I rode twice last week, and each time had a “first,” my first canter with him and then on the next ride, my first fall. The first canter was fantastic, the first fall, not so much. On the first ride, I was pressed for time so we rode up the gravel road to the trail head and then turned around. As we were turning toward home, a lady opened her front door and let out her two dogs. She must not have seen us, because as her dogs rushed at us barking and jumping, she started running after them and saying, “I’m so sorry!” Baron was calm, cool and collected at first, but one of the dogs was the size of a small pony and he was getting a little too close for comfort. I was determined to keep a cool head and not let Baron get out of control. As Baron started to trot, I grabbed two handfuls of mane and stood up in my stirrups because I have better balance that way. He started trotting faster and then broke into a canter back toward the barn. We quickly outran the dogs, Baron is a racehorse after all. As we cantered, I thought, “Wow, I’m cantering and not falling off!” I had never cantered him before, simply because I wanted to make sure I could slow him down if I needed to. Now was the time to put that to the test, so I shortened up my reins and brought him down to a trot. I half halted him again down to a walk and he calmed down immediately and went back to walking quietly toward the barn. I was so proud of him, I could have jumped off and hugged him. I was patting his neck and telling him what a good horse he is. I was stoked that I was able to stay on and to get him back under control. At my last lesson, we worked on the half halt, so after the ride I called my trainer and told her how well he had done. I was bursting with pride at my sane and sensible OTTB.
Well, as the old saying goes, pride comes before a fall. Two days later, my friend Gary and I tacked up and started off on a trail ride. Gary’s horse Rumble is a lot more level headed than Baron, so we thought that having Rumble there would help Baron calm down on the trail. He gets very jumpy and tries to rush back to the barn. It worked like a charm. We had a couple of instances when Baron refused to go forward and tried to turn around. I turned him in tight circles around and around and then asked him to move forward again, which works really well. Having Rumble there gave Baron the courage to go further out on the trail than we had been alone. When it was time to turn around, Baron was in front and he kept trying to trot and I would slow him back down to the walk. We came to a part of the trail that goes down a hill and I let up a little on the reins to allow him freedom to move his neck and go down the hill. I also stood up in my stirrups to make it easier on him. In retrospect, that was the wrong thing to do. He took that as a signal that he could go faster so he started to trot and then to canter. It happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to pull him up or ask him to whoa. I went right off the side and hit the dirt. All I got was a scraped elbow and a nasty black bruise on my hip, so thank God for that. Baron kept right on trucking and by the time I emerged from the woods, he was standing at his stall munching hay. He was giving me this look like, “What took you so long?” Just to make sure he didn’t think dumping me was the easy way out of working, I marched him out to the round pen and got right back on. We did a few trot circles and then he got to go back to the barn and have his alfalfa cubes. I needed to get back on as much for my confidence as for his.