Saturday, February 19, 2011

Running away

It's ironic that the first story I have to share is about my horse running away.

I've wanted to run away for about 6 months, maybe longer, as my life away from the barn spins wildly out of control. To make a long story short (and to allieviate any concerns about our family health), our business has failed, taking a great deal of our own financial well being with it. It's a storm we continue to ride out and only time will tell the final toll. Many aspects of our life are tangled up in it and it remains too painful to talk about. So I won't.

Instead I'll tell you about my runaway horse.

Check him out. Doesn't he look calm?

Smokey in his bosal, which is NOT what he was wearing
during this freak out. Today we were testing it out a bit in
the roundpen. I don't even know if I have it on correctly... Feel
free to comment!

For various reasons I haven't had much horse time and each time I see Smokey we remain in a sort of holding pattern. Some things are getting better, but it's a very slow pace for both of us. He does seem glad to see me, and he is doing much more sniffing of me, which to me strikes me as a level of familiarity and friendliness. He never bumps me or rubs.

We were out on a ride after a week off. I was alone with him, on a windy day. We haven't done much riding alone at all, but I wanted to spend some time in the saddle and no one was around. We worked in the round pen for a bit, then did our circle work around the power pole.

Then we hit the trails behind the barn. Smokey was a little up, and I worked on moving his feet. The wind was the worst kind for horseback riding, IMHO, the unexpected gusts. Still he did well until we made up around an upper fenceline.

On the other side of the fenceline is the neighbors' barn. This is usually an area of concern for all the horses, sometimes the OTTB is out there, other times people are milling about, and often things have been moved around. No one was there today, and we went past it when a gust blew up behind us and I felt Smokey gather under me and take off.

I was too late. I hadn't checked him in time. We were galloping off, escaping whatever it was that was behind us.

And for the first time in my horse life I recognized what I had to do. We were zipping around an area with a large number of cedar trees. In my mind a one rein stop was not an option - we already had too much speed, and my horse was very likely to run himself (and me) into a tree in this area.

He was afraid.

And I was not.

I tried pulsing the reins, right and left, but knew he was headed to the barn. Smokey was running, but not bucking, not trying to scrap me off on a tree. So while he was in a panic, he wasn't trying to dump me.

I remembered the countless times I've asked trainers about this, about what to do in a bolt. I've been more worried about it because a young horse just doesn't have the experience to know what to do, and without others around, well, he's going to respond instinctively, rider or not.

I remember Mark Rashid saying he used to tell people to ride a bolt out, but then he started working with more and more backyard horsemen and ... well, the inference was that many people weren't likely to be comfortable to ride out a bolting horse. I remembered riding through Smokey's static attack in the clinic, how he just needed to move. How Mark said horses run out their emotions, their stress.

In those seconds I knew that the right thing was to ride this out, to let his panic run it's course while remaining calm and centered for the run.

After one sharp zig to the right I grabbed the saddle horn with one hand and held the reins softly in the other. I talked quietly to him, and as we got closer to the barn I could hear the other horses in the paddock kicking up and running. Someone in the herd was running, they could feel it, so they started to run too.

Smokey in his panic actually ran past the barn and I slowly directed him back, at least I tried to steer him, support the direction he was heading. He high stepped in front of the others who were by now stampeding all around their paddocks, and I slowly brought him back into my hands. We walked along the barn area, back to the light pole. Quite quickly he settled down. I was a bit surprised by that, but it went to reinforce what I'd been told.

Then we went back on the trail. He was alert, but this time we walked toward what scared him and this time I was ready.

A tarp covering some equipment on the other side of the fenceline had come loose. I realized now that when the wind blew behind us the tarp rose up into the air like a giant blue hand.

We worked all around the area, circling trees, bushes, going closer, then backing up, then closer again, until he seemed to calm down. Then we went on our little trail ride and it was one of the best ones we'd ever had alone.

We have a lot of work to do. He shouldn't have bolted at all, and I know that. He's almost 5 years old, and this is partly that, partly the lack of time I'm able to spend with him now. But I felt like the way I handled it may have done us some real good.

Or, at least it did me some good. Because now the thing I've most worried about - that my horse would bolt - is not a big worry. I know I can ride it out. And that we can keep riding afterwards without me being angry or afraid and with my horse having more confidence, not less.

These days, I'm counting this one in the win column. It's a bit lonely in that column, so I have to take what I can get.


Dan and Betty Cooksey said...

Good for you. That takes a lot of courage, but as you said it can be a good learning experience for you and your horse. Five years old is still pretty young in my humble opinion.


