Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Horse stories: "I totally lost it when..."

Stacey, author of Behind the Bit, wrote this post about the time she "totally lost it" when Harvey had a sinus cyst. She has asked others to share their stories. I think it can be cathartic to share "I totally lost it" stories. So here is one of mine.

Grab a cup of tea first...

I tend be calm and calculated in emergencies. If I see blood I don't panic; I just try to apply first-aid. If we lose power in a storm I get the flashlight, drain the pipes and start a fire. In car accidents I calmly call 911 and check on others. It may be learned behavior from surviving a couple of hurricanes as a child.

So it is hard for me to allow myself to admit when I am scared or worried. I might even appear outwardly calm to others. I may keep trying, even if I'm not winning. Usually only my husband or mother can tell when I "lose it".

I totally lost it when...

When I first got Armani we spent a lot of time walking around fields outdoors getting to know each other. We'd only been together a month or so. He was about 4 and 1/2 and pretty green. I hadn't worked with a horse that young alone. Although my instructor was available to help me, this was the first time I felt "sole responsibility" for a youngster.

We were traversing a verdant field that we'd visited before. I saw two deer in the corner of the field. They saw us. But Armani had not noticed them yet. That's when I made what may have been a mistake. A smarter move may have been to ride at an angle, so that I neither approached nor retreated from the deer, until I was sure how Armani would react. But I was already intending to go that way. So I stubbornly rode straight at the deer...

Armani only observed the deer when we were within about 200 feet. I quickly realized there were more than two. There were a few others in the woods. We had cut the herd in half.

Armani hit the brakes suddenly and froze with his eyes bulging. I spoke reassuringly, "They're only a couple of deer. I'm sure you've seen deer before." I squeezed his sides. He started to back up. I decided that wasn't acceptable. I kicked firmly with both legs...

The next things happened quickly. Armani reared and spun very quickly and started to bolt. I attempted to sit back and circle him. We swung sideways with a great deal of force. Uh oh... I didn't realize I was so close to the trees. My head smacked into a large beech. My helmet cracked, the chin harness snapped, and it sailed 20 feet away. Armani also hit his head on the trunk. He stopped moving and stood shaking. Feeling woozy, I dismounted to retrieve my helmet. Armani's eyes looked glazed over. I led him at a walk and tried to access. He looked wobbly but not lame.

A deer ran by us. Then another ran by, and another. At least 10 deer bounded past us in a frenzied race to rejoin the rest of their herd. I could hear more in the woods. Armani shook and looked like he might faint. "I guess you were right," I said "there were more deer."

I stayed calm enough to remount, walk home, check Armani for injuries. He perked up enough for dinner and looked healthy. I mentioned the incident to my instructor and asked her to call the vet if he looked unwell. Then I went home.

When I really, actually did lose it...

When I got home I surprised myself by bursting into tears as I made dinner. My husband asked what was the matter. I told him, in brief, the story. "I've really upset my horse. I feel like I betrayed him by leading him into a scary situation and not protecting him. I don't know if he's ever going to trust me again." I was angry at myself for stubbornly riding straight at the deer. I was afraid that it would set-back our progress. I was angry for being upset. After all, I almost never lose it. I've been thrown and fallen off countless times. This time I hadn't even fallen off!

"He'll probably forget about it." said my husband.

In the end I think we were both right. Armani became very challenging after that. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that incident made him challenging. I think he always was a "let's flip the status-quo" kind of guy. I just hadn't seen that side of him before. If it hadn't been that incident, it would have been another. I had heard on the grapevine that he had been a real hand-full for his previous owners and had been sent to a few trainers. He started questioning my leadership by refusing to ride down the road, nipping, and bolting inside the arena. He reared up once in the cross ties and got me good while my back was turned. When he argues he buckles down and argues. But for the most part, it is just young horse antics.

How I got it back...

Well the short answer is "with time". My instructor helped us out. "You know you'd be bored with an easier horse." she'd remind me when I had moments of doubt. Then she went to Florida that winter. Another boarder and I split the evening barn chores. As I did chores I'd bring Armani inside the barn to keep me company. As the winter went on, he started whinnying when I arrived. He started being less challenging and more lazy, frankly. I began to realize there were two Armanis: lazy, cuddly Armani and explosive, challenging Armani. The lazy days began to out number the frisky days. The challenging side still comes out some times. Armani also got a year older.

That winter, during a slight thaw, we were riding through the woods. Three deer bounded out into the path 10 feet in front of us and froze. I sung, "Hello-ooo deer! Weee are just a horseeey!" The deer bolted into the woods. Armani snorted and we continued on our way.

What about you?

Stacey at BtB has asked you to share your story too.


Stacey Kimmel-Smith said...

I'm very impressed at how you bravely continued on toward the deer. I'm ashamed to say that in the same situation, the horse would have been more scared by MY reaction to the deer than the deer. I have this problem with Harvey -- I'll see a baby stroller, assume he'll be afraid of it, and ride differently toward it. Harv will notice the difference in my riding, my rigidity, and react to that, and I think he's reacting to the stroller, and it's a circus.

So pat yourself on the back and thank goodness for your helmet. That's a good helmet story as well.

A Bay Horse said...

I totally know what you are saying about reacting first. I know I've done that myself! :)

You are so right about the helmet. After I realized how busted it was (and bought a new one) I thought "thank goodness for helmets"!

Tammy said...

I have a deer story, too. We were riding with about a dozen people -- my husband and kids in the lead, then me & the rest behind me. Shortly after passing an area, a deer jumped out and crossed the trail behind 2 riders behind me. Their horses spooked, spun & lost one rider. My horse & I heard the commotion - she went to bolt, but I pulled her back in & went to quickly dismount. Nothing under pressure is ever pretty & I ended up falling as I dismounted. Nothing hurt but my pride.

We have seen hundreds of deer on the trail & they don't bother her, but the chain of events after the deer is what lead her to spook.

Yes, thank goodness for helmets. I took a dive off my gelding this year and my head broke the fall. Hate to imagine how it would have felt without a helmet!