...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.
Sung to the tune of “Camptown Races,” this is an old World War I military song that was later adopted by Veterans of the Vietnam War:
“I’ll be home in a body bag, doo daw, doo daw,
I’ll be home in a body bag, oh, doo daw day.
“Son-of-a gun is dead,
Son-of-a gun is dead,
He got hit by a Howitzer,
Son-of-a gun is dead...”
Have you ever been clunked in the head by your horse’s head? Or run over by him on his way to the field? How about the old rear-up-fall-over-backward trick he likes to use on occasion? Or the I’m-so-excited (or mad at you) kick in the (fill in the blank, _________ hip, leg, etc.) that I’m going to treat you just like another horse incident?
Folks, these were some of my own close calls, sans cart, and could still fill the whole page with more. (I left out the really scary ones) of black eyes, concussions and trips to the emergency room, and I could then fill another whole page with stories about other people’s mishaps.
One time years ago I was down at a barn in South Park, Pittsburgh, and my aunt told me a horror story about a trainer who had been kicked right in the face by a horse, leaving the man’s orbital socket and cheek bones all sunken in, with skin stretched over it all. This was the early 1970's, so plastic surgery was still in its infancy.
Then there was the woman who didn’t want to geld her Arabian stallion, he who had the temperament of Satan on steroids with a quadruple shot of testosterone. I think she saw the wisdom of whack-‘em-off the day he grabbed her from behind with his teeth, had her by the back and proceeded to walk through the arena, pretending he was saying “yes” to the world, with her in his mouth.
Sometimes it’s a set up, meaning, you didn’t see it coming. Other times, it simply comes down to common sense and forethought, with the key word being, “Think.” You can tell your own future just by stopping and thinking something out.
Even sweet, old DannyBoy had me “thinking.” Had me thinking I was auditioning for Barnum and Bailey Circus as the human cannonball...I didn’t think draft horses could run that fast. Had me thinking that I was lucky the planet broke my fall....I thought I was riding Ichabod Crane’s lazy old party-plow horse up in Dad’s field, until I turned for home. I actually thought about not wearing a helmet that day. They say that horses are stupid animals, but DannyBoy beat me to the gate outside his stall, me doing my Vaudville renditions of walking down a lonely road again.
Two stories I heard of trail horses saying “no” to a request by the rider were both scary.
Both riders thought the horse’s were just being jerks.
One of them was in a muddy, swampy area and after several refusals by the horse, the rider finally made him go through the mud. About five steps in and he was literally up to his chest in mud, stuck.
This was especially bad because the rider did not tell anyone where she was going or when she would be back.
The rider extricated herself from the stirrups and laid over on the mud, crawling to safety at the edge. The horse struggled for 30 minutes before finally freeing himself, and had to lay out on the ground for 45 minutes afterward, due to exhaustion. (It was my sister and her horse.)
The other rider was at the top of a ridge, wanting to race down the side of a hill. The horse refused several times but finally yielded. As the speed increased down hill, the horse lost its balance and began to pinwheel rapidly, unseating the rider. The guy watched in horror at flailing legs, mane and tail, the careening pinwheel ending at the bottom of the hill, the horse dead on arrival.
One story I read in a magazine was about a guy trail riding out in Colorado. It started to rain up on the mountain side, and the guy, not thinking, took out his rain slicker and tried to put it on while still up in the saddle.
He came off the mountain side in a body bag because the horse spooked at the rain slicker.
Horses are like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.
Some ground work training when purchasing a new horse or breaking in a young colt, goes a long way.
I have something I call my “Sacking-out Sack.” It is a big, brown paper bag full of spooky-spooks like plastic grocery bags, newspapers, a twine-full of empty pop cans to drag along the ground, empty plastic water bottles, a plastic picnic table cloth, and a cloth one, too, and also a bottle of pseudo-fly spray, filled with water. There is also a heavy leadrope, that helps him get used to things touching his back legs that he can’t see, along with an umbrella and a set of electric clippers.
When the horse is ready, and only when he is ready, he should eventually be able to walk over top all of these items, and also wear them on his head, back and butt.
No horse is entirely bomb-proof, and any one of them can spook at a covey of doves or a flock of geese that suddenly decides to take off. Trick riding is another story; firecrackers at a distance can be used with another handler, to let the horse know he isn’t getting hurt. I don’t recommend standing up in the saddle while riding alone somewhere.
Some simple forethought on the matter of a horse can go a long way and you can live to ride yet again.
Ponder these, the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”