and I ache in the places where I used to play…
When I first heard that line in the Leonard Cohen tune, The Tower of Song, I giggled a bit. After all, Mr. Cohen is upwards of seventy years old, I thought smugly, preening my forty-seven-year-old self.
Then God said, “Ha!,” and made me ache in all my places!
Last week I made an ill-advised decision on horseback and received a face full of dirt as my reward. “That’s nothing new,” you say, “I fall off all the time!” And like me you may even have broken a couple of ribs, bruised one entire side of your body, damaged subcutaneous nerves in your thigh, and nearly dislocated your shoulder, as I did. But this is about me!
As I sit, stand, lie, wander (whatever hurts less), my thighs tingling with the regeneration of those damaged nerves, able to take only the shallowest of breaths, wishing I had just bounced like I did all those years ago, I have the opportunity to examine the circumstances surrounding my accident, and to consider my options for preventing a reoccurrence.
Riding accidents happen both in a flash and in slow motion. As we take flight, we have the peculiar combination of acute awareness of our impending doom and no clue at all how it’s going to play out. The minute we hit the dirt (and after we catch our breath), we wonder, “How the heck did that happen?” yet we know. We know. We play the whole scene back in our minds in slow-mo, in our dreams, in the recounting to friends and the EMTs.
Usually you can chalk it up to a series of errors.
Not this time.
I think maybe all horse people have at least one extra risk-taking gene. I have two. This tendency toward a lack of good judgment diametrically opposes my efforts to be a more mindful person. In all areas of my life, the “risk-taking override” often kicks in when I should stop and take a moment to step out of automatic pilot, to exit “doing mode” and enter “being mode” to connect more deeply with the present moment.
My dust-eating face plant is a prime example, and one from which I want to extract every lesson I can.
I remind myself of Henry David Thoreau’s comments on this subject:
“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit… The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is; I am out of my senses… What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”
I have a young horse. A four-year-old Morgan/Percheron cross, not quite finished growing. Still a little “downhill.”
Maira is as sweet as a horse can be, with the conformation and personality one would expect from her breeding, and an extra dose of quiet bravery thrown in for good measure. I’m very fortunate to have her.
I consider myself especially lucky that she’s so willing, considering that I’m both a relatively novice rider and not in the best shape. I’m a fly on her back, but I’m a BIG, floppy fly. She tolerates me bouncing around up there like a sack of potatoes without batting a long black eyelash 99% of the time.
The 1% where something went wrong was my responsibility.
We had just come back from a long ride with a friend out in the hills and rivers of Free Union, Virginia. Maira and I had walked, trotted, and cantered in the woods, up hills, down hills, and out in the fields. Happily, we encountered none of the usual stealthy monsters: no deer, no hunters with shotguns, no Great Blue Herons. I figured (wrongly) that since she was pretty well worn out, we had nothing to lose by joining another friend for a final canter around the upper ring before heading back to the barn to cool off.
Two strides into what was a very poorly organized transition, Maira spooked. I must have pulled a sack-of-potatoes maneuver, because she dropped her inside shoulder (she must have lost her balance–I would have if I’d had me on my back!), and over I went.
*ugly sucking sounds*
It took me a few moments to get the breath working again, and poor Maira was so upset about dropping me that she ran around the ring several times, reins flapping. I remember feeling so bad that she was upset, but thoughts of Maira were crowded out of my head by pain and shock.
I needed help back to the barn, and eventually into my car, etc., after swearing on Xenophon’s grave that I didn’t need to go to the hospital. Turns out I did, but anyway…
I never did get back on.
I have no idea which of my kind friends untacked her, wiped her down, soothed her in her upset, and put her in her stall for the night. I am sorry that it was not me. It was our first trying experience together, and it would have been better for me to see it through to the end. Young horses are so impressionable, and I hate for her to have this experience.
In the end, I think it all came down to a simple lack of mindfulness on my part:
• I didn’t realize that, even though we’d worked in that ring the day before, it had been her first time there. So it was still a new place for her.
• I didn’t think to pause at the gate, show her the ring, introduce her to the horse who was already working there, and allow her to consider our entering to work a bit.
• I didn’t walk her around the ring a few times in each direction to re-familiarize her with the area.
• I didn’t make a careful, planned transition from walk to canter, and her spook set me off balance, which set her off balance, which set the whole ugly mess in motion.
• I never saw what it was that spooked her.
This has been as good a lesson for me as it has been a bad one for Maira: Awareness of surroundings, the mind-set of my horse, my own preparation (or the lack thereof) are all basics of horseback riding. And if you don’t remember the basics, you’re sporting ice packs and singing a sad song.
Now that I’ve determined what I need to do to avoid similar rodeos in the future, I need to explore how I can help Maira do the same.
After I go ease myself into a tub of ice, I’ll write more about how I plan to use Tellington TTouch® and Tellington Equine Awareness Methods to deepen our partnership and overcome the future possibility of Maira’s spooking.