The day dawned shrouded in heavy fog that swirled angrily in the wind. The gear was waiting in the trailer and all I needed was to load Doc and set off for my friend's house. We loaded her gear and horse and headed to an open space park for a group trail ride. We traveled just over 30 miles and descended at least 1500 feet in elevation. The fog lifted. The sun was out. A gentle breeze played in the horses' manes while we waited for the group to arrive. Upon setting out on the trail Doc was startled by large rocks along the trail. You never know what a rock might do to an unsuspecting horse! Beware! We continued on the trail coming out into a beautiful open meadow with a view of mountains in the distance. The calm was shattered by the sound of an engine. In moments a helicopter crested the hill. It flew close to the ground directly over our heads and horses bolted in every direction. Two riders came off. Two horses took advantage of their freedom to seek some luscious spring meadow grass! My friend was one of the unlucky ones and suffered a bad bump on the head. We decided it was in her best interest, as she was a bit unsteady and had a head ache, to return home and have her head examined. (Sorry, friend, I couldn't resist that one!) Although the ride was cut short it was a fabulous experience for Doc. He needs to get in the trailer and go places. He needs to meet other horses. He needs new experiences - although I'm not sure that I had helicopters on Doc's Bucket List! We arrived home, greeted by winds that averaged 25 mph with gusts up to 40. Ugh!
After a quick lunch I saddled Pippin. Another friend had invited me to come warm-up in her indoor arena followed by a ride in our community area. I did some work in the round pen and mounted Pippin. He stood still - hooray! We've been working on this. I took him around the pen a few times and he was attentive and quite calm. We opened the gate and set out for neighbor friend's house. The wind was howling. Pippin's head came up higher, inch by inch. He began a little dance. It felt like he was going to jump out of his skin any minute. Every little touch made him jump. I decided to bail out and lead him over to my friend's house. Pippin was much calmer with me by his side. He still is very unsure of having someone on his back. He can't figure out where the touch is coming from and he is often surprised when my hand moves into his vision. I have been caught unawares when I've been with friends and I've talked 'with my hands'! His usual reaction is to drop down and freeze. We arrived at the arena and had a great ride. There were three of us. We walked and trotted. We went over some poles and climbed up and over a box. We played 'Follow the Leader' going in and out of cones and around the arena. We played with a mailbox. Pippin settled nicely and I think this may have been one of my best rides on him, ever! We decided we'd go out into the field. As we started on our way, with the winds continuing to blow, Pippin became more agitated. I concentrated on staying relaxed and talked to him, but he came undone. He dropped, but this time he swung his hind quarters to the right and took off. We progressed in a circle, galloping in a spiral until he finally came to a halt. He really didn't go that far and I had him under control quite quickly. I am so thankful my friends' horses didn't bolt as I might not have been able to get Pippin under control so quickly and I'd hate to see my friends' in difficulty because of my silly horse! We continued along, talking amongst ourselves, trying to determine what spooked Pippin. Was it a piece of newspaper on the ground? Was it strings on my chaps that tickled his side? Did one of the other horses signal something? He started to spook again, but I stopped him. After a third 'drop' my arena-owning friend, wise woman that she is, suggested we return to the arena where I could work Pippin again and this time dismount in the arena, on my terms, after some good, positive experiences. Our walk home, with me at the lead, was quiet and controlled.
Despite the adversity I actually have to chalk this day up as a great day for my guys. They each had good learning experiences and will both, hopefully, be better for it.
PS: Friend suffered no serious head injury but will probably be sore for a few days as friend's horse threw in some nasty back wrenching bucks before she was thrown face-first onto the ground. Hooray for helmets. The outcome of the ride would have been very different had friend not been wearing a helmet with a visor. Please, please, please....wear a properly fitted helmet whenever you are working with your horse!
If you don't think you need a helmet, read the following:
11 Reasons Not to Wear a Riding Helmet
Top Ten Reasons It's Cool to Wear a Riding Helmet
Take a look at this picture and video of Oliver Townend's fall at Rolex this spring. His helmet saved his life.
Also, if you do experience a fall, you should consider purchasing a new helmet. There may be unseen damage to the materials of the helmet that would impact the helmet's ability to protect your head. Sometimes the exterior of the helmet shows little or no damage at all. It is for this reason that you should not purchase a used helmet.
Read this article about unseen damage to Oliver Townend's helmet.