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