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What Should I Have Done?

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She writes...

I finally had my first fall as a returning (um . . . mature) rider. It wasn't as bad as I was expecting it to be, although I did end up hurting my foot and won't be riding for the next couple of weeks!

I've been riding our BO's Fjord mare -- she's sweet and clever, but very ornery. As she's gotten to know me, she's settled down a bit -- she pushes until she sees she can't bully you -- but she seemed a bit irritated today; before I even mounted, she'd made a pretty serious attempt to bite me. I probably should have known then that something was up with her, although I'm not sure it would have made a difference -- my trainers probably wouldn't have agreed to me not riding her just because of a "feeling"!

Trainers not agreeing with the "student??" No!!!! Say it ain't so! Welcome to Earth!

One thing that has come to me over the years is: To a vet, all problems are vet problems, to a farrier, all problems are hoof problems, to a saddle fitter, all problems are saddle fit problems, to a riding instructor, all problems are riding problems, to a "trainer," all problems are training problems. I could go on and on but you get the picture. We tend to diagnose what we work with every day. I would also briefly interject, "trainers" work with the horse, "instructors" work with the human.

Ultimately, you are the boss. You are paying for the lessons and as such you should control them. Granted, you may not have as much experience as they do but your feelings should always be expressed and addressed to your satisfaction.

Why would a horse attempt to bite?

There's a problem. Period. Horses don't make threatening or aggressive moves such as flat back ears, biting or kicking unless there is a problem. The horse is saying, "Proceed with what you're doing and there will be trouble!"

That problem could be pretty much anything. It could even be rooted in a number of causes. While the existence of a problem may be obvious, the nature and location of the problem may take a bit of detective work to uncover. Some problems may be easier than others to uncover - dry patches and hair discoloration under saddle, tenderness while grooming back and withers and complaining while cinching, for examples, indicate saddle problems.

And so on. You eliminate the easiest causes first then you branch out from there.

Horses are the most compliant animals on earth. If they are not, there is a problem, or problems, somewhere.

There are tack, training, conformational and physical causes. In addition, there are rider caused problems such as giving the horse two opposite signals at the same time. For instance, riders often tell the horse to move forward while signalling it to stop.

Anyway, the whole lesson was a battle of wills, although she finally got to where she was listening better to me (and I was probably giving her better cues as to what I wanted from her).

Or perhaps she was getting number (Hmm... number and number are spelled the same) to a discomfort. Athletes call this, "Walking it off." If a horse is having saddle issues, atrophy (tissue and nerve damage) begins setting in in about 20 minutes.

I'm not used to arena riding -- never rode inside until starting lessons -- so I'm horrible at getting the right diagonal and even worse at switching. My trainer told me to switch diagonals and off this mare went, breaking into a canter (no big deal, she does that often and is easy to handle), then bucking MUCH higher than I would have expected her stocky body to manage!

She threw me forward on the first buck and I managed to hold on through the second, but I'm having a problem with tendonitis so I wasn't having any success using my right arm to either hold on OR push myself up off her neck -- I had a brief moment where I thought, you can stick with this or just let yourself fall and get it over with . . .

I'm the kind of person who has to do the thing that scares me more -- NOT brave, probably just dumb -- so I went ahead and let the next buck throw me off. Ended up pretty much fine, just stiff and sore, with that deep bruise on my heel that put me on crutches.

So what SHOULD I have done?

I'm open to advice -- I definitely need it!

First of all, I think I should have been more aware of her mood, yeah? She was definitely fighting me today, which isn't normal in that she will usually settle down after testing me a bit.

When I tried to switch diagonals, I think I must have done something that pushed her buttons, but I'm really not sure what -- maybe I pushed my heels into her? Or pulled on her mouth? I honestly don't know, because I was focused too much on what I was trying to do, rather than paying attention to her.

Obviously I should have raised her head when she was dropping it to buck -- another issue with not paying attention to her while I was focusing on my riding "technique" . . .

Good luck with that. Once the horse decides to buck and that head goes down there is little that you can do to get it up. If it is bucking and you try to lift the head you'll only pull yourself more off balance. Does pulling up the head work? Sure. If you can do it quick enough. Pulling the head up works just often enough to where everyone swears by it.

And I guess I should have stuck with her, rather than bail. I'm not sure I absolutely COULD have stayed on, but I'll never know now, because I chose to fall rather than keep fighting to stay on.

Would you have made the same choice I did? Or would you have stuck with her?

Only someone who is in the middle of a session like that can answer whether or not to stick with it.

After assessing the damage, I did get back on and ride another 10 or 15 minutes -- funny thing is, the heel doesn't bother me at all unless I put weight on it, I keep thinking it's perfectly fine (then I get a BIG reminder when I step on it!).

You may want to have it x-rayed. Heel injuries can be a really big deal.

Okay, that's my story -- I don't have any real horsey friends IRL, and I wanted to share with somebody!

I appreciate it. We can learn from the experiences of others.

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