Sunday, April 14, 2013

They Called Her Flipper

Posted by Linda Benson

Many of you enjoyed one of our recent guest posts about near-wrecks on horseback, written by Maureen Gaffney. Here is the link, in case you missed it:

Today, Maureen shares another story from her experiences as an assistant trainer at an Arabian ranch. Please enjoy the ride, and hang on to your seats (or in this case, perhaps not!)

 While working at one of the large Arabian show farms in Santa Ynez, I was told to ride a smallish gray mare that was in the charge of the new trainer, who happened to be on her way to a horse show.  Something in the way she had said "....if you want....." and then almost imperceptibly grimaced as she drove out the driveway with a 6-horse trailer full of well-mannered, sweet and responsive mounts made several important hairs stand up on the back of my neck.  I should have listened to those hairs.


The head trainer—my boss—did not attend the show and we were riding together in the arena, me on the smallish gray and he on an elegant bay the likes of which I aspired to ride someday.  All was going well, just warming up after a decent but not devastating lounging—the mare had broken a sweat but no oxygen mask was likely to drop in front of her due to a loss in cabin pressure. 


I swung a leg over and settled into the postage-stamp sized English flat saddle (I would later thank 'lucky stars' it was not a western saddle with a menacing horn) and we tooled around the ring for a bit on a loose rein extended walk.  I gathered her up a tad and stopped to talk to the boss about this or that.  As we stood on our respective mounts chatting, the gray mare began to bob her head up and down rhythmically as if controlled by some unseen marionette conductor.  Unbeknownst to me, this bobbing was in preparation for something larger. 


Now, generally speaking, horses do not like to up-end.  If you've had the great pleasure of watching a days-old foal on its first full twisting, cavorting gallop in a large pasture, you've likely also seen the youngster bite the dust and with a great comic flourish, get up, shake off, and immediately look this way and that to see if the humiliating encounter with gravity has been witnessed by man, beast, insect or vegetable.  Like humans, horses become rather embarrassed when they fall down. 


Seems small gray mare missed this vital part of her "Horse 101--General Decorum" class.  While I sat upon her strong, short back, she nearly audibly counted "A-One, and-a-Two, and-a-three, and-a-Four" with each head-bob before she threw herself up and over backwards from a standstill, and with a flirty swish of her tail, slammed us both into the ground with great aplomb. I lay there stunned with an 800 pound animal resting calmly on my right knee and thigh, trying to ascertain if I am headed for the hospital or if I’ll just be bruised.  The utterly confounded boss says from his perch on high "What the..??  Get her off of you!!!" to which I respond "Uh, yeah...." like, gee man, that's a pretty neat idea—wish I had thought of it. 


She lingered a bit longer on my leg, then decided the jig was up and returned to that boring ol' standing position.  Having taken the first opportunity to put some daylight between the two of us, I was no longer astride by the time she was upright. 


Me, the boss, and the bosses’ horse just looked at her with incredulous and deeply offended expressions, like "What sort of a thing ARE you?"  She had, after all, just cast shame on her species by displaying her willingness to forego her noble ancestry and grovel like swine all in the name of…what? Revenge? Just plain march-hare variety madness?  I don’t know, but I put her back in her stall and gave warm thanks to the rest of the kind-hearted horses I rode that day.  The bosses’ horse who witnessed those strange events ever after gave her a curiously wide berth.
Starting as a groom and working up to assistant trainer, Maureen Gaffney worked at West Coast Arabians for 8 years, then moved on to work for some of the best performance trainers in Santa Ynez and Texas before ending up back in Northern California.  Horses supported Maureen through college in Santa Barbara and at UC Berkeley.  Maureen has since hung up her spurs and is now a desk jockey working to plan and implement a long-distance trail around the San Francisco Bay.  She enjoys writing, riding (mostly bicycles these days), cooking, wine and friends.  Maureen has been published in Horse Illustrated, American Trails Magazine, and Dirt Rag (a mountain bike magazine).  She lives in Larkspur, California with her favorite man.   

Thanks so much for sharing another of your experiences, Maureen, and glad that you survived in one piece!

