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A Smile In The Face Of Adversity

Last week I was a presenter at Equine Affaire in Columbus OH. In case youve never been to this expo, it is huge with hundreds of vendors, every kind of junk food imaginable (and some that are unimaginablelike fried Oreos), marvelous entertainment and an educational program from some of the top trainers in the world. I love this event and always have a good time, even though it is non-stop action and long days.

This year, in addition to doing presentations every day, I also was the emcee for the Equine Affaire Versatile Horse and rider competition. I enjoy narrating as each riding negotiates the course, commenting on what the judge is looking for or educating the spectator on why the particular obstacle is a challenge and throwing in a little humor when I can. It’s not always easy to do all of that without offending or embarrassing the rider but for this years competition, the quality of the horses was so high that it made my job easy. The top 10 riders in the final round of the competition were all very impressive and represented a variety of breeds. In years past, Quarter Horses have definitely dominated this type of high-action trail obstacle contest but this year, the top 10 included a Gypsy Drum, a Lusitano/Kiger Mustang cross, a couple Paints and a spotted saddle horse.

But, as it turns out, the best horse of the weekend was a mule! He was absolutely perfect and even though he was competing against some really awesome horses, he was flawless and machine-like in his performance. Nothing beats a good saddle mule and if you have never ridden one, you don’t know what you are missing!

In addition to helping with the competition, I also did several presentations over the weekend on topics including riding better, building confidence, horse behavior, ground manners, canter leads and even one about riding challenging and difficult horses. Needless to say, it was the latter topic that got interesting. Actually, it was a good clinic, with several horses and their riders that were dealing with minor but annoying behaviors like spooking, refusing to go somewhere, being distracted or going too fast. I spent a lot of time talking about establishing authority in the beginning of your ride and how to do that, controlling your horses path and speed, how to use your arena wisely and exercises to help get your horse’s attention. The horses were just the right amount of bad enough to be interesting, but without any extreme or dangerous behavior and they all made tremendous improvement.

But there was one minor mishap in the clinic when a rider fell off. To be honest, Ive never had that happen to me in a demonstration in front of a large audience. While it occasionally happens at clinics (not very often), usually at expos, with just a few horses in the arena that are hand-picked for the job, things are pretty controlled. In this case, even though it was a clinic for challenging horses and even though the horse in question was not easy to ride, it really was not the fault of the horse nor was it stemming from any malice on his part. But with a rider down in the arena, I was a little unsure of what to do next. Frankly, I did not see what happened to initiate the problem I was clear at the opposite end of the arena from that horse and looking the other way when I heard a loud ooohhhh go through the crowd. I turned to see what the commotion was all about, just in time to see the rider hit the dirt and the horse immediately stopped and stood quietly. I have learned over the years to watch closely when a rider falls because you can get a lot of information about how badly hurt they may or may not be and what injuries may have occurred. In this case, I could see that the rider did not hit the ground very hard and although I thought the chances were good that she was unhurt, I did the prudent thing and told her to stay on the ground and not move.

While paramedics attended the rider, I caught the horse and returned my attention to the audience.It was sort of weird; with the rider laying on the ground and paramedics in the ring, I wasn’t sure if I should keep going or stop the clinic, which still had about 45 minutes left.

Ultimately, after sharing my concerns with the audience, to try and divert some attention from the rider as she very publicly lived out this very private moment, I kept going. And by the way, you might wonder what led to this incident to begin with and why we were quick not to blame the horse. As I mentioned, I didn’t see the whole thing start, but the rider and audience filled me in on the details. She was riding along just fine when the horse suddenly stopped, put his head down (pulling the reins out of the riders hands) and shook his whole body (sometimes, when you have an itch, you have to scratch it). Don’t you hate it when that happens? Unfortunately, not only did she drop the reins, leaving her with no means to control the horse, but then when he shook, she slipped back behind the saddle, startling the horse and causing him to run bucking across the arena. The rider had no reins and she got way out of balance when the horse turned to bolt, so with the first little buck she was air borne.

It was a very unfortunate series of events but there was no malice or intention on the part of the horse and the rider knew that. This gal was young; but her composure and maturity were that of an old soul. I was so impressed with her attitude and that she did not blame the horse. She was an excellent role model to all of us and I just hope I can be that classy when and if it happens to me.

Enjoy the ride!

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  1. I was at that clinic as well (heck, I felt like your stalker during the expo!). You and the young lady showed great professionalism. I was so proud of her for remounting! That can be difficult in itself let alone with a huge crowd of people!

  2. Amazing story – would be wonderful if every rider had that kind of common sense and courage!

  3. I was at this clinic and you handled the uncomfortable situation with great tact. I wouldn’t want to fall off but I would love to have you ride my horse!

  4. I took a major spill at a clinic with an auditing audience of about 150 plus 20 riders. My horse, a 16HH Tennessee Walker, reared twice. The first one, I was able to stay in the middle of and hoped it was over, but he immediately reared a second time, lost his footing on his rear right and over we went.

    Sadly,I was made an example of. Prior to the rear, I was criticized over the microphone about the shank bit my TWH had. My horse gets nervous in large groups and I was nervous to ride with this renown horseman and in front of this large audience. I brought this particular horse to get help for the horse and myself. My confidence dropped and my poor horse felt it. I tried to disengage his hind quarters as I knew he would resort to rearing if he was pushed to the limit. The clinician kept yelling for me to “straighten him out” and said “I didn’t know what the H@#$ I was doing”@! I should have dismounted right then and there for my safety,but I had respect for this man and tried to do as he said. Thankfully, neither my horse nor I got hurt other than bruised up, but my horse was caught and I mounted up and had to ride alone in front of everyone and be instructed by the clinician. We made it and I love my horse more for his holding together for me when I was mentally melted. I’ll be honest, since then, I have not taken a “problem” horse to large clinics. I have since ridden in quite a few clinics with good results, but I always have that tape playing in the back of my mind.

  5. Not only was she showing her bravado i’m sure by jumping on her horse the way u did took the pressure off of her while she ‘rallied’. Good on u!
    Christina 🙂

  6. I’ve never taken a spill in front of more than a half dozen people before. But since they were always friends, the jeering was substantial every time.

    How wonderful you and the audience were supportive. And how great she “cow-girled up”.


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