Sunday, October 25, 2009
Argh. My right hip aches and my left calf keeps seizing up on me and there’s a jagged burning between my shoulder blades. I’ll be lucky if I can walk tomorrow.
See, I showed up at work today and figured I needed to catch up with a few of the horses-in-training that I’d been neglecting due to my school schedule and general laziness. After momentary deliberation, I selected the four-year-old who hadn't been ridden in over two months. No big deal—there was a lot of commotion going on around the barn because they were hosting a driving clinic on the property, but while the horse (whom we shall call "Poseidon" to make his rather unique real name less googleable) seemed a little spooky, he wasn't too bad. I tacked him up and turned him loose to trot in the arena a little bit. No problem.
I've seen him buck before, both out in the pasture feeling fresh and the first time he felt a flank cinch. Let me tell you, that pony can buck. I've read notes in the log from the previous trainer, detailing how Poseidon trashed her. Once, after watching his antics, I made a pact with myself that if he ever tried it with me, I'd do my best to ride it out as a sort of personal challenge. Normally my first instinct is to safely bail so the dismount is on my terms, but I thought that it would show some real skill and ‘cowgirlitude’ if I was able to stick through one of his fits.
Of course, I had completely forgotten this little internal agreement, and that promise was the last thing on my mind today. All I really remember is fiddling with my jean leg, hitching up the knee so I could bend and swing and push up with the stirrup....
...and then I was looking at the suede of the saddle seat far below me, and I was coming down, but far off center, perhaps behind the cantle, and what the fu—
—and then up again, thrown skyward, slam down, repeat. I figured out what was happening by the third jump, but that didn't help me situate myself all that much as I flopped haphazardly in suspended motion.
I took the mental time to note that Poseidon had that peculiar bucking style that you see in a lot of rodeo broncs: head pointed to the ground, back humped, legs straight. He didn't buck so much as launch himself mightily, huge leaps punctuated by tiny hesitations as he caught his breath and coiled up again (and in retrospect, these split-second pauses must have been what saved me).
I realized at this point that I was riding sans stirrups and sans saddle horn. Both of my hands had a death grip on the reins, which were my sole handhold and sole contact with the horse. I had been carrying a wood stick for a crop, and I felt it crush into the horn and snap in two as the roiling animal plummeted earthward. My legs flapped stupidly to the side, plenty of air clearance between them and the fenders. I readjusted myself the best I could in an attempt to gain some centered gravity, as I was tilting dangerously from side to side. Meanwhile, I was desperately looking for an opportunity to throw myself clear of the raging beast, but alas, I found that my safest position was to stay aboard unless I wanted to land underneath pounding hooves.
In five or so of these mighty leaps (no, I didn't count), the gelding made it clear across the arena. He was heading for the fence, now, and I was certain that he would run into it, scrape me against it, break my leg, toss me off, and leave me tangled in a heap of splintered wood. I braced myself for impact, but the horse, realizing that he was about to slam head-first into the gate, slowed momentarily, and that was just the pause I needed to take control of the situation. I unhooked my jacket from the horn (where it had been trapped, pulling me forward and preventing me from grabbing my safety handle) and fumbled for my stirrups. Then, as Poseidon prepared to pivot and start the whole thing all over again in the other direction, I choked up on one of the reins, pulling his head to the side and preventing future bucking.
And looked around. A crowd of people had just been walking past on the way back from their lunch break. Only one straggler remained near the arena, however.
"Nobody saw that, right?" I asked her.
"Nope, didn't see a thing." She smiled and winked and walked on.
After replaying the whole event in my head, I honestly don't know how I stayed on. My boss said that it must have been because of my first-rate seat. Um, sure, except I was airborne most of the time. My seat was flying through the air a foot above the saddle, thankyouverymuch. No horn, no stirrups, no nothin'. And the hardest-bucking horse I’ve ever ridden. Guess I got lucky today. Thank God for instinct and reflexes.
Well, there’s an adrenaline rush for you. Good to have those every once in a while—keeps you alive, I guess. I’m just grateful that I’m able to type this and have neither a broken arm nor a broken head….even if my back is sore….
[The opening image, by the way, is an actual photograph of the incident. It looks black and white only because Poseidon is a white fewspot leopard and because I became rather blanched as all the color ran out of my face due to shock and horror. The edges are a smidge blurry because it was happening that fast.]