Readers - have you had experiences with horses that reared, and then flipped over, while someone was riding them? How did you handle this very dangerous situation?


White Horse Pilgrim said...

Thankfully I've never had a horse do that to me. However I've seen it happen close up.

When I was learning to ride twenty years ago I booked a weekend of supposedly easy trail riding in a hilly and scenic area. It was the kind of place where early riders sat on a string that did the same ride day after day. The day in concern was windy and a dozen horses and riders were placed in the charge of an eighteen year-old employee. She took a horse that was supposed to be too difficult for the guests - it had been sold cheaply perhaps because of behavioural problems. The morning and most of the afternoon were quiet to the point of tedium. But there was a place on the moors where the horses were accustomed to gallop, half a mile of flat open land in itself quiet a safe place for fast work. But maybe not with inexperienced riders.

The guide told everyone to hold their horses at the edge of the galloping place. The horses didn't want to stop. It was the sort of establishment where instruction was at the "kick to go, pull to stop" level. So one horse ignored his rider and took off, then another. The guide was determined not to set off, so she pulled harder and harder on her prancing mount's reins.

I'd realised that turning my horse to face the opposite direction gave me more control so I was able to watch events unfold. One horse after another set off, and then the guide's horse reared in anger and frustration and fell back on her. He took off after the others. I held my horse for just long enough to ask "are you OK?" and hear a "yes" before the inevitable happened and I was carried across the moor at a flat out gallop. During the next few seconds I saw half of the riders fall. Perhaps because I enjoyed the gallop and wasn't frightened by it I stayed on. A minute later I was waiting at a gate on the far side of the moor with seven loose horses and a few fearful people still mounted. We waited a while for the new pedestrians to trudge across the heather. None of the guests were hurt, though one lady had a narrow escape when a following horse stepped on her glasses (they'd come off when she fell) whilst just missing her head. The guide joined us last and was in a bad way, despite telling me she was OK, her back damaged but fortunately not broken. She had a slow and painful ride back to the barn. On reflection we should have called for help, even an ambulance, but there weren't mobile phones back then.

I met the guide six months later. Her back was still giving her trouble.

That ride stayed in my mind for the whole eight years that I owned a riding holiday business. Thanks to that experience (and, no doubt, some good fortune) I avoided serious injuries to staff and guests.

But I still wonder what became of that unfortunate young lady.

Linda Benson said...

Thanks for sharing that story, White Horse Pilgrim. Oh my gosh - that incident with so many horses losing their riders could have been much, much worse. It sounds like it was bad enough for the guide.

Probably nothing scares me more than being mounted on a rearing horse - especially a nervous, unpredictable rearing horse. For the exact reason that they can inexplicably come over on you (before you even have time to jump off.) Who can say why? I'm glad it's never actually happened to me, but just witnessing it is definitely enough to make one shudder.

Laura Crum said...

I've never had a horse go over backward with me, but I have seen it. I've had horses resist by rearing, and I always followed the "textbook" answer--kick the horse forward and pull its head around. Thus the horse is going forward--around and around in a tight circle. However, none of these horses was confirmed in rearing, nor had they ever gone over backward.

The horse in the post was an aberration, as far as I'm concerned, as Maureen points out. Most horses are afraid of going over and most horses don't rear for no reason at all, let alone go over backward. That is weird/scary for sure.

WHP-That is some story. The longer I've ridden and the more I've seen, the less willing I am to ride rented horses--though I've done it quite a few times in the mountains.

I think a horse going over backward is one of the scariest things that can happen horsewise--a blogging friend was seriously hurt this way just recently--and I have used this, uhmm, "device" in a couple of my mysteries--Roped and Chasing Cans. Thanks for a fascinating post, Maureen!

Gayle Carline said...

The last time I came off my mare, she reared and spun. It wasn't a hard fall. It was more of a "well, I'm halfway out of the saddle, might as well drop down and try it over again." I've never seen a horse go over backward with a rider, but I did watch my friend's 4-year old Paint decide to have a nice roll in the sand, with her in the saddle. She wore a lovely bruise on her inner thigh for a long time.