Fat to Fit to First Level: Growing Pains

“In order to ride him effectively and be the best rider/teacher I can be for Kiwi, I need to ride him like he belongs to someone else. Someone who has hired me to ride and train their mustang, not mine.” A post-fall analysis by Esther Roberts.

I came off Kaliwohi three days ago. Hard. He was fresh, which, for Kiwi, means he’s willing to trot without having to drive him each and every stride. Something spooked him and he bolted. I rode it out for a few strides, but I finally lost my seat as he sideswiped a six foot high tubular steel stock pen panel while launching me into said panel.

Fortunately, my body and pride were only bruised and not broken. I am sincerely grateful for Divine Protection. I am also grateful my friend and photographer Tess McHone was there and I was not alone. She caught my fully-tacked mustang once he slowed to grab some grass (“spook? when there’s grass to munch? #sorrynotsorry” – love, Kiwi) thus I could focus on catching my breath and getting back on.

Falling off a horse is never fun (well, okay, maybe this gal is having a ball) but, generally speaking, the point of riding a horse is to, well, stay on.

Epic fail on my part [raw honesty – a better, more balanced rider, or one with longer, thinner legs, could have ridden Kiwi’s “bolt”, for sure!], and the first time I’ve come off Kaliwohi.

The trouble with my first horse, Sam, being so utterly calm and quiet is the fact that I never came off Sam – ever – in twenty-six years of riding him. So I missed out on all the “bounces of youth” that so many riders talk about. Instead, I guess I saved up my unexpected dismounts for the “falls of fortysomething” and beyond. Yee haw. NOT.

As I climbed back on and rode Kaliwohi at a walk to get my own stiffness out, I replayed the spook-and-bolt in my mind to evaluate what I could/should have done differently. Several things came to mind.

For one thing, I did not have sufficient contact when Kiwi bolted. My reins were too loose by at least a half-inch. So, when he raised his head and took off, the reins then had at least three inches slack in them, so trying to steer him into a turn or circle to redirect his forward momentum proved impossible. I do not ever want to be a “hand rider” or be harsh in a horse’s mouth, but this innate loathing of “too much hand” means I typically ride with too little contact.

Photo by Tess McHone, Everyday Beauty Photography

Riding with slack in the reins may be appropriate in some cases, such as in this photograph where, after the fall, I am purposefully asking Kiwi to step out and engage his hind end and loosen his shoulders to extend his stride on an inside bend. Even here, however, I could have much less slack on the inside rein, which reinforces the fact that, the vast majority of the time, Esther needs to ride with better contact.

For another thing, I allowed my seat and legs to tense up when Kiwi spooked and that tension literally popped my bum out of the saddle for the bolt. One cannot ride with a deep seat if one’s seat is suspended in the air! Worse, this upward trajectory is more than half the reason I continued on that trajectory out of the saddle and wound up slamming into a stock panel and then onto the ground.

By far the most important thing I have learned, however, is I need to ride my mustang with a complete mind shift.

I have raised this mustang from eighteen months of age. I tamed him and I taught him almost everything he knows. I have nursed him through several major facial reconstruction surgeries and also months of hoof rehab after he sheared off an entire quarter of one hoof while romping during turnout. And, on the ground, Kaliwohi is like a ginormous retriever puppy – he’s big and goofy and full of affection.

The problem, however, is I need to ride him like he belongs to someone else. Let me state that again: in order to ride him effectively and be the best rider/teacher I can be for Kiwi, I need to ride him like he belongs to someone else. Someone who has hired me to ride and train their mustang, not mine. Why?

Because when I’m in the saddle, I need to be 100% “business” and zero emotion. #ZeroEmo

I’ve been riding for decades, so I already know I need to leave my emotional baggage at the barn door. My troubles cannot enter there, for it clutters the learning atmosphere – for me, and for the horses.

But along with any cares and concerns I may need to set aside, I also need to set aside the absolute love and devotion I feel for my own horse. I adore Kaliwohi. I would do just about anything to keep him happy and healthy.

Yet, once I’m in the saddle, all the warm fuzzies need to be temporarily forgotten, so I don’t have that split-second lapse in riding judgment wondering, “what did my sweet boy spook at?” Doesn’t matter, cupcake, ride the horse.

“But after that fall, I’m in a great deal of pain; should I be afraid now?” Forward and straight, keep your @$$ in the saddle and ride the horse.

“Is this even fun now?” Whether a perfect, quiet ride, or all hell breaks loose, ride the horse.

Every moment, every stride, every step, ride the horse. Just as I would do if some professional I respect, like JJ Tate or Eliza Sydnor Romm, asked me to school a horse for them. Ride the horse.

Post-fall, at the trot, with appropriate contact that Kaliwohi is obviously happy with, as he reaches slightly forward and into the contact while softly chewing with his jaw. Photo by Tess McHone, Everyday Beauty Photography

As you can see in this photograph, once that moment of clarity hit me, I immediately gathered the reins, asked for the trot again, and rode the horse. Not “my beloved mustang” but “the horse” – the young, training level horse who needs my skills and wisdom and professional detachment while in the saddle. That horse. On contact. Under control. Working for balance and throughness every moment, every stride, every step.

The old adage is, “when you fall off a horse, get back on.” I believe that adage is incomplete. The correct wisdom is, “when you fall off a horse, get back on and ride the horse.”

Forward, marching walk; time to be all business and “ride the horse.” Photo by Tess McHone, Everyday Beauty Photography


Go riding.

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