Sunday, February 2, 2014

Too Close

I almost died today.

This would not be the first time in my life that I have experienced that feeling, just the first time in a long while. If you've been reading my blog, you know that I tempted fate more than once as a kid. If I hadn't had my head turned to the right when Queenie fell on the road, I probably would not have survived that fall. Or if I had been riding in a saddle. I seriously can't count the number of times I've come off a horse, sometimes of my own accord, sometimes not, sometimes having experienced fairly significant pain and broken things and long term issues with my poor abused body. As Indiana Jones said in Raiders, "It's not the years, it's the mileage." I feel like I have over 500,000 miles at this point.

When I started riding again, being seriously hurt in the pursuit of this passion was a major issue for me mentally. I am no longer single and young. I am middle-aged, with an almost 14 year old who would be emotionally and financially devastated by my death or serious injury. I have responsibilities. I mentally weigh the risks against the rewards and take my family into consideration when making decisions. That is why I have no issue or pride where being safe is concerned and if I have to get off and hand walk Ashke home so I am safe, then that is what I will do.

For over a year, one of my biggest issues with cantering Ashke is his tendency to trip. I'm pretty sure it is a back strength issue and a retraining his muscles issue. He's had such a hard time learning to pick up his feet that even trotting through caveletti has been a real issue. I have seen him gain strength and ability, especially since starting dressage, and I know it's a work in progress, but days like today really shake my confidence.

And I was thinking on Monday of last week how proud I was that he wasn't tripping as much any more.

I rode early with Erika on Cassini. There was no one else in the arena and I told Erika I was going to work on my figure eights, keeping Ashke working on changes of direction and working off the rail. Erika also takes lessons with Cassandra and is working on the same thing, so we played follow the leader. We started at the walk, then progressed to the trot. For the first time I wanted to try doing the exercise at the canter. Erika opted to move into the middle of one circle and let me try the canter by myself. We did the figure eight, dropping to a trot to change direction. Ashke actually did really well, although he wants a little less contact moving to the right. I think I've been holding him too tight and he is fighting that pressure. Remembering what N had said about horses feeling claustrophobic, I gave him a little more on the right, while still retaining the contact. He relaxed a lot more and kept his head down. I did a double circuit to the left (so he is still listening to me rather than predicting what I am going to ask) and he had a less than smooth downward transition to the trot. It almost feels like he's not sure where he is supposed to put his feet when he goes from cantering to trotting. I think it was also influenced by two riders bringing their horses into the indoor during our circles. I told Erika that I was going to try the right lead again, before the riders brought their horses into the arena. He picked up his right lead correctly and as we came around the second time he saw the new horses entering the ring, threw his head up and braced, and tripped.


I seriously thought we were going down and it would have been a very bad wreck. The kind where the horse flips forward and lands on the rider.

He caught himself on my outside rein and was able to get his feet under him without hitting the ground on his knees. It was a close thing. We stopped and I looked at Erika. Her face was white and her eyes were huge. She said, "That was almost really bad."

We finished up our ride, working on laterals from the quarterline to the outside rail in both directions, then turns and spins and sidepassing. Then J showed up and it was time to go. Walking Ashke back to the barn, I thought, "Not going to canter any more" and knew that for fear. The other voice in my head said, "it is getting better each ride and you just have to keep progressing." The problem with the voices (other than the fact that I'm insane) is that they are both right. At what point does my responsibility to my son over shadow my desire to right my horse at any gait, on any terrain, on any given day.

I'd like to believe that second voice. I wish I didn't feel that this was a real threat to my safety. I wish I believed he was as sure footed as I think he should be. I wish I could impress on N that this is one of the reasons I am hesitant to canter. Both times I've had a horse fall with me, we were cantering. I really don't want it to happen again.

I have a lesson with Cassandra tomorrow night. I will talk to her about it then. I know that we haven't really done a lot of canter-trot-canter transitions and I would love to believe that as we continue to work on them, he will get better. Our history tells me this will happen, since tripping has been an issue since I started trying to canter him, especially in the indoor arena. This is the first time he's tripped in several months, and he was startled by the other horses, distracted and off-balance.

But still.

I refuse to be conquered by fear. Responsibility however, that is a different story.


  1. I know all too well that pit-in-your-stomach-feeling that you get that seriously makes think that you're life is flashing before your eyes. Scary as hell.

