I woke up this a.m. and looked at the clock, 5:30. I performed a review of my brain searching for what I had on the agenda for the day. No clinic to host, no where to trailer to, no horses to tend to. Ah, back to sleep. Except that nagging pain in my neck and shoulder of a minor case of whiplash. That got me to thinking about the circumstances surrounding the moment of injury and all the habits that have gone into my horsemanship that probably saved me from something much worse.
Yesterday was the last of 10 days riding with Martin Black culminating in a beach clinic at Popham Beach in Maine. I was riding my palomino Morgan gelding, Diego. Near the end of the beach ride I was riding toward the parking area with a couple gals. As we were chatting Diego suddenly let loose with a giant buck and leap forward. It was over in a millisecond. There I was, still sitting in the middle of the saddle with only my cowboy hat displaced. My friends commented, almost in surprise, that there was never any air between my saddle and me. I dismounted to retrieve my Hat and saw the Driftwood Cobra that Diego reacted to. It was about three feet long, the same color as the sand. The twisted wood looked very much like a snake, even to me. It had “appeared” in Diego’s right eye just over his right shoulder. This is a horse that will not walk on white lines in a parking lot. So this was a really big deal to him.
I am rubbing my neck thinking about some of the habits I have put time into. I have worked hard on improving my position and balance, especially my leg position. I make sure my stirrups are the proper length so I don’t have to manage my leg position. I work on my balance on every horse, every ride. I have been working on building confidence jumping small jumps in a western saddle, building muscle memory and new neural pathways with better bio-mechanics with Kelly Sigler Patterson. I have been working on riding with both reins in one hand and in a position I can be effective as soon as necessary in preparation for riding in the two rein. I have been learning to move my horse around one foot at a time, in 8 eight directions, a la Martin Black. Thus developing stronger communication where my horse is waiting for me and checking in more frequently. I rest my hand that is not holding a rein on a strap on either side of my saddle.
Yes, I have bucking straps on my saddle. I use them for lots of things. I hook into it to help stabilize a hand with a rein. I ride 8 horses of varying sizes and gaits, spirit level and developmental states. Sometimes that strap helps me be more centered and grounded to pull myself down into my seat when I know I am asking for something they just have to work through. There is no time to grab that strap once the horse goes into full blown panic, even if only for a moment. Often, there is no warning. I think my habit of just having my hand there possibly caused me to reactively grasp the strap and pull myself into the saddle AND not grip with my legs. I am sure this is why there was only one buck and leap, because I did nothing to add to Diego’s state of panic. I joke that the buck straps are my binky, just having it handy when my butterflies try to fly out of formation. Whatever the reason for having it there, weather I actually grabbed it in Diego’s athletic moment or not, I have no idea. But it has caused me to develop some grounding balance and reaction in the saddle.
What horsemanship habits have saved your bacon? I would love to know.