Equine Roller Derby

IMG_5608(Bullet)

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They say you’re owed an accident for every 500 hours that you spend in the company of horses. I’m not sure who said that or how accurate it is, but it sounds about right … depending on what side of the equation you’re standing. I’ve had a few wrecks that resulted in some damage. Years ago I broke my left wrist (in multiple places) when I bailed off a horse who was falling on ice. I broke the same wrist a few weeks later because I cut the cast off prematurely, then came off the same horse. Yeah, I felt kinda cursed at that point, but I gave  my own stubborn stupidity credit for that mishap. When I first brought Dharla home she tossed me on my keester and I wrenched a knee badly. No medical intervention was necessary, but it was a close call and it prevented me from riding her for the better part of a week. (I should have waited longer for things to heal, but felt under the circumstances that I couldn’t). About two years later I had one other “event” where I came unglued from Dharla, but by then I think I was better prepared and no damage was done.

The most scary accidents are the ones you don’t see coming; the ones that happen when you’re doing something you’ve done a thousand times, and even though you’re always mindful and careful around horses, happen anyway. I mean, you can be 100% on your toes around animals, but because horses are big, powerful beasts with a finely tuned instinct to flee from anything remotely scary or abnormal, accidents can happen.

Our typical feeding routine is as follows: The “boys” get the most grain and (therefore) get their grain first. Both boys take approximately the same about of time to eat their oats and almost always finish within seconds of one another. They’re fed in separate corners of the run-in shed that’s located off the back side of the barn. Because she gets less grain (and eats faster) Dharla must wait patiently, and is given her grain last. She is fed apart from the boys, either in one of the stalls or in the run-in shed on the front side of the barn. This prevents her from gulping her grain, then pestering the boys while they finish theirs. At feeding time everyone knows the drill: when their grain is ready to dispense, the boys follow me around to their feed pans while Dharla waits on her side. Bullet is always given his grain first, then Rascal follows me over to his corner where he’s given his ration. Then I repeat the process for Dharla. Everyone is very calm about this routine. Well, as calm as hungry horses can be, but the point is that all three horses are very push-button and cooperative at feeding time. They know their job and I know mine.

Wednesday night was no different than any other. Everyone was anxiously waiting for their grain and milling about as I made the preparations to feed. Holding a grain scoop in each hand, I walked around the back side of the barn to give the boys their grain, Bullet first as per our routine. Bullet stood ready at his manger and I dumped his grain into his feed pan. As I turned to walk over to Rascal’s manger my foot suddenly slipped on some gravel that had accumulated on the surface of a rubber stall mat that lines the run-in shed. I should probably mention that these stall mats have been in place for many years and over time, the material under the mats can begin to erode. Every few years we have to pull the mats back and fill under them with some new material. The mat I was on was sloped at one end rather than level, due to erosion. I’m sure I was aware of this on a subconscious level, but it never really struck me as a true hazard until now. The gravel under my foot caused me to slip, but it was the slope of the mat contributed to the inevitable: I fell.

Because I was standing right next to Bullet, I not only went down hard, but I fell UNDER him. Which I knew would spook the poor horse badly. After all, Bullet’s head was lowered into his grain pan and he was happily munching his grain. It was the perfect storm for getting trampled. I wish I could say I tried to protect myself as I fell, but there wasn’t enough time. Plus, I had an empty grain scoop in one hand and a full grain scoop in the other. I don’t know why, but I didn’t want to dump that grain, so I continued to hold both scoops as I went down. I heard Bully react as I landed under his belly and I remember thinking, “this is going to be bad!” With only one way out of the shed, I knew at the very least I was going to get trampled. Bullet tried to get out of the shed as quickly as possible, jumping over my semi-prone body and kicking me in the head as he bolted. Rascal, who was on his way over to his own grain pan when it happened, turned and fled in hot pursuit.

The pain was intense and coming from so many places, I wasn’t sure what to address first. My immediate and strongest inclination was to stand up as quickly as possible. My head and neck were throbbing and both knees and one wrist were skinned and bleeding. Fortunately, nothing seemed to be broken. My head and neck … well, I wasn’t so sure. Meanwhile, the horses were blowing, snorting and milling about on the other side of the barn. I limped over to Rascal’s gain pan and dumped his grain into it, then tried to coax the boys back over to the other side of the barn to eat. The lure of grain overruled their fear and it only took a few brief minutes before they were back on their own side of the barn and eating again. I got Dharla situated, then tried to access the damage.