Susan said...

Keeping my head in such a situation is something I always try to do, but don't always achieve. That's a really inspiring story and I bet Smokey learned to trust you more, which in my opinion is what safe riding is all about.

To me the bosal might be sitting a little low and it might be too small if it can't be raised on his nose a little bit without pinching his chin. Did you try riding him in it? You'll find out quickly if it's comfortable for him, in which case it's fine.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Riding through a bolt makes anyone nervous, you have just learned the tools to deal with it. Good for you!

If it makes you feel any better that Smokey still has those moments, I have a 13y/o been-there-done-that gelding that still bolts a bit at anything that startles him from behind. The first time he did it with me, I was so unprepared, that I kind of locked up for a second and it almost got out of hand. We were both a little wide-eyed for a little while after. LOL

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Oh, and I'm respecting your desire not wanting to talk about the other thing, but I do wish you and your family the best through these rough times.

Fragrant Liar said...

I'm glad you and Smokey had a chance to work through it. It seems kind of symbolic to me, considering the other stuff in your life right now, that even in the face of the bolt, you were cool and collected and maneuvered your way to a better place where you could reflect and learn and appreciate how far you've come.


Wolfie said...

Absolutely this is a win! Galloping it out? Wow.

Sending positive thoughts your way.....

Carol said...

I don't know how to fit the bosal, but I have to say I love the look of it. It's really pretty.
Great riding. I'm glad he didn't buck and that you rode it out comfortably. What a confidence builder.

Jessica said...

Riding it out seems like it was the right thing to do there. You gave him credit for his response, then showed him that there might be another option next time.

Good job!

And I am right there with you on not enough horse time!! Ugh.

Anonymous said...

I think you handled it very well. If there's no opportunity or space to do a one rein stop within a few strides, just going with it may be better - it doesn't "trap" the horse's fear (as in the post I liked to yesterday). Horses are fearful and sometimes they will bolt - it can happen with almost any horse. You didn't make a big deal of it and just kept on working once it was over. As Mark says, you can ride as fast as the horse can run.

I know very little about bosal fitting. I'm hoping to get Pie into one - he's a great candidate for it - so I guess I'll have to figure that out.

Sorry to hear about the other difficulties - sending good thoughts and wishes.

juliette said...

Excellent riding - you kept calm and kept your head and rode through a tough situation. Smokey will trust you in the future. And, you took him back and helped him overcome his fears.
Thinking good thoughts for you with your other worries. Find your solace with your horses. Just grooming them helps alleviate stress.

lytha said...

wow - you rode a bolting horse and you weren't afraid?

are you sure you weren't in the Nexus? you know, that other reality in that star trek movie where captain kirk and captain picard rode horses together?

william shatner was riding one of his own horses, an ASB, and he galloped thru the woods and jumped an enormous ditch. then he realized he wasn't afraid, and he admitted to picard that all thru the years, jumping that ditch had scared him to death, but suddenly it didn't (cuz it wasn't real) and so he decided to go save the universe with picard and quit riding horses around an alternate dimension.

i'm totally impressed that you weren't afraid!

Jeni said...

First the Bosal.. It's a bit low and a bit too small I believe as well. I rode my Arab in on unless we were in the show ring. I had her for 10 years.

How I was taught to hang a bosal was to put first three fingers on the horses nose with your index finger at the end of the nasal cartilage, where your ring finger rests should be where the Bosal sits.

The muzzle opening needs tobe fitted so that there is no more than 2 finger widths of travel in the cheek piece before it contacts the jawbones.

I'm so glad you were able to recognize that Smokey wasn't bolting to bad, or to dump you. He was just scared. Kudo's for riding it out and having the cahones to go work in the "scarey" area.

Oh one other thing about Bosals. They do rub quite a bit where they sit on the nose. I have pictures of my Arab (when I was kid) on my blog at this post. In the last image you can clearly see where the Bosal rubs.

Leah Fry said...

Doesn't much matter how old they are. Stuff still happens.

Sorry to hear about the demise of your business. I'll pray for you as you get it sorted out.

the7msn said...

Knowing what to do and doing it are such totally different things - you are one brave cowgirl.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I'm so sorry about your misfortune. I was thinking the other day how confidence replaces fear. If you get on a horse knowing you can ride out a bolt or a buck or a rear, then being out of control isn't so scary. I'm trying to take on that same mindset with my unemployment and financial problems. I just keep reminding myself that I can ride this out. It might be uncomfortable, but it won't kill me, because I'm strong.

Crystal said...

