Nov 13

Crone holds forth on the horrors of re-riderdom

Having made the acquaintance of some re-riders,* I hypothesize that all of us are scared shitless.

I took 35 years off after the usual fearless horsey childhood. Big mistake! If you don’t use it, you lose it. I can’t pinpoint with any accuracy the precise moment at which I devolved into a spineless greenhorn tenderfoot, because it happened without my noticing it. In fact, I didn’t realize such a thing was even possible until I’d already bought my first re-rider horse.

And so it came to pass that they delivered my fancy new gelding to my fancy new barn, handed me the lead rope and drove off into the horizon. I looked up at him, expecting to meet a kindly, limpid eye. Instead the expression was a very unsettling combination of sullen, judgmental peevishness. Furthermore, the horse appeared to have grown several feet taller since I’d ridden him at the seller’s barn.

I realized with a nasty shock that I was terrified of him. I could barely lead him to the paddock. I couldn’t even figure out how to maneuver him through the gate. I’d forgotten literally everything I ever knew about horsemanship. Needless to say that horse got my number right off the bat. His pet project for the next three years was to bully me relentlessly. During this period I taught him to, very reliably, buck me off, spook at everything, kick at my head on the lunge line, cow-kick me in the cross-ties, and flame me on Facebook. Misery ensued.

Eventually I threw in the towel and sold him to a much more capable 11-year-old girl against whom his resistance was futile. I found a decent hunter/jumper trainer and bought Ginger Rogers, the docile children’s packer I should have had from the git-go. After many months of fear and loathing, I progressed to hopping over cross-rails on this excellent mare. My troubles were over! I bought show clothes.

But uh-oh, I got too cocky. One fine spring day I wasn’t paying attention. I bungled my approach, and the mare tripped over the fence. She went down on both knees, caught a foot in the reins and reared because she thought her head was stuck. If I had stayed with it another couple of seconds everything would have been fine, but unfortunately I decided to totally freak the fuck out instead.

Later, everyone would agree that my emergency dismount was flawless while I was in the air, but alas, points were deducted when I didn’t stick the landing. I blew out my ACL and my confidence.

Back to square one. I didn’t mount up again for months. Couldn’t get past that pit of trepidation in the old breadbox. Then one day I was leading Ginger Rogers from here to there, and it suddenly seemed like a great idea to just hop up on her bareback. To my surprise, nobody died screaming. After that I began re-re-riding in earnest. By “in earnest” I mean “very slowly, a couple times a week.” The very thought of jumping still flips my entire wig. So the sturdy, sensible Ginger Rogers and I amble around in the woods, stop and smell the roses, watch the furry woodland animals frolic, etc. If there’s a log we go around it, not over it. Once in a while we bust out into a trot.

Until the other day, out of the blue, a strange thing happened. We were strolling in the big pasture, whereupon I suddenly felt that a little gallop wouldn’t go amiss. Without even thinking much about it, I gave her a bit of leg and off we went. It probably lasted all of 15 seconds, but it was awesome.

It turns out that with enough time and the right horse, a comeback is possible. Even if the “comeback” is just a 15-second gallop in a hay field. Tomorrow, if it isn’t, you know, windy or cloudy or humid or anything, and if the temperature is between 68 and 75, I might even do it again. In my show clothes, dammit.

* A re-rider is a middle aged woman who, having ridden fearlessly and fecklessly as a kid, gave up riding for one reason or another, then had the bright idea of buying a horse and getting back into it again, never suspecting that she will have completely lost her nerve in the intervening years.


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  1. Pandechion

    The only way I ever made it through loping tail rides with my mother-in-law is to imagine that the horse was moving very quickly in one direction, and I just happened to be moving quickly in exactly the same direction.

  2. rootlesscosmo

    Similar experience here with a musical instrument, though pianos aren’t known to buck their riders off. (Hammond B3 organs, yes.)

  3. Pandechion

    Or trail rides, even.

  4. Val

    Fortunately I only suffered through that indeterminate period between ages 12 – 25 of being a pedestrian.
    (Age 12: my grandfather, who had kept me in ponies/horses since age 2 died & my father quickly sold off my mare as a frivolous expenditure. It took me years & years to forgive him.)
    Still, as I’ve aged, my stunt rider traits have cooled off as the ground has become harder. A sharp pain in my L sacroiliac awoke me at 1 AM after last weekend’s ride, and I wondered what disaster had befallen me until I remembered: “You fell off your horse, dumbass!”
    At the time I scrambled back aboard as quickly as I could to avoid losing face w/my son. He had already been teasing me about resembling a pogo-stick passenger on my bouncing bay-bee Arab. I threatened to make him switch mounts.

