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The Human/Horse Tumble Dryer

By Amanda Ross

After years spent competing at a high level as a professional rider, a lot of reactions come through experience. Being able to correct your position in unbalancing situations & make split second decisions are things that can be improved with good training, but ultimately need experience to master. Mistakes are still made along the way, but these tend to happen during the training of horse-rider familiarity bond, ie: 

  1. Rider – horse, go forward (small kick).
  2. Horse – what? (sluggish reaction)
  3. Rider – GO FORWARD NOW! (boot in the guts)
  4. Horse – Oh OK!!! (shoots forward too fast)
  5. Rider – ok next time I probably won’t need to kick quite that hard!
  6. Horse – next time I’ll go when the first small kick comes!

As our training evolves, we form a familiar bond with our horse, & our horse with us. Our commands are precise, the reaction is exact. All going well, both the horse & rider know what to expect from each other, so can ride accordingly. 

When you need to change something, this familiarity process needs training, to alter the reaction to the required new response. Sometimes this can get ugly, & therefor be rather off putting to the more unconfrontational of riders! One of the most difficult & potentially ugly things to teach, is the ability to ‘gallop down & jump it out of your stride’ cross country ride. Some horses will love a long take off, but there is a limit to this! And others will always prefer a short distance, which gets tricky as the fences get bigger! Basically, the bigger the jumps, the less room for error, unless you have a brave, mega-scopey athlete of a horse!

Last weekend at Ballarat CIC***, William & I were leading the comp after the dressage & SJ. So far we have jumped clear around Albury & Camperdown CIC***’s, with Albury a little sticky, but Camperdown feeling bold & amazing! There were a few longer distances on course, & knowing how careful & pony-like William is, I was keen to get him motoring from the start. This has been something I practice with weekly fitness & XC training, & has been on my list of William’s things I work on for quite a while. 

So I came out of the start box thinking of opening Williams stride up over the first three fences. Easy over fence 1, more forward to fence 2, then keep rolling to fence 3. As fence 3 loomed in the distance, I thought just keep rolling, you’ll see the distance, it’ll come up. Then I saw a long one from about 5 strides out. My normal reaction would be to sit up, steady & add a stride, playing it very safe. Admittedly, the other two horses I ride have much bigger strides than Willy, & are happy to jump from a rolling gallop. So, whether my judgment was marginally jaded by riding a longer striding horse earlier, I’m not sure. As I kicked William to move up to the fence, I realised about two strides out that he hadn’t covered the ground as much as I’d expected. When he needed to take off, I heard a bang (oh crap, Willy’s chipped), then saw the ground coming (double holy crap), then heard another bang (airvest inflating). Then next part consisted of a tumble dryer of Willy rolling on me (oh crap please don’t really squash me/curl up in a small ball Ross!!), then his legs around me (even smaller ball – protect face!). Then he was clearly away from me, got up & galloped off.

My first reaction was ‘damn it’!!!! I knew the distance was long, & I should’ve played safe on Willy, & it was a stupid easy fence. I was livid I didn’t get to jump round the rest of the track, & wasted an opportunity to get more miles under our belt at 3* level! My vest was hissing, sunnies & whip strewn across the grass, William off near the SJ warm up.

I got up & saw the jump judge & my friends & boyfriend running towards me, all with the wide eyed look of horror on there faces. ‘OMG are you OK/does anything hurt/do we need the ambulance/Jesus Christ Ross what the hell are you doing to us?!!’ My initial response was apparently ‘F*** -it, I really wanted to jump the rest of that track!!!’ I could see William had been caught & I called out was he OK, & the TD told me to go straight to the ambulance. As I walked with Chris, peeled off my vest & helmet, people were looking at me in amazement. The Doc gave me the OK… 

Then it started to dawn on me… Willy crashed & rolled on me. We both got up & he ran off (which is a good thing!), without any major injuries. That vest saved my torso from who-knows what sort of injuries!!! Thanks god Willy was OK. My helmet was cracked too… holy mother of jesus! I kept thinking, ‘I just made a pilot error, & that air vest just saved my bacon. My helmet is cracked. I just tried to annihilate myself by riding like an idiot (gotta love hindsight), & if I wasn’t wearing that vest, I might be very broken.’ 

So the moral of the story is – 

  1. It’s ok to have a plan, which has the intention of improving the overall way of going.
  2. Mistakes happen. Accept I got it wrong, learn what not to do, practice what to do, & move on.
  3. I don’t generally ride like a kamikaze, & will go back to being my neat, probably over cautious self, but that’s the way I operate best.
  4. I now know William needs to be ridden in his preferred deeper distance fashion, & may never be that type of horse to really gallop down to his fences. I will have to compromise to keep his confidence, & over time he will evolve with experience. Know your horse.
  5. Willy is a reliable dressage horse, a clean showjumper, & is good enough to nurture...even though I’d rather he just grew a pair & got on with it!
  6. Safety equipment isn’t appreciated until you need it. I put off buying an air vest because of the $900 price tag. My friends bought me one for my birthday last December, & I’ll be eternally grateful for their gift. My recommendation – take out a small loan, borrow some cash, save up & buy one asap. I’ve just spent more on entries, feed, fuel etc this season than the cost of one vest. What’s the point in doing all that if you’re not prepared to protect yourself from the worst? It’s a split second away & you can’t stop it once its started!

I hope this blog makes air vest sales go through the roof! I’m not receiving any perks from writing this blog (I already have a vest, I don’t need more!), but if I can prevent a bad accident, it’s worthwhile telling the story!

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