Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Worst ride ever #2

or, Head over heels before strangers

The second most embarrassing moment of my riding life happened in front of semi-strangers, although I got to know them better later on....
It was about two years after I moved to South Dakota. I didn't have a horse then. Happily enough, I'd found horses to ride (never seems to be a shortage of people who have horses that need riding, does there?), and even someone to ride with. A very nice lady with a horse-habit of her own, which, lucky her, her husband shares. They'd looked long and hard before finding her mare, in the process borrowing lots of horses for her to try. So they knew a lot of local horse people - many of them with horses that needed riding.

Long story short, the plan was that the two of them would pick me up and we'd meet two horse trainers with a load of 30-day horses out near Kennebec and spend the weekend riding. One of the guys had a gelding that - say it with me - needed riding. I'd ride him and/or one of the green horses for the weekend.

No dummy, I asked if I could try the horse first. "Sure, come on out - do you have your own saddle? Great. Willie's in the front pasture...". And so he was. A big, deep red sorrel breeding stock paint. Willie actually seemed pretty broke, and I had no problems on our test ride.

Cut to the day before we're to set out on this excursion - I get a phone call from my new horse friend. There's an illness in her husband's family, and they won't be able to go. But she's already asked, and I can ride up with the two guys. They're wonderful people, and she knows I'll have a good time. It shouldn't be just us - one's sister is supposed to come down and meet us with two or three horses she's started, so I won't be the only woman.... Okay, sold.

Well. The guys were perfect gentlemen. But the sister never showed. No fool, I learned very quickly that this was not going to be a walk in the park sort of ride. We slid the horses on their tails down shale hills, scaled bluffs via deer paths, bucked brush, crossed a river (several times), sunk one horse chest deep in a quicksand pit, pulled her out and kept going. Three hours or so of steady riding and we'd switch horses and head back out.

Thighs burning, heart in my throat, I stuck to the saddle and kept my mouth shut. I didn't (still don't) ride nearly as well as those guys - few do, I think - but I had one slight advantage - my horse was a bit older, broke, and used to going where he was pointed with a minimum of fuss. Watching where their horses had trouble let me pick my path, and Willie took care of us both.

Until the gully.

It looked innocent enough. It wasn't even rocky. Or slippery. Or covered in trees. Or filled with water.

After the morning's territory, it looked like a cakewalk. Basically it was a draw cut into in a line of rolling hills. One side - the one we were on - shelved off about two feet from the top. After the drop-off it was a steep grass-covered straight slope down to a right angle turn onto a deer path threading the bottom of the gully. Probably 20 feet all told. The worst bit was the initial step over the edge. The other side was steeper - no going back up that way, the horses had to make the turn and continue down the path to get out.

Neither of the two young horses was having ANY part of it. No amount of convincing was going to get them over, or even close to, that edge. Silly me. Being on the "broke" horse of the three, I volunteered to go first. After all, Willie hadn't failed me yet. Huh!

He'd watched the other horses balk. There were monsters down there! No way was he going over that edge. But a couple good kicks and a whack on the hind end with my reins got his front over. Except Willie was quite a bit quicker than I'd given him credit for. He sucked back, and when he zigged, I zagged. Right over his head and down the gully I rolled.

I still had one rein in my hand when I stopped, and darned if Willie didn't follow me right down. Didn't step on me, either.

Silence while he whuffled my hair. Then, still too stunned to tell if I was all in one piece or not, I heard a faint, "Okay down there?" from up top. Pride answered.


"Okay then."

With Willie in the notch, neither of the other horses refused the drop, and the men rode past me, carefully not looking and not speaking (and likely silently laughing their fool heads off, I expect). I gathered up my reins found my stirrup, and brought up the rear.

I rode the next day, too, sporting a number of sore & bruised spots, and wishing for a heating pad, more Tylenol, and something soft to sit on. But I wasn't giving up. They didn't complain, I sure wasn't going to!

Of course, the silence only lasted until we got back home. Out riding for weeks after I'd get a once-over from folks I barely knew, "So - hear you know an easy way to get a horse down a drop-off...".

The next year, back out to Kennebec, with more people this time, the two took a detour to share with the group "my" hill. You know what? It didn't look nearly so steep and intimidating that time! Of course, I knew I could make it down....


Jennifer said...

How incredibly embarassing! ACK!!!

SunnySD said...

ACK! is right - I think that's pretty close to the noise I made tumbling down the hill!

Denise- LessIsMore17 said...

That reminds me of a ride I had once/ twice! I'm an english/dressage rider, I hate riding western and feel very out of place.
My friends put me on their "bomb-proof" kid's horse/pony- I forget her name at the moment- we 3 went on a trail ride that was, like you described- shale rock hills, gullies, water the whole 9 yards! I literally clung to the horn and just let this mare save my butt several times, I was no help manuvering through "Hell Mountain" is what it was called in the trail guide...Wow and I lived through it and stayed on!
The next day I was begged and begged to go on another trail ride, and promised that this time we would go on an "easy" trail. I gave in. I don't even know what happened, one second she was sniffing a bush, I think I asked her to keep going and she did-she BOLTED and through the trees we went, I either fell off or just bailed, landing on my hands and tweaked my wrist.
My friends never let me live it down that I was thrown off the kid's bomb proof trail horse. She was a little paint and I still can't remember her name- Miss Piggy maybe?