  5. Yatima

    I fell off last Sunday, again, but as I keep telling people: “It’s fine. I landed on my head, so no harm done.”

  6. Jessie

    I am a far more cowardly type of rider: I never really got on a horse until I was 28 years old.

    Learning to ride as an adult is a very humbling experience. There are teens at the barn I ride at who are way better than I could ever hope to be.

    Everytime I think I am becoming quite competent, I come right off. For instance, I was going on a trail ride with a guide and I told him I had four years of riding lessons. I should have said, “four years of riding lessons on safe, calm mounts who like to stand still.” Anyway, the first part of the ride was good fun: I could trot and do a bit of cantering on my rather peppy mount. I felt awesome. However, in the end, the horse unexpectedly whirled and bolted and I came off. The first thing I saw when I got back up was the horse galloping away at top speed.

    Luckily, she came back, so I didn’t have to do the walk of shame back to the stable.

    I came off again while riding my lease horse this summer around the property he’s lived on for a few years. We’ve encountered foxes, deer and noisy tractors and he doesn’t react. This time, he spooked at nothing and since I was spaced out staring at birds I landed in the dirt. At the time, we were moving at a very slow mosey.

  7. Ruby Lou

    I’ve been on a horse maybe four times in my life. All those hours I spent watching cowboy shows from the cozy safety of my white-bread living room, drooling and sighing over the horses on the screen, did not prepare me for the shock of how high off the ground I was in a saddle. This video recaptured that feeling. But I still stare for hours at horses because they are just too beautiful. Even how scared I was on an actual horse, the thrill of moving through space with a horse rippling under me was unforgettable.

  8. Helen

    It seems to work in reverse if, like me, you were the cautious wimp who was the despair of your friends who wanted to tear around mountainous country while you’d rather progress sedately. It was almost as if certain things had mulled around in my head while I was on my decades-long hiatus and now I was thinking, “don’t be silly, you can ride this thing.” And I did. And have much less fear and worry than I had before. I actually got a couple of nice comments from trail riding establishment people, which never would have happened in the olden days. Of course now I’m over 55 that may change. (I don’t own horses any more, just loan the riding school ones.)

  9. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    My niece’s daughter rides beautifully. She’s 14, and looks quite fetching in her show clothes. Still, seeing her way up there on horseback sends a thrill of terror through me. She has ridden almost since she could walk so she knows what she’s doing, and she knows how to take a fall, but still.

  10. Schia

    I finally acquired my first pony at the age of 31 (me, not her). She’s an ex-school pony, and at the time I told my instructor that I was in the market for one “just like her, but without the attitude”. Famous last words indeed. Luckily we have reached a detente, mostly through the mediating action of carrots.

  11. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    Riding is flippin dangerous. Unscheduled dismounts are common. Even the pros get dumped. You don’t even have to be mounted to die; a small, pleasant horse can kill you where you stand in the blink of an eye. I can’t stand to watch my 9-year-old niece jumping. Her mother and I hide behind the barn at lessons.

  12. quixote

    I’m in SoCal, so this: “if it isn’t, you know, windy or cloudy … or anything [it’s never humid here], and if the temperature is between 68 and 75” describes my willingness to do anything.

  13. TwissB

    I guess that this answers my question about the silent disappearance of the ineffable Stanley.

  14. Hattie

    That is some exciting footage! You are very brave.
    You’d never get me on a horse!

  15. Ron Sullivan

    Funny, just yesterday I was wondering what ever happened to Stanley. Actually, I was trying to remember what the hell Stanley’s name was, too. You think you’re croney now; just you wait.

    What happened to you with horses happened to me too, only with bicycles. Riding a bicycle turns out not to be like riding a bicycle. After all those years I got one with actual changeable gears–and automatic transmission, so-called–and put on my new ridiculous black pot of a helmet and got on and fell off and got a spectacular black eye and then got on and fell off on the other side and cracked a rib.

    Unlike a horse, a bicycle doesn’t have to be fed, so unless somebody’s stolen the damned thing it’s in the garage on self-deflating tires.

    If you ever want to feel sorry for a Nigel, feel sorry for mine. Being cow-orkers as well as living in welded bliss, we’re together most of the time. Imagine spending nearly two weeks walking around with a woman sporting a huge and vivid shiner in Berkeley California.

  16. Ron Sullivan

    And horses are way prettier than bicycles. Bicycles are ridiculous, no matter what they’re doing.

