Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Horses Who Made Me: Jewel


Jewel was the appaloosa gelding that lived at Pheobe's with Demo and Ebony. I would occasionally ride him instead of Demo, the why behind it I can't really remember.

I never really liked him as much as Demo. From swapping mounts between those geldings, I learned at an early age that certain horses moved out differently from others. Jewel was rougher and bumpier than Demo was and I didn't like that at all. He also wasn't quite as saintly as Demo.

Jewel was an escape artist though. He hated when Ebony and Demo would leave with us to ride and he would be left alone. Many times (pictured below) he would escape and Phoebe's mom would have to take him back to the field as we left.

Remembering as I write this, I think some of the times I rode Jewel were because he was always eager and ready to go, while Demo would refuse to be caught.

Jewel shaped a huge part of my journey as a rider through one single incident:

He was the first horse I cantered - and the first horse I fell off.

Phoebe and I were coming back from a ride. We'd passed the first of their three horse fields, were about to pass the second. These were at the base of the large slope that wound into the holler their home was situated in. This area of the drive was finally flat after almost a mile of a steady downhill.

After escaping the field; grazing nearby while Phoebe and I tacked up Ebony
and Demo
On this day Phoebe wanted to canter the last straight stretch to where we tacked the horses up. She gave me the typical, "I'm going to go fast, hold him back or let him go, your decision, you're the boss!" And with my nod, she took off.

I knew the drill. I was good at holding Demo to a trot while Ebony and Phoebe cantered or galloped away. I was always a little nervous, but nothing bad ever happened, so I was fairly confident about the whole thing.

Jewel wasn't though.

Jewel wasn't cued in to the whole routine like Demo was. Jewel just knew he loved his buddy Ebony and Ebony was suddenly rocketing away for home without him.

I held him to a trot for a bit, but that trot quickly turned into the fast, jarring trot horses always seem to do before cantering.

This already bumpy horse was suddenly bumpier than I'd ever imagined. Staying on was suddenly a challenge for me.

And then he broke into a canter.

This was it for my seat. This new gait, one I'd never experienced prior (or at least not much to my memory), was the straw on the proverbial camel's back that was my balanced seat. That first stride or two of canter tossed me forward in the saddle onto Jewel's neck where I clung for life. Despite my efforts though, I slipped around to the underside of his neck, bear hugging him for all I was worth.

But you guys saw the photos of me on Demo last week. You saw how tiny I was on that horse. Jewel was every bit his size if not a little larger. My spindly little arms against the power of a running horse? Yep. I lost that battle.

I lost my grip and I fell.

I fell right underneath him.

I have a distinct memory - clear to this day - of landing butt first, then cracking my helmeted head against the gravel drive as I watched four flashing hooves sail inches above my body and face.

Jewel didn't step on me. He did me that justice.

The whole experience terrified me though. Terrified. I wasn't very hurt - just some epic bruising from where I hit the gravel road. I was thankful for the helmet. Beyond thankful. But boy, oh boy, was I terrified.

I think they made me get back on him right then. Just leading me around by the barn once I'd walked there of my own accord. That whole memory is blurred though; not from hitting my head, but just because the fall itself was so much more memorable for me than anything else.

Falling from Jewel that day had a huge, huge, huge impact on my psyche as it related to anything above a trot. I never cantered again in my time riding with Phoebe. Never.

That one moment with Jewel affected me for several years. I'm glad it happened - because it really had to at some point. And I'm happy I (obviously) have moved on from it, but I never imagined the effect it would have on me or the amount of time I would be affected by it.

I would later move on to riding at another facility with a true instructor in following years. I'd ride different horses nearly every week. A structured lesson for an hour a week. My parents put a lot of time and effort and money into getting me to those lessons, too, for which I will be forever grateful.

Even at those lessons, for weeks upon weeks, months upon months, I would refuse to canter a horse. My instructor would try to get me to, and I would go so far as to get to the fast trot stage before breaking down into tears from fear. Fortunately, the instructor was persistent and patient with me and I was able to get over my fear and finally confront the canter - but I'm getting ahead of myself now. That's a story for next week.

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