree to be taken to the hospital, and even less in an ambulance. I just don’t do that whole doctor thing. Call it stubbornness. Call it pride.. I don’t care, I’m still not going. But alas, my little brain was on the fritz after a good minute of unconsciousness and I had no choice. I don’t remember a whole lot of all that but what I do remember is flirting with the EMTs, as you do, and getting excited when they were taking me to the CTscan room and I asked the nurse wheeling my gurney if I could hit the button to open the door and she said yes. Also, telling my frantic mother over the phone that ‘noooo, I’m fiiiiine. I got this, there’s absolutely no reason for you to drive 350 miles for this’. What I’m told is that after I regained consciousness I would NOT stop talking, this does not surprise me. In the end I was fine and got to spend the night in the hospital and had my 3 square meals for a day, which is a big deal for me pretty much any day.
Today I didn’t commit quite so much to the whole cowgirl mentality as the last time but became a human lawn dart once more anyway. Today I was aboard one of the newer horses to the barn, not all that new to be honest, but he is out of shape and lacking the muscle tone for a comfortable, smooth, enjoyable ride. Flat work, the normal walk/trot/canter went well, feeling much less like a pile of shit then the first time we journeyed around the ring together. Jumping this horse, however, remains in my top three least favorite activities in life. It started off well enough, warm up jumps were much better than the last time. First couple of trips over the blue jump weren’t pretty, but not much is on a horse that lands like a brick shit house on the other side. Then the third or so time shit started GDFR. Take off, not terrible. Flight, not great but manageable. Landing, like a ton of bricks and heels go up and there I am on the neck, legs going crazy hitting the poor horse in places he never thought he’d be kicked, intentional or not. But let me take you through my thought process of this whole event…
‘SONOFABITCH! Sit up, just sit up, screw you core muscles! Engage, dammit! Oh shit! There’s the fence, that’ll hurt real bad if I fly off right now, for the love of god HOLD ON! and try to stop this out of control four-legged hell demon. HAH! I got this! Shit….what am I grabbing. God dammit martingale, you are no help! Find the reins…. nope. Oh, someone is not enjoying this just as much as me. I might as well let go now and hit this here wall before bad things really start to happen….annnnnnnd tuck and role!‘
And that’s when I made a Becky sized imprint in the dirt right where Chief was sitting and ran right into the mounting block. People who have never fallen off of a horse, even in a sad not impressive fall kind of way, will never understand the worst part of falling off, the arena dirt. The best way to describe it is that its like the glitter of the horse world. It gets everywhere and you’ll be finding it days later, no matter how thorough you thought your shower was. It’s everywhere; inside your helmet, down your shirt, in your pants, ears, nose, EVERYWHERE! And god forbid its hot out and you’re sweating, because that shit is going to rub and chafe like that was its only job when it was put on to this planet. But like a real equestrian you spit out that wad of possibly poop dirt that made its way into your oral cavity and dust of your helmet and get back on, even if it’s just to trot a little baby jump, because that’s what you do.
If there is one thing I have learned in my years of horsey activities it’s this; Horse people are crazy, like absolutely bat shit crazy. But also, that this is one very humbling sport. You’re feeling good? Like you finally escaped that rut you were stupidly in where you forgot basic equitation for a hot minute and forgot how to release over a jump, and BAM! eat this dirt and enjoy it for the next week and a half because its going to linger….but nut up and get back on anyway you piece of shit because you can’t end on a bad note. …Horse back riding, ladies and gentleman.
People think this shit is easy and there’s nothing to it. Well fuck you bitches! You say that, but I’ve taught enough first timers via livingsocial, groupon and the like, that I know how great of a feeling it is when you get those people up to the mounting block and they realize that this is a little higher than it seemed a minute ago. But I still make them do everything they feel uncomfortable doing, because it’s entirely safe enough and that’ll learn them. I have had two people in the last three weeks that have come to watch my lessons that told me afterwards that they have a new respect for it and that they didn’t know that there was so much that went in to it. But that’s the point, as frustrating as it is, is for the rider to make it look easy, and that’s where the non horse people get those crazy misconceptions, so don’t tell me its easy because I will put you on a horse and I will make you attempt to post at the trot and when you can’t walk tomorrow I will laugh at you because I do that without the stirrups, it hurts to walk for 3 days, but your struggle makes me feel good inside.
Even after you dust it off and get on it’ll be there, a la Sting’s ‘Every Breath You Take’.
I’ll give you a hint….its supposed to be a straight line from shin to knee..and if I don’t get a glorious bruise out of this shit’s gon get real.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to continue on with my self medicating via box wine, chocolate cake and The Hulk…