Sunday, July 13, 2008

I am scared of horses!

I am going to step right out there and just say it like it is. I am scared of horses. I love them in a way that is unhealthy, spend most of my day with them or thinking about them and use the majority of my disposable income supporting them....and I am unequivocally, absolutely, undeniably scared of them. No reason or logic need apply. I have had an internal monologue running on the subject for the past 5 years and have finally concluded that being scared of horses is the proverbial "first step". I _________ am scared of horses. You might ask, "What came undone 5 years ago?" Well, let me tell you. His name was Tonto. Stop laughing. I changed it the second day, I went with Cheekeye.

Cheekeye was the word that my father would use to get me to stop doing something naughty.... like running with scissors. I had a "friend" that was in a "tight spot" and I was a class one sucker. The first sign I was in for trouble was that this 15.1HH blood bay gelding had not been weaned. He was three. The second was that he tried to kick me the first day. He bunched up that big square quarter horse ass and let both back feet rip. Thanks to a slow-motion matrix style move, I walked away unscathed. I wasn't worried. I was good hand. I was 19 and didn't have a clue but I'd ride anything with four feet and heart beat, and had. Fugly doesn't even begin to describe the nags I had ridden. I had been in my fair share of wrecks, paid my dues and still had an grip on my iron nerves. I had watched all the Natural Horsemanship clinics and videos I could find. Gawani Pony Boy was my hero. Checkeye and I were going to become one in the round pen. There was this odd feeling I'd have whenever I handled him. I couldn't put a finger on it but IT was slowly starting to get my attention. IT was my survival instinct.

Cheekeye had a cute little dished QH head with a big eye. He would have been cute if his ears were not always stitched to his neck. He carried his stocky square built body with the bravado of a stud and when I turned him loose he could twist himself inside out. I longed to ride him. We started in the round pen. Things seemed to be going well. Pony Boy'd be proud. I didn't see it coming. As far as my memory serves, Cheekeye had stopped and faced up, ears pricked forward and was starting to walk in. "Join up" was moments away. I smiled. The rail of the round pen hit the centre of my back with a load CRACK! Despite landing upside down and bent in half backwards over the fence, I managed to get to my feet in time to see Cheekeye peel away, his back feet a torrent of rage. What had happened? In a split second he had charged and covered the 5 feet between us, hitting me square with his chest and sending me flying ten feet backwards and on to the rail. At the time I was feeling less than charitable and surmised that he had tried to kill me. Looking back now, I am grateful that he showed such restraint. I can recall vividly looking him the eye the moment before he hit. His were rolled back and all I could see was white.

I blamed Pony Boy. We tried a different approach. People at the barn were becoming scared of him. They didn't go in his paddock without a pitch fork handy. I had faith. On a bitterly cold January day I mounted him. He stood quiet, ears forward. Good enough for me. As lightly as possible, I stepped off. My right foot was on the ground, left foot in the stirrup when he blew up. He went left but my right foot stayed wedged in a deep divot in the frozen ground. I felt it tear- the cartilage in my knee. In the days and weeks that followed I didn't worry too much. I had broken bones and busted myself up before. The body heals, you go on.

Over 4 years later I still have a bit of a limp in the morning. That moment changed my life. I could not ride, I could not hike, I could not run- the only means I had ever found to keep my weight in check. The pounds piled on, compounding the injury. I didn't sell Cheekeye. I had the sense to know that it was my fault. I sent him to a trainer I trusted, not just a good hand but a Guru who's only weakness was a drug and alcohol problem, currently in remission. I didn't so much as talk to him in three months. My mother and I made the trip North to see Cheekeye on a beautiful warm day. The horse he pulled out was not Cheekeye. Everything about him, including some of the finer points of his conformation had changed. His neck was loose and throat latch soft. His hind quarters seemed to have sunk into his hocks. Everything that had been held tight for so long had let loose. He jogged, loped and moved with any easy, carefree gate. The Guru suggested a new name, for a new horse. I called him Loachan (pronounced Low-kin) a Scotts Gaelic word I have since forgot the meaning of....I am sure it was something positive and optimistic. I cried the first time I rode him.
The Guru figured that whoever broke Loachan had tied him up and handled him rough, taking away a horse's first defence, flight. Loachan had learned to depend on his ability to fight instead which was the reason for his aggression and the blind fear he displayed while delivering it. Much later, by chance I learned the name of the cowboy that broke Loachan and how true that theory was. The stories I heard about his breaking methods turned my stomach.

I brought him home and for the next 8 months I rode him and handled him without much event. I never trusted him. I did not look forward to riding him or even going to the barn. I started to get the shakes on the drive over and my stomach would be turning by the time I pulled up the drive. I told myself I was being ridiculous, Cowgirl Up! My iron nerve was a thing of the past. I was mortified. One day, the barn manager was pulling Loachan's herd mate out of the field and as he was crowding the gate and she had her hands full, she tried shooshing him away by kicking dirt at him. He charged her. I doubt she flew backwards nearly as gracefully as I had. I had been tip toeing around Loachan, not giving him a reason to react. Anxiety and I had been slow dancing for a while now but the tempo was picking up fast and I was not in the lead. My fear was no longer limited to Loachan. No horse was to be trusted. The year before I had been knocked unconscious in the field when a yearling colt reared up and caught me in the head on his way down. I started to dream about it.

I two stepped my way right out of horses and was footloose and fancy free for over a year. Many misadventures followed. I look forward to writing about them. Four years later, I am at Step Five in my Ten Step recovery.

Step One- I am scared of horses. This is a rational and healthy instinct intended to ensure that I always put my personal safety first.

*note* never imply to a horse that you have adopted this step

Step Two- I will not ride or handle horses that are insane.

*note* all horses are to be deemed insane until proven otherwise.

Step Three- I will learn the tools needed to handle horses safely.

Step Four- I will work through my fears by working with a horse that matches my ability.

Step Five- Start to have fun again.

Steps Six through Ten are as of yet, undefined. I will be sure to share them with you as I discover them.


  1. I stopped by from Pony Girl's blog and am so glad that I did.
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the journey that you have traveled in your fear of horses and how you are overcoming that and learning how to take control.

    I'm a new horse owner (yes, over 40). Many people seem to make 'that face' when you tell them that you are riding horses over 40. Oh well. It's not their dream.

    But I often feel alone in my fear of horses. How can you love something so much, but yet be so fearful and cautious around them?
    I've come a long way so far, but am still learning so much.
    I appreciate fellow bloggers who share their own horse-related expereinces.

    Thank you :)

  2. hi there,

    i just found your blog and laughed so hard i almost cried, for example when you typed, "in a way that is unhealthy"

    omgosh, that's it, i have to start my own horsey blog.

    like you, i'll tell the story from the beginning, in 1989 when i got my first and only horse. i still have him, and next month i am putting him in a cargo plane to come live with me in my new home in germany.

    i just have to think of a clever name for my blog. yours is perfect, but taken.

    too long now i've written a blog that isn't horsey-dedicated. that will change now.

    ~beth in germany