Have you ever been bucked off, she asked. I began to smile and chuckle inside, not because at that moment I remembered any one incident, but because I had been around horses my entire life. Most horse people believe it will happen sooner or later; it is an initiation of sorts.
It was my client who asked me this question as we discussed horse behavior and training. As I slowly rode her mare around at a gentle walk, I pondered this question more thoroughly. I began to search through my ‘getting bucked off’ memory files and much to my surprise, came up with the two occasions that I was bucked off (at least two that I haven’t blocked from memory). Now, this is certainly not the only times I have come off a horse. There were plenty of times I ended up on the ground for a multitude of reasons, most are worthy of laughter and shaking of the head.
The most recent time I was bucked off was about 6 or so years ago. It was one of the best and hardest learning experiences that I have had, not only with respect to horses, but to life as well. During this incident, Shady and I had been together for about four years. I had spent hours and hours both on the ground and in saddle getting to know my best horse friend. Shady has been a teacher for me in so many ways, one of which was teaching me about the discipline of reining. Over the years I began to feel that he would always take care of me and in that, I could trust him implicitly.
I had him tied near the tack stall and sensed there was an energy about him that was heightened. He was somewhat predictable in that he is affected by the weather, perhaps to a greater degree then other horses. In the winter months, he typically has more energy and this day was no exception. I also had noticed that he was a little more unsettled as I began to tack him up. His head was raised and his eyes were very wide. This look wasn’t familiar to me.
We walked into the covered arena; I climbed upon his back and began to walk around. Immediately I felt the tension in his body and the feeling of explosive energy quivering underneath me. The uneasiness I felt in every part of my body formed thoughts that rushed through my head “maybe I should just dismount and put him back in his stall” “this doesn’t feel right” and “I am scared”….BUT then the flood of ego directed thoughts took over squashing the gut response I initially felt. “I am a good rider,” I can’t let him get away with acting this way,” and “what will the other rider’s think? I am a scaredy cat.? NO WAY!
I continued to ride pretending that I wasn’t afraid; after all aren’t we supposed to conquer our fears right? I hoped that allowing Shady to trot and expel some of this pent up energy would bring him back to a more neutral demeanor. It didn’t. In fact he became more rigid and tense and I sensed that he was having a difficult time trying to contain himself. My own body began to tense up in anticipation of an explosive outburst.
My next tactic was to let him lope with the expectation that THIS would release his energy nice and easy. Much to my surprise, Shady began to crow hop which quickly turned into full on bucking. Within half a circle I hit the dirt. My landing was hard but nothing that caused any long term physical pain or injury.
My body was shaking with this sudden hit of adrenaline and I began to weep. Within minutes I began to feel massive pain, but it was emotional pain. I questioned my relationship with Shady, astonished that he let this happen. He was supposed to take care of me; I trusted him. I was hurt, and angry.
My distrust of Shady from that point lasted from days to weeks to months. Every time I climbed on I prayed it wouldn’t be a repeat of the day he bucked me off. My heart rate would increase, my insides would churn and I could barely imagine asking for a lope without panicking. These feelings would be magnified if I hadn’t been riding consistently. Our relationship had fallen apart; at least that is what I felt. Could I ever trust him again?
There was a time some years later that I got Shady out of his stall and began to tack him up. I quickly recognized that look in his eye. My decision was simple…not today. Had I listened to my gut feeling the first time when I saw this look in his eyes and observed his tense body language, I would have saved myself (and Shady) from a massive breakdown in our relationship; a break in trust.
There have been many hours spent contemplating this situation. It has been one of the biggest and hardest lessons I have learned in the horse ~ human connection. Why did I put the responsibility on Shady to look after my safety? Why did I not listen to the voice inside that said ‘don’t do this?’ Why wouldn’t it be feasible to believe that a horse is having a bad day and further is allowed to have a bad day?’ and ‘Why did I attempt to force my way through and force him to deal with the heightened emotion he was feeling that day?’
After hearing similar stories from many other riders I know that I am not alone. We must learn to trust ourselves when the warning flags appear (in all areas of our lives), to allow our horses to have an opinion, to put our safety in our own hands, and be the leaders that our horses are searching for.