Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The Spring Willies: Are You Losing Your Nerve?

Confession: I'm too terrified to ride - Horse Collaborative

For your edification:  The Phobia List.  Horses are under "H".

Here's my confession:  One of these days old Leo, my go-to ride for every year's first saddle-up after a long winter (or illness, or injury), is going to die.  It's as inevitable as night follows day.  He's just turning 30.  I'm old, but he'll likely go before I will.  When that happens, I'm not sure what I'm going to do next.  In the fifteen years since I bought Leo from a boarder, there's never been a moment when I was afraid to hop on him, take him anywhere, ask him for anything.  I can't say that for any of my other horses.

Everyone should own a Leo.
Leo, dapper as heck.

During the summer, when I'm riding nearly every day (weather permitting, as I'm developing an age-related allergy to thunderstorms and hurricane-force winds), throw any horse in my path, and I'll hop aboard.  I may not ride them all well, but the fear factor doesn't really pertain.

Granted, it's been a couple of decades since I've willingly done the "Your horse is acting up...let me hop up and work him down for you" dance.  With age comes sanity.  My hunt cap is off to the trainers my age who still do that, albeit with the help of someone hale and hearty to throw their crippled bodies into the saddle.  It's because of those days, I'm sure, that every inch of my corpus is  delicti.  It's barely a corpus, but it's sure an entire body of crime.

Ah, how I well remember those fine days when someone suggesting that I hop on an 18 hh stallion in an indoor the size of my bathroom where I had to duck the light fixtures as I rode seemed a sane and sensible plan.  A stallion who had not seen daylight for so long he'd dug a hole in his stall that made him look, from the outside, about 14.3 hh is probably not a fit mount for anyone, let alone an adult female with a pre-teen child (who was also tossed aboard the freight train for a few tours of the ceiling).
Just right.

I'll bet most readers visiting here have similar stories to tell, and possibly the same conclusions to draw.  We reap what we sow.  I sowed a hellish amount of damage to my body, and I'm slowly reaping it.  So the idea of just one more crash, just one more shoulder-first unplanned dismount, just one more neck snap when head hits rock gives me nightmares.

That's why the youngest horse in my barn is a mini named Duke who will turn 17 shortly.  By the time the older horses have finally aged out, I will have done so as well, and he'll be the horse in my life.  A horse I have to bend over to hug is just the right size.  He can still hurt me, but he's lost the initiative.

So in a few short weeks, the outdoor riding ring and the fields surrounding it will be snow-and-ice-free, and it'll be time for me to start over for the 54th time.  I'll pick Leo, of course, and we'll have a fine amble around the place while I try to remember where I left my legs.
DOLLY:  "C'mon...make my day!"

I've made it a practice to try to stay in riding condition year-round.  I don't always succeed.  This has been a bad winter.  The intense, sub-zero cold has not been kind to my joints.  So my work-out time has been minimal and my fear ratio is very high right now.  If Leo were to simply disappear tomorrow, I'd resort to Dakota, the all-guy, all-western bulk of an Appy who loves nothing more than to wander aimlessly at the walk and do (slowly) whatever barrels or poles were left in the ring.  He still has a big spook, but he's less likely to use it.

Eventually I'd have to suck it up and saddle up Dolly, the TB mare my daughter evented with for years, who at 23-ish is still hot to trot. She's not dangerous, but she's always ready.  Always.  Ready.

I'll leave Zip for last, not because he's fast.  He's not.  Because he's complex and a great deal of discussion is involved in riding him.  One "dirty stop" because he didn't like my choice of jump or direction of travel, and I'll be done for the day and headed indoors for an tea-and-Ultracet snack.

To all of my readers and rider friends, I offer sympathy.  You're not alone.  We all have that little moment of fear just around every corner.  As we get older and develop things like "responsibilities" (snorf!), we become aware of what it means to be laid up for even a short period.  It was a particularly bad fall that damaged my hip and shoulder that led my lovely daughter to coin the phrase, "Waddle like the wind!"

I can hear some of you feeling superior because you're young.  Just wait.  You have not yet achieved enlightenment.  You don't have to be old to wake up one day and find a line drawn in the sane.  Maybe you went off to college.  Or maybe you had a baby.  Or maybe you just took a financial break from the crazy cash sink that is the horse life.  It might have been weeks or months or years.  It doesn't matter.  One day you'll stand next to a horse and look up at him and think, "Holy crap!"

If you're smart, at that point you'll look around and find a small, quiet, maybe old horse to borrow or rent or even buy, and that horse will give you back your confidence.  It'll happen if you let it.  But don't ever think that fear won't ever.  Happen.  To you.  It will, and none of us will laugh.

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