Friday, April 13, 2012

Rocket Launch

We decided to take the horses riding up the main trail into the public lands on March 30th (at least I think it was March 30th). Rocket and Scarlet did such a good job on the last rides, that we figured getting them up the BLM road would be easy.  It would take them away from barking dogs and other possible problems.

Well, that wasn't necessarily a good idea, in retrospect, but I did learn something about my horse.  I had been riding with a fairly loose rein because I figured the horse was advanced enough to not need constant input.  This burned me as you will soon see.

Our ride was typical with the usual balks at certain places.  I managed to get Rocket going again by doubling her around.  That's a move where you turn the horse sharply around  in a circle to keep her feet moving and get her to go forward again.  Doubling is a simple move and easy to do.

We got to a place where we had stopped one time before.  Rocket balked.  I doubled her. She balked and backed up.  I doubled her and backed her up.  She started tossing her head and prancing.  I started a double when she bolted.  Not just anywhere, but up a 20 foot embankment. 

I regained control and started her down the cut/game trail.  She wanted to go into a tight clump of trees neither of us could fit, thereby violating Newton's laws of mass.  We had a game trail that led back down to the main road which would've gotten us safely down, but she started freaking out over the footing.  After several attempts to get her back down the trail, she pitched and nearly fell off the ledge of the embankment.  I, unfortunately, got thrown from the saddle.

The roll I did was perhaps not pretty, but ninja nonetheless.  I rolled over my shoulders and then as the horse's hooves came near me, rolled down the hill some 15 feet or so.  I remember closing my eyes and counting how many times my helmet hit rocks, trees or stumps.  I ended up on the side of the road face down, wondering if I broke anything.  In retrospect, I should've tucked my legs (husband said it wasn't pretty but effective) and I felt like I had hit them on something pretty solid.  Even so, I got up and we managed to get Rocket back, who was fretting about stepping on her reins and freaking out more.  Our training with horse treats came in handy and she came right to us.

I walked her to a place where I could remount her and then we rode forward.  Only when I got to where we were going to turn around, did I turn her around.  We rode back, me being sore and bruised, but none the worse for wear.

After our ride I thought about what happened.  I learned a few things from her previous owner as we picked up hay.  Rocket had been primarily an arena horse and only rode trails on a particular ranch.  Furthermore, she only got ridden a few times a year.

After checking with some horse folks, I decided that keeping a loose rein with this horse wasn't right.  I replaced my nylon reins with longer leather split reins (more control), and started working her on the ground with "the Friendly Game."  After about a week, I got back in the saddle and have ridden her three more times now. 

I decided to keep her on our road until I had full compliance and trust.  That means no balking, no backing, and no acting up.  Our land doesn't facilitate a round pen, so our road will have to do.  Those three rides have shown improvement along with the new reins and the new contact.  Although she's a western horse, it appears she may have been trained in English, which means a much tighter rein.  She also has no idea of Western reining.

So, I feel as though the fault was mine.  I failed to understand the needs and fears of this horse.  Rocket bolted because she was terrified of going to a new part of the trail and felt I had no control over her because of the loose rein.  Since I tightened the rein, she's suddenly become a very different horse.  Responsive.  In-tune.  

I'm still sore.  My shoulder and back hurt where I landed and I have a massive bruise on my thigh where I was launched into the saddle horn when I got pitched off.  Funny, I don't remember that happening, but it must have.  I've gotten a replacement helmet and am thankful that I had the good sense to wear a helmet when many people don't.  I have a nasty feeling I would've ended up with a concussion and being stitched up for scalp lacerations if I hadn't had the helmet. 

Rocket has been eying paths that go up hills.  You can bet I'm telling her no on those.

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