Cowgirl up

You’d have thought it was Friday the 13th, but it
was only Wednesday.  I hate to be
superstitious.  I know it’s
illogical.  I prefer reason.  But once again, bad things come in threes.  I’m sure it’s just coincidence.  Right?

How many times have I heard from backpackers we pass
horseback on the trail (usually those going uphill with a heavy load upon their
back as I “just sit” on my horse) that riding is SO much easier.  Spoken by someone who’s not spent enough time
in the saddle, I say.  Working with
horses, it’s not a matter of if you’ll
get hurt, but when, how bad, and how many times.  I’ve heard of plenty of hikers getting tired
and sore. Yet I think of all the horse people I know who have broken collar
bones or pelvises, smashed toes, sprained wrists, lost fingers, and even
died.  I don’t hear these things
happening very often to backpackers.

Please don’t tell me it’s easy. Because right now, as I’m
nursing bruises to both body and ego, I’m thinking it feels pretty darned hard.

Stop that belly achin’, you tell me. And you are right.

So it all comes down to this.  Cowgirl up. No matter how tough things get,
hang on.  Don’t let go of that rope.

Here’s my example, my Wednesday the Thirteenth.  We’re packing into ditch camp.  I’m on my Arabian who up until last fall was
a stallion and was (still is) the father of most of my herd.  Not always an “easy” choice for a mountain
mount, but for those of us who choose them, we sure do learn to ride. Or at least, to hold on.

He’s in the lead.  We’re
coming out of the woods into the open, right on the flats of the Continental
Divide, way up there, way out there.  And
something spooks him.  I don’t know
what.  All I heard was a branch snap, and
it probably wasn’t much more, but you know how horses are.  So he bolts.

Well, I’ve not trained this guy to neck rein.  We still direct rein, which means to issue a
STOP command, I need one hand to let up and one hand to pull, thus turning the
head to the side, bringing the horse to a calm stop.  That’s the theory.  It’s technical horse talk, don’t worry about
trying to really get it if you’re not into horses.  But the bottom line is this.  It works.
If you can do it.  Of course at
this particular moment, I couldn’t.  I
had one hand holding the reins even, so all I could do was pull straight back,
which produces the “race horse response” by which the horse pushes into the bit
and goes faster.  And the other hand,
well, it was holding tight to the lead rope of my pack horse.

So, off we go over the Divide at a full out gallop, me on
this fancy little Arabian who’s spooked from a broken branch, and my loaded
down pack horse, running along even beside me.

We manage to stop. Somehow.
I don’t know how.  All I know is
there I was catching my breath, letting out the adrenaline, and noting that I
still had a firm hold of the lead rope and my pack horse was still there beside
me.  I call that a good move.

Next incident goes like this.  I’m leading Norman the New Guy across the
creek for his first day of ditch work.
Everything is new for him.  New
harness.  New environment.  New creek.
New experience.  I have to hop
across these three rocks to make it from one side to the other of this
creek.  The rocks are slick and my rubber
work boots don’t have great traction but with enough forward motion, it usually
works.  Usually.  Well, on this particular day, I’m leading a
horse who is not as sure as I am about crossing the creek.  So he stops to think about it.  Fine.
Only he does that at the same time I’m playing leap frog on those
rocks.  The lead rope I’m holding onto
jerks back as I try to leap forward and the ensuing physical response leaves me
flat on my rump in that cold water creek.
But… I still had a hold of that lead rope.

After a bit of anger and finding ways to blame my husband
for my own mishap (maybe he was scheming to get me to spend the day working in
those shorty shorts playing lady logger instead of donned in my usual baggy
levi jeans which spent the day hanging from the tent to dry), I’m back to work,
in the ditch with horse and shorty shorts.
I’m figuring maybe this would be a good time to work on suppleness and
responsiveness with my horse.  Right
there in the ditch.  Well it doesn’t work
as I planned, and the horse spooks, jumps my way, knocks me over, and the next
thing  know I have a draft horse
scrambling over me while I’m down in the dumps in that ditch.  I’m seeing long legs and mighty big feet all
around and don’t quite know which way is up.

When it’s all over, I realize he managed to avoid stepping
on me.  Fifteen hundred pound on my
hundred fifteen pounds would not have been a good combination.  I love that big boy even more.