I honestly didn’t know if I was OK. I mean, by the time the initial, acute pain began to settle down to dull roar I had already decided I should probably try to finish feeding the horses. I set out three piles of hay, checked the water tank, then limped back to the house and made an ice pack. My husband wasn’t due home for at least another hour and a half. Should I dial 911? Could I wait until he got home? Did I really need to do anything at all? I didn’t know! I hurt, but having been trampled and kicked, I expected that much. But was I injured? Again, I wasn’t sure! Thinking two heads are better than one, I shot my sister a text.

My sister called immediately and somehow, between the two of us we (well, mostly I) decided I could wait until my husband got home. I’m sure my sister would have rather I called 911 or something, but the mere fact that I was sounding pretty rational and wasn’t experiencing worsening symptoms gave me the confidence to think I’d be OK. And I was. Needless to say, I didn’t feel great, but I wasn’t feeling any worse either. By the time my husband got home I was fairly insistent that I’d be alright. I was however, pretty nauseous and didn’t have much of an appetite that night. Ironically, I had a routine doctor appointment scheduled for Friday and so I decided I could wait until then to see someone about this.

I woke the next morning feeling like I’d been run over by a truck. I hurt everywhere and I had the bruises to prove it. My neck and jaw were very stiff and I had a large egg on the back of my head. I still felt some occasional nausea, which continued to plague me over the next twenty-four hours. When I finally saw my doctor she confirmed that I did indeed have a mild concussion. She didn’t exactly read me the riot act, but she made certain I knew when I should call 911. We went over a couple of critical points so if anything like this ever happens again I’ll be a better judge of the situation. And when you’re around horses every day you just know that day will probably come again, even if it might be some 500 hours (or so) from now. 😉

Jan 2, 2012

I didn’t ride yesterday or today. I’d planned to try to get out today. I knew it was going to be one of the last days before the really frigid temps roll in, but it wasn’t meant to be. The wind was already whipping by the time I went out to feed, making it feel MUCH colder than it was, and as it turned out, the temps dropped steadily from then on.

I came in from feeding to find a phone message from my herding instructor. I have a standing Monday morning herding lesson, but we hadn’t touched base in a couple of days and I wasn’t sure if she was taking Monday as a holiday or not. I returned her call knowing full well that it wouldn’t take much for me to bag out on my lesson. I’m a fair weather herder.

Turns out she wanted to know if I was interested in going to look at a couple of horses. She’s horse shopping and my horse’s trainer knew of three prospects she could see at the same farm where he runs his training barn. I figured what the heck …. I didn’t have anything else planned. I knew it would be frigid, but I could bundle up and (worse case scenario) sit in the car if need be.

It was a good time. Great barn, nice people, good horses. Cold as hell though. Lots of wide open fields and water-logged ground from all this miserable rain. Ug. I was literally shaking in my boots from the cold despite dressing in several layers. It made me think back to last winter when I was horse shopping myself. I swore I’d never do that again in the winter, but there I was standing out in the middle of an open, semi-frozen field watching a friend test-ride two horses. (She passed on the third horse)

I don’t know what she’s looking for, but both horses were pretty nice. I especially thought she “fit” the little reiner she rode. I suspect she’ll want to go back for a second test ride, but I’d seriously consider him if I were her. He has a lot going for him and the owners are motivated to sell since they have their eye on another horse and can only afford to board two horses. But that’s me and I guess time will tell.

It was great having a chance to hang out a bit with Dharla’s trainer. Every time I’m around him I learn something new. Well, several somethings. And he’s just a nice guy to boot.

Perhaps I’ll get a chance to get out on Dharla tomorrow before the temps plummet. If not, it will be a few days before it warms up enough to give it another try.

Dec 27, 2011

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Yesterday’s ride gave Dharla and me our first “big” adventure since I brought her home last April. For the most part I’m at the age where I pick my riding risks carefully. I’ve been trail riding long enough that I have plenty of ‘been there, done that’ stories to tell and I don’t go looking to add more to my catalog. But sometimes things come up out on the trail that can’t be avoided and you just have to go with the flow.

