Do you ever look back on some of the things you did on horseback and think you must have been insane? Do you wonder how you did them? Or, if you were crazy enough to want to repeat them today, do you wonder whether you’d be able to?
A friend of mine — my old hunter/jumper trainer, in fact, who’s now retired — reminded me of one of those daredevil things I did, the other day. It surprised him when I did it, and it surprises me now, looking back on it.
At the time, it made perfect sense. I was riding my Thoroughbred rogue. I know some may bristle hearing a horse referred to as a “rogue,” but they do exist. They are rare. I had one. At that time, I’d only had him a few months.
I was schooling walk/canter transitions. I knew it was no problem for my talented athlete. He could do it only half-trying. After all, he could come out of a starting gate, go wide and still win on a sloppy track at Belmont Park. He could start and stop on a dime. If he had been an airplane, he would have been the Concorde.
The first time I asked for canter, he sprawled forward lazily into the gait. Not good enough. So I asked again. And that made him mad.
He bolted and just as we hit the corner, he threw a series of bucks. His hind legs were nicely engaged and the engine was in full gear for the bolt that followed. There was no shutting him down. A pulley rein was powerless. A highly evocative phrase from the 19th century sums it up: I was hell-bent for leather.
Stupid me. I’d thought twice about riding in the ring that day, when I saw that someone had set up the jump standards with barely a horse’s width to pass along the rail. I thought about moving the jumps, and then I thought that this thought of mine was pretty ridiculous. Those were the days when I ignored that little voice in my head that tells me things that I’m supposed to pay attention to, which today, I’m finally mature enough to listen to.
We were on the second bolt along the rail on the short side and he was fast (remember Belmont?). There would be no margin of error once I got to the long side and those jumps that were set too close to the rail. I could see him slamming my knee into one of those jump standards and that would be the end of my riding career.
So I bailed. But not where he could trample me. I took my feet out of the stirrups, made my body into a ball and rolled it off my horse and right under the bottom rail of the three-rail wooden fence that enclosed the ring. As I hit the ground, I heard my horse’s hooves drum the sand, right beside my ears, like John Bonham in Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown.”
When I got onto the grass on the other side of the fence, I stood up, shook off the sand, realized it had gone up my nose and into my ears, and watched my horse, now riderless, breezing himself around his makeshift track. My head felt the way it does when a headache is coming on, so I walked into the barn and asked if anyone had any aspirin.
Still today, my trainer, who caught my horse that day and is now simply my old friend, says “I can’t believe you did that!” And neither can I.
What crazy things have you done that you now look back on in amazement?