Well, it’s been a while, but Tristan dumped me on Tuesday night.
I’d been slacking off a bit on riding for two reasons – my return to semi-quarantine left me a bit paranoid about my barn time, so I was going late at night and if there was anyone else there I’d wait in my car. That led to a couple of evenings when I had a much shorter time than I’d anticipated. I also did not want to touch the wash stall, and it has been HOT in Vermont until the last day or two. (Hot for us = high 80s.) So I didn’t want to ride or push him into a sweat.
Last Friday, Tris had a one-month re-check on his tooth, which the vet pronounced himself thrilled with, but on Tuesday I pulled out his bridle setup with the sidepull noseband because why not, and also I had left my dressage bridle with the bit at home. Keeping in mind that Tris often has shenanigans outside early in the season, but he hadn’t really tried any this year – a couple of half-hearted attempts, one fake spook, but nothing he didn’t come back from immediately.
Famous last words, right? Tuesday night I took him up to the outdoor to stay away from the barn, because I knew a fellow boarder would be arriving after I had. We warmed up, and I focused on staying forward and staying consistent within that forward. I asked for just a little bit of bend – nothing dramatic, just going into the corners. In the outdoor, he has an obnoxious tendency toward barn-sourness. He ZOOMS toward the barn, flails when asked to turn away from it, and then drags his feet away from it. Every time. So my goal was to do lots of figures to get him out of predicting when we’d be turning toward or away from the barn, and incorporate his energy from toward the barn into the full figure. I’d had a lot of success with a ride on Sunday night doing tons of small circles, half-circles, and serpentines to really get his hind legs jumping, so this was a variation on that.
It went pretty darn well for about 15 minutes; he offered canter from time to time, and I let him have a few strides and then brought him back to a working trot. Then we turned toward home, and about three strides down that line he just EXPLODED.
I can sit a buck – and I have sat this precise behavior many, many times before. But usually I get a warning – and I had NONE. He went from a soft trot to mid-air as fast as I’ve ever felt him do. I stuck the first flail – Tristan’s signature move is an up and sideways through his shoulder. It’s about a half-stride of hard scoot forward with his hind end, like the beginning of a bolt, and then UP through his front end, mid-air twist with his shoulder-fore and his nose to the sky. The trick to riding it through is to sit that first scoot and leap, then when his feet hit the ground again to rein him in hard.
Well, I had no brakes. So when I applied the reins, it did absolutely nothing and up he went again with a harder twist, and I had one of those perfect clarity moments of inevitability when I knew my butt was just too far out of the saddle to recover. I went up and over his right shoulder, turned in mid-air (deliberately) and landed on my ass, rolled backwards, smacked the back of my head, rolled back foward with the same momentum, and jumped to my feet. I kept ahold of the reins the whole time, and a second after I got to my feet I snapped the reins at him hard and yelled and chased him backwards for a few feet.
I get that this is not something that works for all horses. Some horses, when they are naughty like that, will just rev up further when they’re reprimanded. Know your horse. For Tristan, this was not a fear-based buck. This was pure assholery. He was doing it to be a jerk, and so I chose, for about 5-10 seconds, to make him think he was going to die. It was fast, loud, and then I stopped. He stood quietly, lowered his head, licked and chewed and softened, and then I approached and patted him, put my hands all over him just to make sure he hadn’t done anything (I didn’t think he had gone down at all, but just in case).
He was fine, and in fact when I petted him and talked to him for another minute just to let my own adrenaline bleed off, he begged for a treat. So I gave him one, and then got back on. I focused on walking calmly forward, brought him back to the same spot where he’d dumped me, and made him stand for a moment, fed another treat, and then we picked work back up again. I rode for a few more minutes, trying to get back to that same soft forward trot, with tons of neck pats and praise for a calm response, and he was actually VERY good. So I called it quits and put him on a loose rein and went out the back of the outdoor to come back around on the grass.
Then the asshole tried again. Not nearly as hard, mostly just up and sideways, and I barely left the saddle, but I was PISSED. Loose rein walk, clearly all done, and he just launched us half into a tree for NO REASON. I was much, much angrier than I had been about actually falling off, because if that was a moment of naughtiness this was pure, calculated shittiness.
It’s like he heard me talking about how a 25 yo horse is getting close to retirement, and how I would miss riding him, and decided to make me feel even MORE complicated and miserable about those two things. Is he acting out because he wants to be done, or because he wants to show me he still has plenty left? Do I have motivation to work through this or just throw up my hands in frustration? WHO EVEN KNOWS. Horses are the worst sometimes.
Anyway. We walked back to the barn, and every time he even tried to jig I turned him around, made him walk a few steps back toward the outdoor, made him halt, praised the halt, and then turned him back. Calm, clear, repeat. Then he had a HUGE drink back at the barn, and I made myself spend a good 15 minutes brushing him down. He was not sweaty or even breathing hard, nor did he regret a thing. Only that I didn’t have more treats.
I’m most upset about my helmet. I’ve known for a while now that it was nearing replacement, age-wise, but this was its last hurrah. I polled on Instagram a bit, and placed an order through The Horse Of Course for a gray One K Defender to replace it. But that was not money I intended to spend, and I really, really loved my helmet. Just the cherry on top of a day that had been very frustrating at work, and when I was trying to fit in a brief ride before going home to do my taxes and sit in on a city council meeting to try and advocate for a fair policing policy. It’s not like my stress level was low even before I came off.
Anyway. Every ride, every time, people, even on your dead-broke 25yo horses that you’re only jumping on for 20 minutes to confirm basic manners!