Your Turn: My first ride or, why I hate pecans

Gretchen Pelham tells the story of how her riding career got off to a rather nutty start.

Top photos: Wikimedia Commons

From Gretchen:

My first ride was also my first fall. Now, a lot of people have that same coincidence. However, how many people do you know who fell off a horse by way of falling out of a tree, hmm? My first ride was on my uncle’s horse in Louisiana. She was an ancient gray mare, and I’m ashamed to say that I can’t remember her name.

So here’s the scene: I was sitting on her bareback, gripping her mane while my uncle was leading me around my grandparents’ front yard. This yard was littered with pecan trees (which I came to loath later in life, but that is quite another story). My uncle, a high school teacher used to dealing with teenagers, was completely ignoring me and where he was leading the horse. He led us directly under a huge, low branch of a dreaded pecan tree.


And what did a 5-year-old do when posed with the problem of a horizontal branch rapidly approaching the belly? Maybe, call out to the Uncle? Duck? Oh no, nothing so logical. Why, of course, she transferred her grip from the mane of the horse to around the branch. Yes, that’s what anyone would have done, right?

As I hung onto the branch, I looked down and saw the back of the gray mare slowly walk out from underneath me. Oh, by the way, I wasn’t wearing a helmet; why would one need such a thing? Of course nothing would happen to a tiny 5-year-old just sitting on an older than dirt horse. My predicament didn’t hit me right away. So I just hung there with the horse long gone, and my uncle still completely oblivious to the fact that I was no longer a passenger on the mare. I had quite a good grip on the branch and was doing very well hanging there, if I might say so myself.

I still vividly remember two images–my 5-year-old hands holding onto the gray mare’s mane, and seeing her walk out from underneath me.

Finally, sense did enter my brain (it must have been from the sting of the fire ant sitting on the branch), and I screamed. Then I let go. No major damage occurred, except maybe driving out what little sense I should have had later in life. The fall did nothing to deter me from riding again and again (and again). But I never did trust my Uncle again. Or eat another pecan.

I should have known then what an illustrious riding career I would have. I mean, who cannot expect great things from a first-time rider who falls off by way of a tree? Olympic gold medals! No–coaching the Olympic team! Ohhh wait–(drum roll……) writing the definitive work on riding to eclipse the book written by that Greek Xenophon! OF COURSE I was destined for greatness!

OK, maybe I have decided to live a quiet life and forsake my potential. But getting a 12.1 hand pony to jump a 3-foot coop in a fox hunt counts for something, right? Well, he could jump before I got him. He even jumps coops without a rider. But I still sat on him while he cleared it, so I’m claiming all the glory! Yes, well, back to mucking out the run-in shed and being ignored by that pony… no autographs today, please. Maybe tomorrow.

2006 MFHA Ziggy big coop

Photo by Jim Lane. Taken at the 2006 MFHA Centennial Field Hunter Championships in Kentucky as an example of what it looks like when a 12.1 hand pony pops a coop from the trot. And yes–it hurt. See the crop flying through the air? One of my finest moments.

Gretchen is one of the five Joint Masters of the Tennessee Valley Hunt. She is a photographer and always hunts with her large 20D Canon camera and zoom lens shoved down the front of the her hunt coat (including this day she fell). Sometimes she even remembers to put the digital card in the camera. She is known as the Naked Foxhunter from a series of articles she has written for the Chronicle of the Horse. Her other hunt pony Ziggy writes a blog for the foxhunting magazine Covertside. Occasionally Gretchen manages to finish a hunt without falling off, but that is not as often as she would like.


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