Monday, June 21, 2010

Paying for Protection

Last week, LA decided the horses needed a change of scenery and instead of working in the paddock for our usual lesson she suggested a trail ride. It was a beautiful evening; not too warm with a slight breeze, no bugs. My classmates were all over hitting the trails. I objected.

The last time I rode Gem out on the trails, he bucked me off. My fall almost knocked the wind out of me and left me with a lovely bruise where my thigh connected with the horn of my saddle as I flew through the air. I ended up with a compressed rib cage which, for weeks, made it difficult to take a deep breath. LA wanted me to get back out there, so she took me out on the trails about a month later, but she rode Gem and I rode a school horse. Gem acted up a couple of times while she was on him, but she worked him through it. When we finished the trail ride, I rode him in arena for a while. Gem and I have not been out on the trails since.

Trail riding is an important element of the culture at the stables. The trails play a big part in the decision to board at LA's facility; that and the fact that she is a certified instructor. The Arena Gang meet up a couple of times a week. The younger riders go out just about every night. I long to be able to go out and feel safe. I am not there yet.

So, when LA suggested a trail ride the other night, my heart started to pound. I kept voicing my objection, but as she saddled up a school horse, she reassured me, gently, that it would be fine. If I felt really uncomfortable, she said, we would trade horses. She opened the gate from the front paddock and my two classmates happily went through into the small pasture. I was still voicing my objection.....I just had surgery...what if I fall and injure myself?!! LA mounted her horse and told me to walk beside her. Off we went. The voice in my head was saying "Too much space! Too much SPACE!" My heart continued to pound. Gem walked on, unfazed by the drama that was going on in my head.

There was a brief moment when Gem was making me nervous and I asked LA to switch horses. She reassured me that Gem was just being "happy" and was not transitioning into a speed-crazed demon. I started to relax a bit. LA and I chatted as our group walked along the trails and into the woods, and when we came to the "loping field", my classmates were given an opportunity to jog and lope on grass. LA held the side of Gem's bridle, just in case Gem decided that he wanted to lope, too, but he was very well behaved and her precaution was not necessary. I appreciated it, though. :-) We did not go into the field that the herd was in, and I was grateful for that. By the time the ride was over, I felt like a million. I gave LA a hug and thanked her for pushing me through my anxiety.

I have to admit that Gem was quite easy going during our trail ride. I think a few things contributed to his calmness. I have been riding him beside other horses in the arena over the last few months. This type of socialization has helped with correcting his pushiness towards other horses. He's more comfortable with the other horses, he's more comfortable with surroundings and he is more comfortable with me. I also think that having LA ride him once a week has made a difference, as she gives him a good work out and reinforces good behaviour.

Unfortunately, I can't rely on LA to be my trail riding buddy all the time. There are a couple of people who no longer go out on the trails because of falls they have experienced. I don't want to be one of them. I want to get out on the trails because walking is practically the only thing I can do on Gem right now while I continue recovering. I must admit that my recent surgery makes me wary; I am afraid of falling and ripping internal stitches.

So I was thinking about how I can protect myself better, while I am building my skills and confidence. I am considering purchasing an air vest to wear when I am out on the trails. I don't know anyone who has one so I would appreciate any feedback you may have on them if you are familiar with this type of vest. Wearing one will probably turn a few heads at the stables; I think there will be those that might find it interesting and others that will look at it as a sissy garment. It won't be the first time I've been a fashion trend setter! :-) There are a few different models, like this and this and this. My concern would be that they might make me hot...and not in a good way! It's not the greatest look for me, but if it makes me feel safe and help with my confidence, it might be worth looking like the Michelin Man....

What was I thinking....?


  1. I think it's great that you got out there and tried to overcome your fears. I would have been nervous too after a fall and with your recent surgery. Believe me, I do think about what may happen to my replaced knee if I come off. But I guess I feel it's worth the risk to still be able to ride. After all it's one of the reasons I actually had the nerve to have someone do the surgery,(I'm a big chicken sometimes).

    I don't know anything about the vests, but if you feel it will make you more confident as a rider, get one. I think there is a site called Cool that sells vests and other riding equipment to keep you cool, check it out. Hope I'm right about the site having vests. Good luck.

  2. I am very nervous on trail rides too. I am not sure exactly why as I have never had a bad experience on them. I just woke up one day nervous.

    I think it is awesome you went anyway and Gem sounds like he has learned a lot about trail etiquette. If wearing a vest makes you comfortable do it! I switch to western saddles sometimes and I feel more secure. It is all about the mind.

    I used to wear a protective vest when breezing race horses and doing cross country(had to when I was a minor). Never tried that particular vest though.

  3. That LA is SO good for you! It's great to have someone who can push you through your fears and be right next to you the whole time to make sure you're safe!

    If you think the vest will help you feel safe then get it. Trail riding is too much fun to avoid because you don't have the equipment you need to feel secure.

    If I can offer any perspective: I trail rode pretty exclusively for 15 years and the first major injury I ever suffered was in a sand arena three months ago (the ankle).

  4. I'm so glad to hear that you were able to get through it despite your fears. It's such an incredible feeling of accomplishment isn't it? As for the vest, I say if it makes you feel more comfortable, wear it. Even if you never need the protection, you will be more relaxed if you feel safer, which in turn will make Gem more relaxed. And if anyone scoffs at the fashion statement -- tell them pretty is as pretty does!

  5. Good morning everyone! Apologies for the delay in responding. First, thanks for your ongoing support. As a newbie rider, your comments are a real sanity check for me and I appreciate them very much.

    GHM - At my age, I don't bounce when I fall. :-) I know the vest won't eliminate all the bumps and bruises, but I am hoping it may drastically reduce my recovery time if I do fall. Thanks very much for the CoolMedic suggestion. I will check them out.

    Golden - I think Gem has learned some manners, too! I hope his performance last week was not just because LA was there. :-)

    Shannon - I don't have much experience with other instructors, but I recently bumped into a well-respected reining horse trainer in town for a show. STA took me to his training facility last year on our way back from purchasing Gem. He asked where I had Gem, and when I told him he said that LA was great and the environment of her facility was wonderful! It is so nice to hear comments like yours and his. :-)

    Marissa - I did feel amazing after the ride was over - it was a real boost to my confidence to work through this fear. If the vest will make me more relaxed, it will only improve my enjoyment of the trails.