  17. tarr

    Welcome to geezequestrian land. All that hitting the ground and fear and dismay is what made me take up driving horses. All the joy without the angst,

  18. Nolabelfits

    My poor welfare roots sorta precluded horse ownership when I was growing up so my best friend and I would go to the nearby horse boarding pasture ( a cluster of dumpy shed- like structures, nothing fancy) and get on other people’s horses when no one was looking. Bareback. They let us hoist ourselves up okay but then promptly ran off bucking and rearing. We got thrown off every single time, hard. Every horse in that pasture knocked the wind out of one or the other of us. It amazes me now how we held out hope that one of them would be different and actually let us ride. This went on until one day we slipped through the fence and headed across the pasture and the entire herd ran straight at us at full gallop, head on. I thought we were going to be trampled dead but then at the absolute last minute they parted like the red sea and ran around us. Needless to say, that was the last time we tried to get on anyone’s horse. And yes, we were irresponsible idiots with no supervision.

  19. Friend of Snakes

    None of my recollections of horse-ridership bring joy to my heart.

    My older sister had a friend who won a horse – I have no idea how that came to pass. Even if someone in my family had won such a treasure, we couldn’t have afforded its maintenance. On my teen sister’s first invitation to ride, she was thrown. Of course, she kept it a secret from my parents, at least for a day or so until the pain (or maybe a strange protuberance) made it impossible to ignore her broken collarbone. I don’t know what the treatment these days is for what she had, but the poor kid ended up in a cast from her neck to nearly her waist.

    I, too, was invited to ride on that horse – once. As soon as I was astride and assuring the owner that of course I could control it enough to walk around the field, the horse took off at a trot toward a pond, put its head down and proceeded to drink the pond dry apparently. I didn’t understand why the owner was running toward us waving her arms. I guess the horse drank so much they couldn’t gallop it around that day after I was removed from the saddle. At least that’s what I think was the problem. They never invited me back.

    In college I had a crush on a woman who had a bunch of horses and gave lessons and such. There were at least two difficulties: she was considerably older than me; and she was the wife of one of my professors who was also the head of the department in my major. I lounged around her place reading The Well of Loneliness (No, I am not making this up). One day after again lying about my riding ability as I had as a child to my sister’s friend, I accompanied this woman and some of her students as we set off single-file down a path into the woods. How was it possible that only I didn’t see the low-hanging branch? How humiliating to be left hanging from a tree branch as the horse moseyed on down the trail without me. Is it supposed to be second nature to lean forward instead of putting your hands up to protect yourself?

  20. Friend of Snakes

    Sorry bout that italics tag screw-up.

  21. tinagrrl

    Grew up sorta middle class in Queens N.Y. Was on a horse ONCE — wondered where the brake and accelerator pedals were.

    Anyway, horse and I got along pretty good. After we actually got to a sorta gallop, both the old horse and I wanted to slow down. Since this horse knew the trail better than I did, I let her lead the way — she just walked ahead, until we came to a fork in the trail. Instead of going left or right, she went straight ahead, resting her head on a young tree. She wedged herself in and it took a while for me to get her to go left, or right.

    We eventually got back to the stable, none the worse for wear. Never again thought of riding a horse, pony, tortoise, or any other animal that has to be tamed to allow me to use it.

  22. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    “Imagine spending nearly two weeks walking around with a woman sporting a huge and vivid shiner in Berkeley California.”

    Ha! Haw! Ron, I’d love to take you out for a taco some day.

  23. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    “I lounged around her place reading The Well of Loneliness (No, I am not making this up)”

    Oh my god. This is the funniest thing ever.

  24. Mary

    Oh. My. Gosh! I laughed and laughed at this one! Im going throughout the same thing here! I’m riding my friends horse who freaks out about everything! He’s big like Heyboy which I love but he does not have that laid back personality. His name is Pistol and he lives up to the name. I realize this summer when it was so hot, Pistol’s energy was zapped by the heat. With these 65 degree temps he’s like the energizer bunny! On top of that he’s super insecure and doesn’t like being separated from his pasture mates. He sits back in the barn when I tie him up. If he’s successful at pulling loose he tries to make a run for it back to his friends. But the gates are all closed so he doesn’t get very far.