Good for you! Im glad you rode it out without fear! Thats pretty good and great confidence for you tow togeter. I always figure if you and your horse get through something scary you both come out better. Looks to me like the bosal is a little low too, but otherwise looks good on him.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Riding out his bolt and not being scared is freaking amazing! You should be so proud of yourself. I'd count it as "two" in the win column. Knowing that you can ride him out now gives you a HUGE advantage in all situations.

I'm so sorry to hear about your woes. This is a crazy world nowadays. I sure hope it doesn't affect your horse ownership. I know they are terribly expensive to have- especially boarded.

Shirley said...

You handled that situation perfectly. You didn't trap him in his fear, and you helped him to overcome it when you rode him back there. Well done! I hope the confidence it has given you will reflect in the rest of the stuff that's going on in your life.

Allenspark Lodge said...

Sounds like you did great. Any time you and your horse can get through times like that, you are building good blocks in the win column. Any horse can bolt/spook/whatever at any time. Even Mark says that; glad you remembered his advice, 'cause they gotta move their feet. A good horsey friend of ours says horses don't really grow a brain until at least 8 yo; it takes that long for them to be exposed to enough to understand, and those are the ones ridden often.

Good luck with other stuff, too.

Muddy K said...

I second all the others and have to admire you for your confidence and ability to find the seconds to think, decide and then act.

It's that same set of sea legs that will perhaps help you through the other difficulties. I've been there. There comes a day when it's all gone and you're over it. I got through it (someone with a serious deficit in confidence), so I know you and yours will. Good luck.

Jan said...

Breathe, That's a BIG one in the Win column - good for you! I really admire how you kept your head and stayed in control and helped your scared horse!

allhorsestuff said...

Good to hear of you!!I'm feeling the stress of your financial crisis personally so. We too, are heading for the unknown. Unsettling is the least of it and haing my mare to go see and ride sometimes can be a stress too for me with her problems...but I'm starting over with that stuff.

You are awesome! What keen timing and sense of pressence you had through that whole thing!I admire you so much.
No matter what I could say about what I have been taught/and have done in the same situation= would make what you DID better in anyway!!
You DID the perfect thing and it's solution for the future between you two, is appearing to you as well.
Hang in Winter, the outside stuff will be managed best you can.

Jan said...

Breathe, Wow- good for you! You kept your head and helped Smokey through it! What an experience, and accomplishment!

Funder said...

I'm so glad you're posting again! We've all had the whirlpool of life grab us and try to drown us before, and I hope you'll come vent when you need to.

Enjoy the not-fear. Luxuriate in it. If your riding life goes like mine has, the fear will come back - but you'll know that it doesn't have to be that way all the time. And you'll work through it again, and again, and again. I can't tell you how many times I was terrified on Dixie, then strangely calm, then terrified again. Now I'm just calm. If she bolts and I can ORS her, I do. If not, I just concentrate on staying centered and keeping my heels down. You're on the right track. (Track to what, I'm not entirely sure - but it's a fun track where you enjoy riding!)

John and Regina Zdravich said...

Amazing story!!! When I first started learning to ride, a friend who was an experienced horse rider, said to me "Remember, you can ride as fast as the horse can run." I too believe in riding out a bolt, but at the same time, realize how dangerous it can be. Glad to know this worked out so well for you....and finding out what caused the panic was great. It is amazing what can set them off.

P.S. I know the feeling of a business failing -- we own our own real estate company, dn are on the verge of calling it quits. I feel for you....

Rising Rainbow said...

Definitely sounds like a win to me. Good for you.

Merri said...

yikes, that was scary.
- The Equestrian Vagabond

Morning Bray Farm said...

You did good. Wow. You definitely deserve to count this one in the win column.

I'm so sorry about what's going on in your life right now.

Tammy said...

I am impressed! Good for you for keeping your cool and going with it. Bolting has always been a big fear of mine and glad to know someone who has lived thru it! LOL!

Wind is the most annoying thing to ride in. I was road riding once & running up a hill when a gust hit. I didn't hear the car approach (fast) on the other side. Luckily we were both on our sides of the road, but what a scary moment when I felt its dust pass me by.

injaynesworld said...

You handled that amazingly well. I've been on a bolting horse. No fun. If it happened again, I'd like to think I'd handle it better, but I don't know.

Kudos to you.

Once Upon an Equine said...

That sounds like a huge confidence building experience. You described the whole incident so well, like you were calmly thinking it through in the midst of Smokey's panic. Of course, I'm sure it all happened in the blink of an eye, so to speak. But you did great.