There is a precise moment when you realize that you are bucked off. When your butt is jacked so far out of the saddle that recovery is impossible. At that instant your focus shifts to exit strategies.
Like any relationship gone bad, when the time comes to admit that the situation is beyond salvage, you must attempt to get out with as little damage as possible. Pain is inevitable. The trick is to avoid hospitalization and long term prescription opiates.
If I had listened to my internal warning system, we would not be having this discussion. The day, to that point, had not gone well. My son crawled in bed with us at four-thirty in the morning and proceeded to pummel me for the next three hours the way that young children do in their sleep. Later, in the midst of an impromptu Fourth of July family reunion featuring nine children under the age of twelve and their assorted parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents, my dog decided to crack open a can of whoop-ass on a visiting German shorthair. Repeatedly.
When she was finally captured and hauled off to solitary confinement, I went in to make lunch. And dumped a pound of pricey Bar S barbecued pork down the front of my shirt and onto the kitchen floor. (That distant shrieking noise is the sound of a dozen or so people who have just realized, upon reading this, that all of the black flecks in their lunch may not have been pepper.)
Then I accidently set fire to a swamp.
But once the flames were doused and the smoke cleared, I ignored my inner, smarter voice and decided to ride the colt. Nothing tough. Long trot a couple of miles up to the top of the hill and back to take the edge off, then a few trips around the barrels. No problem. Hadn’t I just been bragging to everyone how well-behaved he’d been the day before?
Yeah, you were asking for it, I thought, as the saddle horn drove into my tender belly on the first big jump.
A mile and a half into our long trot, I still should have known better than to relax my guard. I hauled on the reins, but his head had disappeared between his knees and there was already space for a complete set of New York City phone directories between my butt and saddle.
You know better than to brag about a colt, I thought on the second jump, my knee ramming into the swells and my forearm bouncing off the top of the saddle horn. Especially when there are a couple dozen people around who will all want to know how he managed to throw you off.
Try not to land on your face this time, I thought, as I blew my right stirrup and rotated ninety degrees, my thigh catching the rigid edge of the cantle at the back of the seat.
Ah, hell, those were my favorite sun glasses, I thought, as I bounced off his butt and began my descent to earth. I’ll never find them in this hayfield.
Please don’t kick me in the head, I prayed, as I hit the ground.
I sat for a moment, catching my air and ticking off body parts. They were all still attached and I couldn’t detect any obvious bleeding. Not a bad landing, actually. The alfalfa was tall and reasonably soft, and my hip well padded. I rolled onto my knees. Everything seemed to be in working order. And hey! There’s my sunglasses!
The horse had stopped twenty yards away. He waited until he saw me stand up. He didn’t actually say neener-neener, but I’m pretty sure he stuck out his tongue. Then he turned and jogged off toward the barn.
I catalogued the damage as I trudged home. Bruises on my knee, forearm, belly and upper arm from the saddle horn and swells. Six inch welt on my inner thigh from the cantle. How in the world did I scrape the hide off the front of my right ankle through my boot? And I must have jammed my left ring finger into his neck. All damage sustained from trying to hang on. Not a scratch from hitting the ground.
My exit strategy definitely needs work, I decided. Next time I'll just bail out on the first jump. It’s a lot less painful.
The rescue squad came roaring up, alerted by the sight of my riderless horse sauntering into the barn. My sisters and my husband bailed out of the chore pickup. I assured them there was no need to fetch the ski patrol/EMT brother-in-law or the LifeFlight helicopter.
“You know,” my older sister said helpfully, “I find that a couple miles of long-trotting before I work my horse on the barrels really settles them down.”
I considered punching her, but my finger hurt too much. I settled for a snarl. “Gee,” I said. “Why didn’t I think of that?”