Wednesday, March 9, 2016

On Control and the Dangers of Horseback Riding

My daughter Lorelei is a timid horseback rider. She's proficient at the walk and the trot and is slowly figuring out how to relax and settle into her pony's canter. But I can see how she feels all over her face as she heads to the rail after her instructor tells her to canter. I can see the tension in her shoulders as they brace before the rush of the faster gait.

She's afraid.

And why shouldn't she be? She is perched atop an animal with a mind of its own, a pony that's pretty sweet and pretty cute but definitely has a naughty streak and a reputation for doing what it wants, when it wants. Lorelei has fallen off of this pony twice. Luckily for her (and for me), all that was needed was a quick dusting off of her backside and all was good.

But I believe Lorelei finds the canter unsettling because she feels out of control. She's a very logical child, likes things orderly and organized, likes to feel prepared for a quiz and aware of the schedule. The canter is fast and feels dangerous to Lorelei.

As a seasoned rider myself, I realize--but bite my tongue--that you've got to find comfort between controlling the horse as much as possible and having faith that the other stuff you can't control will take care of itself.

This danger, the question of control, and my daughter riding a 900 pound animal was on my mind tonight as Lorelei and Sadie walked to the ring for her lesson--because thousands and thousands of miles away in Australia, a mother like me mourns the loss of her daughter after her daughter was killed in a tragic riding accident. The girl, Olivia Inglis, was an accomplished rider and was competing in a riding event that required a cross-country jumping course. Her horse caught a leg in the jump and Olivia was thrown in front of the horse, and the horse fell on top of her. She was killed.

Talk about getting smacked in the face with the reality of control in our lives. A semi-professional rider loses her life because of one wrong movement of her horse over a jump.

It makes me suck my breath in, grab my stomach as if I'm still carrying one of my babies in there, sit down in order to take it all in. This control we think we have over our life is pure fiction.

Years ago when I was twelve years old and in the thick of my horse-crazy years, I also did eventing like this Australian rider. I was competing in exactly the same type of show--though a much lower level--where cross-country jumping was required. My horse, Flashdance, a borrowed chestnut I loved with every bit of my heart, was a good gelding who never let me down. We had done well together and I had no reason to think that that day should be any different.

Flashdance and I galloped around the field, following the prescribed course with good form and in good time. We jumped five or six fences, each substantial obstacles, before galloping downhill into a water jump that was combined with a bank jump. We slowed to a canter, splashing into the edge of the lake for a few strides, then I squeezed his sides to urge him up the two foot embankment to the level, dry land.

Except he didn't. We came at the jump wrong. He took off before he was fully ready. He didn't lift his front legs high enough and ended up hitting the bottom of his legs onto the front of the jump. We were going so fast and had so much momentum that Flashdance kept moving forward--though not as we planned. He did a somersault, landing on his back. Fortunately, I was thrown to his side, and he did not land on top of me.

But that was pure luck.

We both stood up, shook ourselves off, and responded to my instructor's yell: "GET BACK ON!" So I did get back on, and we cantered off to finish the course.

The amazing thing is my mother, like Olivia Inglis' mother, watched the whole thing. She actually got in on video tape. It happened so fast that her heart must have completely stopped and started again before her brain even registered what had happened. On the tape you can just see me and Flashdance canter down the hill, then four white feet in the air, then you hear an "Oh my God" and, before you know it, you see me jump back up on Flashdance and canter away.

Still, I let Lorelei ride. I don't know if it's the right thing, but I know I can't control fate. I celebrate her timid way of riding and just pray for her safety.


  1. This is so well said and I have SO many thoughts! I started riding when I was ten, but I was not a high-risk rider (in terms of, I didn't do fences or barrels, but obviously just riding can be high-risk). I rode dressage on an awesome Danish Warmblood. He was a seasoned veteran who taught me so much. I never fell off of him in six years. Fast forward 12 years when I started riding again. This time, Western. Mostly trail riding, but on a super fast Quarter Horse, on trails I would've never imagined myself on at a barn with some hardcore young barrel racers. It has been eye opening! I've had a couple falls, which are much harder over age 30, and I've seen some bad accidents with our kiddos. But we all get back on. Crazy, isn't it? But I'll say, there is nothing, in my humble opinion, that makes a young person more responsible than riding horses. What amazing kids come out of a barn! :)
    Anyway, I'm glad you let your daughter ride, but I totally understand the constant fear.
    Great read.
    (I wrote about Drill Team earlier this week if you're interested!

    1. Thanks so much. Danish warmblood sounds dreamy! I loved Dressage. When I got back into it five months ago I thought I'd never jump again. Then I watched the other women in my lesson jump...and, well, I've started. I've not fallen (yet) but it leaves me breathless. It's so exhilarating. I guess we all take risks in our lives, we just have to find ones we're most comfortable with...?

  2. I too am a rider and as a rider, as you well know, we take a leap of faith (literally) that things will go as planned. Otherwise, why bother? As a mother, I know that watching your child fall from a horse is a scary thing. That you let Lorelie continue to ride is also taking that leap of faith with her. Her confidence and her horse's in her, builds with every success. Continued successes Lorelei and Mom. Enjoy the ride!

    1. Thank you--and I agree, I've got to have faith in her that she'll handle the pony well so her own confidence will grow!

  3. Your post hit home for me. When I bought my daughter her first horse I was a stupid horse buyer that knew absolutely nothing except the horse was cute. It turned out to be the beginning of a huge learning curve as it was a green broke horse that was a freak. He broke my daughters arm and she refused to let us get rid of him. It was difficult to watch her overcome her extreme fear and all because she had an uncontrollable compassion for horses. she now has a daughter herself it'll be interesting to watch her with her own.

    1. It's just so different being a rider yourself and watching your daughter ride. I really thought I was not able to be injured! Hope the stay safe angels watch over your granddaughter!

  4. Oh, I know that feeling, that mother fear feeling of horse crazy girls on "bomb proof" ponies and big geldings too. I must say that the day Eddie a really big horse (lots of hands) not sure of the technical term, was finally sold, I breathed again, fully. I was so glad Bec had stopped riding regularly. Now I worry about her and other stuff I can't control. I guess that's mothering. Limited control. So hard.

    1. There's a non-riding mom at our barn who wants her daughter's pony to do everything her daughter wants and earn blues every time, and she'll get professionals to handle the pony and daughter... Really, I think she's trying to control fate. It's impossible, but I can't blame her for trying...