It was (yet) another damp, gray wet day. It wasn’t raining, but it had poured heavily the night before, leaving the slightly frozen ground soft and slick. My plan had been to ride in the woods. Muzzle loading season is almost over and has actually come to an end on state land. Chances are slim that we would meet anyone hunting deer. I don’t like to foil a hunter’s carefully laid plans or risk getting shot. But with deer season finally behind us and winter temperatures staying on the milder side, I thought it would be a nice change of pace to get out into the woods. I’ve been limited to riding the biking/hiking trail for three months now and I’m sick to death of the same old scenery.

Having made plans to ride with a friend, I went out about an hour ahead and curried the mud off the buckskin. He’s always a consummate mess. The dirt clinging to his hairy flanks was dry except for one large patch on a meaty gam and big spot on his belly. As usual, Bullet had been lounging in the mud. I can’t fault the horse; there isn’t a dry patch of ground to be had lately and he needs to get off his feet at least once or twice a day. He’s a big boy. My husband had ridden him the day before and I’m sure he was a bit fatigued. Still, it seems like he’s always a major project to clean up before any ride. I brushed the clots away, spent a few minutes brushing my own mare, tossed them both some hay and went back inside to wait for my friend to arrive.

We got a late start, then only minutes into the ride we ran into my neighbors, who were just returning from a ride. We stopped to chat for a few before continuing along on our way. We didn’t get very far. The viaduct trestle was blocked with several large equipment trucks and a cement mixer. At first it looked like we might be able to squeak past them on one side, but as we stood planning our route the cement mixer started to rumble and turn and we both agreed that we would probably be better off riding somewhere else. With that decided we turned off on a woodsy path that went in the opposite direction.

The beginning of the ride was unremarkable except that Dharla boldly led and Bullet followed. Dharla stepped readily and unquestioningly across streams that only months earlier she had refused to cross, and hopped lightly over logs that blocked our path. Although the trail was slick in places and boggy with mud in others, Dharla handled the lead quite well. The last third of the two hour trail crosses an old abandoned tree farm that is leased by a local sportsman’s hunting club. Years ago we used to ride this land regularly and we know the lay of the land well. Although the property is now posted, we’ve carefully and respectfully continued to cross this land for the better part of 20 years with no complaints. Occasionally I’ve encountered bird hunters out with their dogs, but they’ve always welcomed me and allowed me to cross the fields to get to the other side where the trail circles back toward our farm. Unfortunately, today was an exception to that rule.

As my friend and I wound our way toward the open fields I could hear voices in the distance. Having encountered bird hunters before, I knew they were calling commands to their dogs. They were unable to see us as we approached, but I called out as we rounded the bend and they came somewhat into sight. Their Black Labs froze, staring in our direction. I asked if we could have permission to cross the field … if it was OK with them. They called back, “Hunting is still in season!” Taking that as a “No” I turned to my friend and told her we might actually have to ride back home the way we’d just come. That’s another two hour ride, when we were only about twenty minutes from home. As we contemplated our few options, the clouds started to spit rain.

We decided to sit tight and see where the hunters went. If they turned off the main trail and fanned out toward one side of the large field, we might be able to skirt them by riding along the opposite side of the orchard. I knew once we got around the first bend we’d be well out of sight and gun range and could probably eclipse the whole field before they even knew we’d slipped by. We waited about fifteen minutes, then quietly advanced. When we got up to the open field I could see the hunters had indeed taken the path I expected and were well on their way to the opposite side. We darted for the trees at a fast trot, then high-tailed it around the outside perimeter of the orchard. The ground was slick and greasy, but wanting to put as much distance as possible between us and the hunters, we continued to trot as fast as we dared. Then, about halfway around the field I felt both Dharla’s back feet slip sideways … and I knew we were going to go down!

Somehow, Dharla miraculously managed to regain her footing without losing a beat. We continued around the outside of the field, then when I knew we were well out of sight, crossed back to the center. We pushed the horses through the second field (the airstrip) and finally reached the path that leads back to our farm. While I hate trespassing and sneaking behind the hunter’s backs, I really don’t understand why they couldn’t let us ride through. We could have been out of their way in a matter of ten minutes. Instead, they wanted us to add another two hours to an already lengthy (and hilly) ride. Why? Because they can. I’m going to have to really think about this now, before including this trail in my future repertoire. This is unfortunate because it’s one of my favorite rides.  *Sigh*

So that was our big adventure! 🙂

Ride Time: 3 hours