One day I asked one of the barn owners if she would be willing to take her old, experienced gelding out with me and Raven for a ride around the grassy track. I had not ridden Raven outside yet, just a few very basic walks around the indoor arena. I thought that Raven could benefit from a wise, calm horse to lead her around the track and gain some confidence. She agreed, so on a sunny Sunday morning, we tacked up our horses and led them out to the track.
We closed the gate behind us and got on our horses from the ground. Raven was antsy from the beginning. The barn owner on her quiet gelding walked ahead of us down the track, and Raven followed a few steps but began refusing to move forward. She was not persuaded by me adding more leg pressure, and kept trying to turn around to go back toward the barn. I had to keep turning her toward the gelding and kicking her forward, and she was increasingly becoming upset about it. She kicked out and switched her tail. I stayed on but kept pushing her forward as the gelding kept walking. She was full of tension and resistance, becoming more and more agitated. She did not want to go forward, no matter that the other horse calmly walked on. I could feel her bunching her body beneath me. We were in a battle that was escalating, and I was getting nervous.
It happened quickly. From the walk, Raven stopped, threw a buck that pitched my weight forward onto her neck, then immediately spun sideways. I was airborne. She ran off.
It took me a few moments to realize I was on the ground. I had landed on my left hip and hit my head. I always wore a helmet, but I was dazed and lay in the grass for a minute. My leg felt numb and I took stock of the feeling in my body. The barn owner had gotten off and her concerned face appeared above me, asking if I was all right. I said I was, I just needed a minute. She went off to catch Raven, who had run back to the row of pens whose fences ran up against the field we were riding in.
I bent my legs and found that they worked. I rolled over and sat up, then stood and started walking through the grass to where the barn owner was trying to catch Raven by the fence. I was weaving in a zigzag pattern like a drunk. I must’ve had a mild concussion; I had never hit my head like that in the many times I’ve come off horses when riding. It was a weird sensation, but I was determined to get to Raven. After all, it’s ingrained in horse people–when you get bucked off, you at least get back up, if not back on your horse. But that day, I knew my head was not right and it wasn’t safe for me to get on her again. The barn owner said she saw it happening as Raven was gearing up to buck me off. I told her I couldn’t get back on, but she offered to help me work with Raven right away so that she didn’t associate bucking me off with getting to go home or stop working. I agreed, so she tied up her horse and we took Raven into the indoor arena.
She brought a lunge whip, and used the sound of it to send Raven off running loose around the arena (it was not to hit her with). She kept her going, even when Raven turned to us and wanted to stop. She said Raven knew how to intimidate me and I had to show her that she couldn’t do that. She had me keep Raven working and not letting her stop until I determined she could stop. After a few minutes of that, she had me clip the lead rope to her halter and showed me how to lead her without letting her overtake me. Raven always walked ahead of me when I led her, and she said Raven should be at my shoulder or behind me. She should always be looking at me. If she started to look away from me, I should stand at her shoulder and swing the end of my lead rope near her to get her to move her hindquarters away and focus back on me. If she looked one way, I should move her in the opposite way she was looking. I should get her to back off of my space and away from me.
We spent at least an hour working on these things. I thanked the barn owner for helping me. She was kind, but I could tell she thought I was in over my head. I was already very aware of that, and just being thrown off my horse was a pretty loud statement in itself. I was obviously pushing Raven past her comfort zone, but I felt hurt and betrayed. It felt like a dirty trick, that she knew exactly what she was doing when she decided she was not going to move forward and to get rid of me. I went home that night and texted my sister: “Raven bucked me off and I have a mild concussion, so if I die in my sleep, you know why.” Not a nice thing to tell my sister, but I felt I should tell someone just in case. But she was the only one, other than Simone, that I told. I was mortified. I had been posting on social media from the beginning about buying Raven and the struggles and progress we had made during quarantine and bringing her home. I had posted pictures of her and sometimes hinted at some of the issues we were dealing with, but always with a positive tone. Now I had tried to ride her and we had only made it a few yards before she had put me on the ground and told me in pretty clear terms how she felt about the situation. This was an update that never made it to my Facebook page.
I was feeling so low and disappointed in myself. My fragile confidence was shattered. I thought, Did I just buy a horse I can’t ride?
It was the end of April, I had been working with Raven for months, and she had just tipped me on my head. For the moment, I was unsure what course our path was going to take. So much for my year of magic, I thought. But that wasn’t the end of everything. The universe was about to throw some much-needed magic my way, and it was just the beginning.
Raven was teaching me some tough lessons that I needed to learn, but as always, my Max was there to comfort me after my fall. My animals would always try to keep me in balance, even if it came in different forms.