    Once I finally get him saddled (he dances around like a nut bucket) and I get IN the saddle we get to the arena and warm up. Heading out gates freaks him out because he’s afraid he’ll be left behind. I could be a gate opener for the group but I know if I get off and try to get back on, I’m taking my life in my hands. He’ll take off to try to catch up. I’ve never broken any bones and I’m determined to keep it that way. My friend Sandy owns the ranch and she teaches barrels and poles to the older kids. She keeps telling me I might want to compete one day. I just shake my head. I’m the “amble around the woods, stop and smell the roses and watch furry critters frolic” gal too. In February It will be my year anniversary riding regularly again. I’ve only galloped twice and that was by accident. :)

    Love this blog! It’s great! Mare

  25. wondering

    I grew up on a farm. We had a number of horses and I was absolutely horse mad. But we just kinda got up on the horses and rode around, going on trail rides, chasing cows, that sort of thing. We had no lessons of any kind. These days I now live in a more urban area and can only get horse access through renting a ride. My problem now isn’t fear. My problem is that I am horribly embarrassed for anyone to see me riding. The rental horses and I seem to get along well enough, but I don’t know the proper seats or leg aids or jumping or anything like that. I can’t afford actual lessons and I feel like everyone is judging me for my horrible farm girl seat. And preference for (unkosher) Western saddles in a community where English style is de rigeur. It doesn’t help that I am fat with a dicky hip, so I need a mounting block or a leg up.

    But at least I don’t fall off very often. But I have some pretty good stories about the times I have. As a kid I once got bucked off and lost consciousness (riding alone and no helmet.). I had no memory of the incident, but we found pieces of the saddle scattered all over the area. The joke was that my pony had to buck the saddle off to get rid of me.

  26. Ron Sullivan

    TwisPJill, if we’re ever in the same area code, you can take me out for tacos and the drinks are on me.

    “Area code” broadly defined to include Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Contra Costa, SF, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, San Joaquin, and reasonably close counties.

  27. Comradde PhysioProffe

    That sounds so awesome! Are show clothes like those fancy jockey outfits with all sorts of different bright colored stripes and checks and whatnot?

  28. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    Are show clothes like those fancy jockey outfits with all sorts of different bright colored stripes and checks and whatnot?

    Alas, only the Western ladies are allowed wacky turnout. They are in fact required by law to wear bling-encrusted purple cowboy hats and shirts matched to their saddle blankets, and jeans made by labels with names like “Cruel Girl” and “Cowgirl Bitch.” English riders such as myself are relegated to tailored navy blue coats, white shirts, and tan breeches. It is the look Ralph Lauren has made a fortune selling to civilians. Dull, perhaps, but there’s nothing dapper-er!

  29. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    Mary, it looks like I ended up with Heyboy and you ended up with Serenade!

  30. buttonwillow

    rerider here; just fell off my 17.4 hand leased horse onto cement for the second time yesterday, ow. I’m going though helmets like vodka.

  31. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    17.4, isn’t that, like, 18? Coming off that motherfucker would literally kill a wuss like me.

  32. buttercup

    We saw a 20 hand Percheron at the county fair over the summer. As sweet and lovely as the horse was, the thought of being that high up in the air on him with no seat belt was terrifying. I have a photo of Nigel standing next to him, and the horse’s ass is half a head taller than he is. With my girth and gimpy leg and assorted nerve problems, I fear my riding days are forever over.

  33. Mary

    I was just thinking the same thing! I remember you on Serenade going up and down, up and down and Heyboy just plodding along….

    Tomorrow I take my life into my hands again to ride Pistol. Good news is that it’s gonna be a hot one!

  34. buttonwillow

    I never could figure out how hands work. You have 15.2 hands but never hear of a 17.8 hand horse. Why is that? off to google.

  35. buttonwillow

    oh it’s just base 4. that’s simple enough.
    I guess I have no idea how big my horse is, except that i’m about 5’8 and her withers appear to be just above eye level. Well, It takes 5 days for the headache and neck pain to subside after falling off her onto cement. That’s a five day horse then.

  36. Val

    Hmmm, Button I’m 5’8″ also – sounds like your pony is a smidge over 16 h. As I get older I really appreciate the shorter equines… I was so dreadfully disappointed that my lil’ Arab only grew to 14.3, but the ground has gotten a lot harder – at least when I fall off HIM I can generally clamber right back aboard. When I crashed to our concrete-like drought-ridden surfaces from the 16-h mule, I cracked my collarbone & messed up my L shoulder…

  37. buttonwillow

    oh Val. ow. A six-week mule?
    I grew up riding the tall horses but I have a soft spot for sassy ponies. My trainer has a bunch of Welsh cobs and ponies. I get a lot of happiness from them. My Oldenburg mare is a jewel but the ponies are such a joy.

  38. Connie

    I read this post and a short time later on Thanksgiving I ended up on the ground for the first time since we got the old gelding 6 years ago. I think it was my freebie because no hurt but for a butt bruise. The helmet was a great help because I did feel my head slap the ground. I had just started back with riding lessons again a week before so was so sore I shouldn’t have even tried riding. Winter is here now so I don’t have to get back on him for awhile. He’s always been great but this day I just didn’t listen to how he felt. And for being up in his twenties he can still have a crow hopping fit.

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