    Missy used to be very very very unbalanced, especially at the canter and I was very scared to canter her (especially on her right lead) because she would sometimes trip and overall she just felt so unbalanced. For the longest time I hardly ever cantered and almost never tried her right lead. It was a huge mental issue for me that just recently has started to be overcome.

    My big suggestion is a lunge line. You can build up strength without being on his back, which will make it much easier for him to canter and make you feel like you have less of a chance of getting hurt. I also spent time cantering Missy on a looser rein, so that she could start to find her own balance without me micromanaging her and getting in her way as she was becoming stronger.

    I completely understand where your coming from, and this fear is not unjustified!

    1. Unfortunately, I have lunged him. Free lunged him. Lunged in sidereins. We are making progress. And he didn't fall.

      Going to see what my trainer says tomorrow.

  2. Fear is all about self-preservation. If your gut says don't do it, probably you should listen. That doesn't mean don't EVER do it, just maybe not right now, and/or not on Ashke. if it's a strength thing, as he gets stronger, he'll be able to work without tripping.

    Do what feels right, regardless of what someone else thinks you should be doing. Responsible and safe can go hand-in-hand. :)

    1. Partly, I think it's a distraction thing. And I just need to keep working at it, but I also need to be cognizant of what is going on around me. Caveletti will help him figure out how to pick up his feet and he is using his back more and more, . . . .

      And I don't want to be limited in what we can do. There are so many things I think we could try, but not if we can't canter.

      I will talk to Cassandra on Monday and see what she thinks.

  3. Agree with Jen. I call it my "spidey sense" or my horsey ju ju, but I always listen to my gut. Just because cantering now may not be a great idea, doesn't mean it never will be. I'm sure your trainer will have great advice too.

  4. Oh no, how terrifying!! I'm glad both you and Ashke are okay. It's one of those situations where everything ends up being fine, but the "might have been" is so awful that you end up just as frightened as if that possibility had really happened.

    I have that same voice in my head that constantly says, "Don't do this, don't do that." It's when the other voice (the one that is telling you to just work more) starts chiming in and saying "This is a bad idea" that I really stop and listen. (I guess this makes both you and me insane.) Like Lauren said: that's my spidey sense or horsey juju.

    I think you have both come so far. It seems to me that this was primarily a result of his being distracted at his weakest gait. I think you can play it safe in the future by maybe either working on getting his attention prior to cantering, or not cantering at all *if you can't get his attention.* There are days when their heads are not in the right place no matter what we do. Sometimes it's our fault, but sometimes they just have bad days too. I still have days where I don't canter at all if Lily is feeling really out of sorts. It's okay to not canter on days when you'll be putting yourself at risk. And he will get stronger with more transitions. On days where you have his attention, you can work on making the transitions really short: a couple of strides of canter, more strides of trot, which will provide more work on the transition itself and thus help strengthen him even further. This is a great exercise for them (and for ourselves!)

    I'm so sorry you had such a frightening experience, but so glad you're okay!
    Let us know what Cassandra says on Monday.

    1. The thing that I find the most frustrating is that it was a great ride, right up until the riders came in the arena. It could be that my emotional status changed, since those particular riders meant that the H/J trainer I don't get along with was also there, or it might be that I got tense at other riders coming in. It might just be that Ashke was startled and partially spooked, which threw off our transition. I just know it was a scary trip. Up until that exact moment, we were having a great ride.

      I, too, don't even try to canter on those nights when the voices inside my head are all saying the same thing, or when Ashke feels off, or if we are riding alone. The day I fell with Queenie, those voices told me to stop and go inside to read a book. I've never ignored them again.

      I don't want Ashke's progress limited by my fear, in whatever form. I guess I am hoping that Cassandra will have good ideas for helping him progress. Even after the trip, he was fantastic. His lateral movement is so much stronger, he picks up the correct lead without cross-cantering, he can sidepass in both directions and he turns on the forehand and the haunches in both directions so easily.

      The only other contributing factor is the indoor arena footing. It had been disc'd this morning and felt pretty deep. That is something I also need to consider when we are riding.

      I'll let you know tomorrow what she says.

  5. I've seen fear creep into a riders head and they were done for. They may continue to ride but the enjoyment is gone. More often then not they manifest an injury that never would have happened if they weren't riding in fear. I'm glad you guys are both fine and no one got hurt. Finding your balance with a green horse and re-rider can be a real challenge .. ask me how know i know ;)