And the best part of it?

There I was in the bottom of the ditch, my shorty shorts
covered in mud, my thighs battered and bruised, and my front end dragged over
my hind end.  But I still had a hold of
that horse’s rope.

Anyway, the moral to the story is probably something to do with
holding on, no matter what.  I can’t say
it’s something I thought about much at the time.  Any of the times.  But it’s something you got to do.

And about that part on bad luck coming in threes?  Well, I still don’t want to believe that.  But nor am I in the mood to try my luck.  For now, my body is bruised and my confidence
shot.  I think I’ll walk for a while.

At least until tomorrow when I got more work horseback
coming up.

And hope I have some better luck.

15 thoughts on “Cowgirl up

  1. Oh Gin, where do I begin…you would probably not really care to hear that your vivid word pictures had me giggling a few times…once I knew you were okay, of course! You are such a great writer you make everything sound so entertaining. As far as Bob getting the blame for the creek crossing gone bad, I’m sure Ron can relate (to getting blamed for something that wasn’t his fault at all) when I have been hurt (usually my pride, though, more than physical pain.) But I’m sure he didn’t mind you working in your shorty shorts! And Norman is amazing for not stepping on you! He knew you were under him and it sounds like he tried his best not to.

    Once again thank you for sharing your adventures with us. I’m glad you made it home in once piece…this makes a great story for leading into a new book!

      • Just felt a little guilty laughing at your mishaps! Oh, and picturing Norman jumping all around but not on you made me think of Willie, who obviously isn’t near as big as Norman but in the dog world he compares I suppose. And I have seen him around little puppies being so careful so he doesn’t step where he shouldn’t. I don’t know how they manage to do it but they do. Gentle Giants, both Willie and Norman.

  2. Reading this today aids my current challenge in my marriage. Simply hold on (to that rope) ’til it gets better, calms down, and the dust settles. Thanks for sharing your life, your thoughts, your heart!

    • Some days, Kim, it seems all we can do is hang on, doesn’t it? Other days, we’re strong enough to use that rope to climb, pull, or wrap about an tie up close what matters most. Sounds like you already know what matters most and are willing to hold tight.

  3. It’s just the same here in Britain – hikers saying “it must be easier riding”. It’s easy to say, of course, however they wouldn’t appreciate a messed-up lower back and aching hip joints.

    Yes, there are a lot of ways to get hurt around horses. What a good thing that Norman didn’t step on you. I’ve looked up at a horse in a similar situation, isn’t it thought provoking? In such ways one comes to love these beasts.

    I’m not sure about mishaps coming in threes. However you might be amused by my grandmother, who really believed that folklore – if she broke a plate or cup, she’d be off to smash a couple of bottles in the rubbish bin in order to fulfill the jinx.

    • Yes, Julian. Riding your big beautiful beast, Doru, I imagine you’ve well understood the frightening power of the draft horse, but their gentle nature draws us and keeps us and bonds us with them. And your grandmother sounds like a character…

  4. Sounds like fun “Cowgirling Up ” To realy have fun you should take up bull riding .A good saying to live by is “Just hold on to the rope “.I hope you are not like me .I hurt easy and heal slow .Good luck and stay safe

  5. Wow. Guess it was good that it wasn’t Bob or Forrest, cause they aren’t as tough as you and couldn’t have written it up quite as well. (tongue in cheek for effect). Is there ever a time we should just turn loose? A question of life?

    I have wondered what it would be like to be at the mercy of a horse, and you have found mercy there.

    So glad you are okay and ready to ride. Thanks for sharing these experiences.

    • Thanks much, Al… some thoughts on this for later… heading back up there now… hoping for a better (smarter?) week… Look forward to catching up next weekend when we’re back in touch. Have a great week…

  6. “cowgirl up” is going to become my screensaver of the next few days, gin. sometimes i think tough things come in bunches, at least. holding on, bruised on a few levels but eye on the horizon…you go, cowgirl. you’re not alone.
    love your spirit…

    • Hang in there, Ruth. We’re there with you.
      If we get knocked down (or bucked off) enough, we learn to fall.
      And get mighty strong from standing back up.
      Here’s something Karen Bailey shared I so loved that you might appreciate, too:
      “It’s just a dream at this point but we have to have dreams in order for them to come true!”

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