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Anatomy of a Wreck

Published: 12/3/2014
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Editor’s Note: My partner, Steve Peters, is a bit of a Felix Unger sort.  He tends to be neat, focused and meticulous in his horsemanship. It usually pays off. Thanks to this thoroughness, he has trusting, confident horses under saddle.
But recently, he made a series of mistakes that landed him in the dirt, and later, in the Emergency Room.
I asked Steve to write about the episode so others might learn from his mistakes. Photos below, at right illustrate what might have happened in better moments.

Read Steve Peters’ tribute to Texas cowboys and Mexican vaqueros in these installments of The Clothes Horse.
                               Anatomy of a Wreck
How to Abandon Everything You Know & Ignore All Signs along the Way
By Steve Peters

We just adopted Sackett, a great BLM mustang with three months training on him. Read more here.
Up until now, I'd been very careful to make sure all his experiences were good. I had ridden him out into the mountains and given him plenty of time to get use to new things. He had gotten a little nervous, bucked and bolted a few times, but these were no major affairs and he seemed to come back with an increased comfort level. Thus far, our times were all manageable and good learning experiences.  
Haltering a willing horse 
Saturday was different. It was a fierce, windy, icy, snowy day. In hindsight, my mistakes started at first contact.
I strode directly up to Sackett. Not the usual, slow stroll as if I’m carrying a glass of water. Not the usual rub on the forehead and withers before eventually putting on the halter.  As I marched up to him, he tossed his head and I yanked it back down to get him haltered.  
Moving out of the paddock:
I led him out of his enclosure and had to scurry to keep the other horses away from him and away from the gate. I had failed to move the other horses away beforehand. The resulting scenario featured much squealing, pinned ears, and a few kicks.  It was too much unnecessary drama that could have been easily mitigated had I thought about it beforehand.

I threw on my saddle pad and saddle even though Sackett was a moving target, prancing about in the wind. I was trying to hurry since Maddy was already ready to go. I ignored my horse’s reaction to my frenzied movements.

I feel especially bad about my next error. I’m usually sure the horse is comfortable in taking the bit from me. It is crucial that this step always be a good experience, I think. But on this fateful day, Sackett threw his head and I let the bit smack his teeth.
Stepping aboard:

I usually walk my saddled horse for a hundred feet or so to make sure the cinches aren’t binding and he feels alright moving back and forth.  I failed to do this. As I looked at poor Sackett on this wintry day, I could see that he was frozen solid but not because he was cold. His head was up in the wind and his mouth and lips were as tight as could be.  
I jumped aboard anyway. To make matters worse, I’d mounted on our steep asphalt driveway which I’m sure felt frightening to him.
Sackett slipped, got scared, and started to buck. He hurled me off pile-driver fashion into the ground.

  • Thankfully, I didn't land on the asphalt.
  • Thankfully, Maddy quickly caught Sackett.
  • Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt more seriously, coming away with a concussion, scraped nose, and sore ribs.
Lesson learned:

The wreck actually started the moment I walked out the door to go riding.
At any moment in its unfolding, I could have stopped and handled things differently.  I abandoned everything I know about interacting with horses and ignored every message the horse sent me.  I’m using this as a wake-up call to go back and re-focus on all the fundamentals for all my horses. And also, to be more aware, more in the moment, and adjust to conditions as they arise.

View Reader Comments:

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12/4/2014 Amber
No helmet?
12/4/2014 Julie
It seems we learn the most when we make the hardest mistakes, Steve, and there is no shame is admitting or sharing those mistakes with others. It can only help someone else down the line. There are horse folks everywhere who treat their horses like that all the time and their horse either forgives their mistakes or the rider assumes the horse is terrible and naughty. With all that being said, I am very grateful you were not hurt worse. Take time to rest and heal, I know I don't have to tell you how bad a concussion can be :)
12/5/2014 Amy
Great article. Been there done that, and regretted it thoroughly. Grateful that horses will teach us important lessons, hopefully without us getting too hurt before we learn
12/6/2014 Teena
...what Amber and Julie said. OK, I'll say it again. No helmet? The brain is your specialty. You know how fragile it is... The cool factor is gone once the helmet is on but you're too cool not to have around! Julie couldn't have said it any better too. We ALL have made the same mistakes. SO glad you're not hurt worse than you were! Glad you two are having SO much fun out there riding!
11/21/2015 Deb
another fine example was "Pat" on his last "Road to the Horse" when he totally disregarded what the horse was saying and stepped "briefly" aboard anyway.

"Want to end up with a million bucks in the horse business? Start out with five million." - Anonymous