Monday, February 23, 2015

Not a matter of if...but when

And yesterday, I found out why.

Ever have one of those days when all the warnings go off in your head and your gut is telling you something but you just don't listen? Yeah. Me too.

I had one of those yesterday. Took AJ on a trail ride, the first one of the year for us both, and the first in a long time for him. But something didn't feel right. While waiting for the appointed meeting time I kept having second thoughts about taking him. I kept noticing new behavioral issues with him surfacing. Things that concern me and I can't ignore.

Saturday night I was supposed to take him team penning, but changed my mind once I got to the barn and spent a little time with him. Didn't have a good feeling. Had a gut feeling about it. And when my gut talks, I listen.


Except yesterday. I ignored it, thinking it was fear. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the nagging fears and doubts in your head, from the real primal instinct you feel in your gut. 

When it comes to riding I've dealt with the whole fear thing. I still deal with it, every day. And I've always been able to compartmentalize the feelings. Those first few years I had Duke, on the drive to the barn my stomach was doing flip flops like crazy; felt like someone was flipping pancakes in there. Many a time I've backed out of a trail ride, or even changed my mind about riding in the arena, simply because something inside said no, not this time. When it spoke I listened. It was that simple. It kept me safe. If I was on, and that inner voice said, "Get off!" I got off without hesitation.

Yesterday the voice, my gut...everything said no. But I passed it off as nerves and fear and did it anyway.

For the first time in my life, I got bucked off my horse. On a trail ride. Going up a hill.

I've come off a horse before. Once. When I was 18, riding at a gallop on a country road. You know the cartoon of the horse and rider when the horse stops and the rider keeps going? That's what happened to me the first time. One second I'm racing with the wind in my hair and the next I'm sitting on the ground wondering what happened as I watch the horse I was riding, now running back to the pasture. Whinneying to his pasture mate, stirrups flapping at his side. He did a 180 on me, and physics or inertia won.

It happens. When you ride, it's a risk you take. We always say, it's not a matter of if, but when.

Yesterday, AJ did several 180s, while bucking, up a hill. It happened about ten minutes into the ride, so we weren't far from the trailers. We had to take a different trail than normal because the trail we always take was closed. There were five of us and I was right in the middle. AJ kept wanting to get in front and I'd let him for a little bit, then turn him around and put him behind someone. He wasn't jigging, but he was tossing his head, which he never does (a sign of agitation/nerves). He spooked and bolted when we reached the creek and he saw these two large boulders we have to pass between. He's seen them before, the first time I took him to Hells Gate he didn't even notice them. Meh. Walked right past them without nary a notice. The second time, he noticed them. Yesterday he did, too. He was blowing a little (a sign of relaxation), so I took that as a good sign. But as we turned off the flat part of the trail to head up a hill, the two riders ahead of me took the hairpin turn, and AJ bolted straight up the hill, bucked, turned down hill, bucked again and turned back up hill. I came off when he turned back up hill.

It all happened so fast. Not really slo-mo either.

I went down face first, shoving my sunglasses into my face and nose, so I now have a lovely black eye and swollen nose. Oh, it's a dandy. Jammed my right shoulder pretty hard somehow. AJ was still bucking and I heard the shocked and stunned reactions from my friends. Then I felt something brush my left thigh, followed by another friend saying AJ just stepped on me. They thought he had stepped on my back, but it was my upper thigh; he didn't put his full weight on me, it felt like he clipped me with his hoof. Judging by the crescent shaped bruise, that appears to be the case. By the time I pulled myself up, everyone was off their horses and coming to my aid. I asked where AJ was, someone said he was heading back down the trail. I looked up and AJ was moving down the trail back toward the trailers, still bucking.

Debbie whistled to get his attention. He stopped and turned sideways, they called his name and he came galloping back...pell mell. Everyone tried to get him to slow down or stop before he came near me, as I was still on the ground, sitting. I had switched from split leather reins to my loop rope reins before we left and the rein was half on his head, laying between his ears.

I think it was Noel who finally caught him. I wanted to stand but they wouldn't let me. Debbie, Becky and Tina expressed concern about my face, covered in dirt and with a nice goose egg developing over my right eye. They thought I hit a rock, but it was from the impact of my sunglasses.

While I contemplated walking back or riding back to the trailer, my friends decided I was staying put and needed medical attention. The decision was made that Noel and Debbie would return to the trailer with AJ and Ringo, Debbie's horse. We were a mere few feet from Tammany Creek Road, so Debbie would stop, let Noel out and I'd get in so she could take me back to the barn, where Sam would meet me. They were not about to let me drive. I had my cell phone on me; I used to clip the case to the saddle, but started hooking it to my belt loop when Sam voiced concern that the phone wouldn't do any good if it was on the horse and I got separated from him. I started to call Sam, but had to hand the phone to Becky when I started to cry.

I remember watching Noel leading AJ back to the trailer. AJ was calm, mellow and on his best behavior.

And I started thinking...

There isn't anything anyone can say right now, that I haven't already felt, thought about, considered, or contemplated these last 24 hours. I've covered thoughts of selling him, having him checked out for a physical issue, sending him to someone who can put some serious wet saddle blanket trail rides on him...I've run all the scenarios through my head. It's a lot to think about.

But there is one simple fact I can't deny. Two, actually. I didn't prepare him properly ahead of time. I used to ride him at least three times a week. I haven't been. I had planned to arrive at the barn two hours before the trail ride to put some time on him and check him out. But I was rushed to get to the barn on time, as I had been writing in my journal and was on a roll. And when the writing flows like it did Sunday, I don't stop until I'm finished. At one point I considered cancelling and just riding in the arena later. But it was such a beautiful sunny day and I really wanted to get him out of the arena. I wanted to get both of us out of the arena. Throughout the ground work I did at the barn, he was calm and slow, listening, soft and relaxed. Out at the trailer, he jumped once or twice at people walking around the parking lot. He never used to be so jumpy over little things, but lately he just comes out of his skin, more than he ever did before. And that's when the gut feeling and nagging voice started sending signals.

Before Debbie pulled in the parking lot, I was considering sending her on ahead and staying at the barn. We chatted about that and wrote it off as nerves...first trail ride of the year, horses are always a little goofy on cold brisk days, yadda yadda yadda. Loaded AJ up and off we went. 

I'm lucky, I landed face first just mere inches away from several large boulders that line the trail. Somehow I missed landing on those rocks. I am very thankful to be in the company I was at the time. Thanks to my friends Debbie, Becky, Tina and Noel for being there for me and helping me through this.

I am so thankful and feel so very lucky that both my feet came clean out of the stirrups. All things considered, the outcome of that fall could have been much, much worse.

Message received, and noted.

Lesson learned.

 On the way to the hospital.

Clothing I was wearing. I'm not wearing my Caterpillar sweatshirt while riding anymore. I don't fancy using my face as an earth mover.
And the goose egg is now a black eye. Looks like I got carried away with the eyeliner and purple eye shadow.

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