So, one of my rescues is a now 3 yr old buckskin named Mickey. EVERYONE loves him. He is sweet, pretty and just all around a nice horse. But he and I have had TWO bad episodes. Neither time did I fall off. But I lost confidence in him and myself.
The first time, I was pushing to get him ridden, and my chief 'crash test dummy' (no really BRI far exceeds that! She is a stellar rider with a Velcro butt and velvet hands!) Anyway, she had a series of things go on and she had not been out. But another student came to the ranch. No problem, I will have Kristine handle Mickey from the ground and I will get in a ride. Baby horses need REGULAR rides, not hit and miss. However, the ground person is Almost MORE important than the rider. And with a novice handling the lunge line, there is room for disaster.
I used to let almost anyone ground crew for me. Little by little, I came up with a list of rules. #1 - don't drop the lead!!! #2 - don't let the horse STEP on the line. #3 - if the horse goes backwards - GO WITH HIM - do NOT pull the line and try to hold him in place, he will run back faster! #4 - If the horse takes off, gradually reel in the line and try to stop him!
I developed these rules mostly by experience. #1 comes from a friend. Her daughter was on the young horse, and when the little mare spooked, the mom DROPPED the rope and Yelled "jump off". Melissa was NOT amused!!!
Rule #2 - Well, it might seem obvious - but really some people are super sloppy about handling the lunge line and when a horse steps on a line, they often panic and then it gets ugly. So, I really WORRY about people who allow the lunge line to drag on the ground.
Rule #3 - One of the worst falls, I have ever had was when the owner held the horse. The mare got a little tense, and stepped backwards, the owner grabbed the lunge line - which was attached to a chain on the bit (another issue that I NO longer do!) The mare RAN backwards until she hit the fence behind her. Then she bolted forward with 3 of the hardest bucks I have ever tried to ride. But the 4th one? I hit the deck. I SLAMMED into the ground. I literally split my face open. However, I Also got back on the mare and rode her, while the blood ran down my face. I later wound up with 10 stitches in my face. I was also just 35 yrs old. I don't think I would bounce that well anymore.
Rule #4 - Again, back in the day, I had owners hold their horses while I did first rides. I was doing a first sit on with a little Paso Fino gelding. He got spooked. And bolted off and ran circles around his owner on the end of the lunge. She held on, the line never touched the ground and he didn't go backwards. But he also was NOT stopping. After 6-8 rounds of alternating between flat out running and series of Bucks, I opted to do a Pony club perfect 'voluntary dismount' and I landed on my feet, standing by his shoulder, with the reins in my hands. "WHOA" i yelled and jerked him to a stop. All 3 of us were amazed!!! The owner truly didn't even think to help stop this horse. She was just frozen. So, I added rule #4.
But having a ground person that you REALLY trust requires SO much more. Abiding by those 4 rules will probably avoid Most train wrecks. But With Mickey, I had ground crew people that were new to me two times. One was a student, who really didn't know what to do, the 2nd time was an experienced handler, but she and I had not worked with green babies very much.
The first time he jumped, the green handler jerked the line, and the poor colt didn't know WHAT to do, I had to give instructions to the girl on the end of the line while Also trying to stop a panicked colt AND stay on board. He finally came to a stop. We were ALL shaking. And we gradually walked out of it. But I realized how Fragile I felt.
Then a month or so later, I was on him, he was still very green and just starting to trot. My assistant Tanja had done a lot of work with him and Bri riding him. We were walking Fine, but upon asking for trot, he shot out and turned AWAY from my ground crew. Now, rule #5 should Probably be "don't let the horse wrap the lunge line around the rider" - but that is so tough - it requires incredible reflexes from the ground crew. With a pony we rescued, early in his riding, he got spooked and SPUN - 4 circles, so I literally was wrapped up in the lunge line. There was no happy ending from that one. I hit the dirt. Luckily, he was only 13 hands tall. But it still hurt.
On that ride on Mickey, he turned AWAY from the ground crew, and there was the line Wrapped around me AGAIN. I kept yelling DON'T Drop the line. Apparently, my assistant thought I was saying Drop the Line. But she thought "That would be BAD and break rule #1. So she hung on and finally the line got straightened out and she pulled Mr Mickey to a stop. Again, I didn't fall, but I lost confidence in this colt. No fault of the ground crew, but I just got chicken.
So, I let my crash test dummy Bri do ALL the riding on him for the past 2 months. THEN I had another young rider take him for a test drive. He was PERFECT.
So, today, I decided I should ride him. My back was hurting, I was in a grumpy mood. Tanja asked Several times, are you Sure you want to ride him. YES - I HAVE to. ( I don't really want to, I muttered under my breath, but I HAVE to. ) So, I put my fear in a bucket and went ahead, Put my foot in the stirrup and got on.
NO lunge line. I just Got ON. And he was Wonderful. We walked, we trotted, no we didn't canter. I am old, not STUPID! But this kid is a GOOD colt. and Bri has done a terrific job. And I enjoyed riding Mickey. I can't say I was totally relaxed. But I enjoyed it. And I will ride him again. And each time I will have a little more faith and trust.
THEN, Tanja got Lance out and I Rode Him TOO. You would think I was still 35 years old! Riding all these babies. In spite of my fears. In spite of feeling fragile. And I enjoyed it. And with each ride, I get a little more faith that These Two are worth trusting. And that is good. Because if I can ride them, then some other Adult amateur rider can ride them and enjoy them and trust them.
As long as we can face our fears, and still put our foot in the stirrup and get on. Each ride gets easier. Or at least that is what I keep telling myself.
And of course, the More prep work we do, the less drama there is with getting on. Still, it is also possible for a trainer to Overdo all the prep work, perhaps because they ARE afraid to just put a foot in the stirrup. So there is a balance between prep and impulse! And when the trainer finds just the right point between the two, then progress is made but the horse is never stressed - and neither is the rider.
As another post script, I rode Mickey again, and this time we cantered - both leads and he was lovely and smooth and I really REALLY like him!!! Now I just need to find someone who loves him that will buy him!