“It’s not whether they think we won. It’s whether we think we won.” (The movie, Secretariat)
I am a homesteader with hobbies. On Saturday, I was entered to run in a barrel racing competition. The horse I was riding, is one that I bought as a wild three year old.
She was skinny and her feet were in terrible shape. The man who owned her, had had three open heart surgeries in the three years that she had been alive. She was very dear to him though and he was horrified at the condition that she had gotten into while in the care of others. She was so wild now, that you almost couldn’t even pet her. I agreed to buy her because she was in my price range and I thought that with having ridden and trained horses for 13 years, she was right within what I could manage.
Little did I know, that there were parts of my education in horsemanship that were going to need some work. That filly went to work on me when I went to work on her. I had to teach her to accept a halter within a week of bringing her home because her feet were cracked and in desperate need of a farrier’s care. She was so certain that she did not want to let me touch her once I had a halter, that I had to rope her. She took off like a bullet. Since she was in a small pen, I was able to just drop my rope so that she had instant release while in her panic.(When a horse is panicking, it can’t think and therefore can’t learn.) Once she calmed down, I picked the rope up and pulled very lightly on the rope. As soon as she gave a very tiny bit, I let the pressure off. Soon, I had her leading. I also had a lot to learn about training her to accept a saddle and a rider.
I spent years of trying to teach her, once she was well enough trained to start patterning on the barrels, that weird clumps of dirt, do not mean that something is hiding there that is going to eat you. Even at home, it took a few years for her to stop spooking. One of those spooks got me into a bad accident.
She spooked when she spotted a bob cat and took off galloping. We had been practising the barrel pattern at a walk and a trot so there were barrels in the area. She had her attention completely on the bob cat and getting away from that dangerous creature. She hit a barrel! When she hit the barrel, she panicked further, and started bucking. I was thrown head first into the ground. My legs and back were bent in a c shape backwards. When I got up, my first thought was for my horse. Barrel racing reins are a solid loop.
I was afraid that she would get a leg caught in the reins and break a leg. I took three steps over to her and got the reins over her head and into my hands. Then my legs gave out. We had to call an ambulance because I wasn’t able to walk. It was 8 weeks before I was able to pick a pencil up off of the ground again.
When I finally had the ok from my doctor to ride again, I made the discovery that 8 weeks of no riding after a bad wreck had left me thinking about what could have happened with the accident too much. I was now afraid to ride. Just sitting on my mare, made me want to hyperventilate. To make matters worse, I had made a commitment to barrel race that year, trying to win a small championship. I didn’t think I could do it now.
I rode on my sister’s horse that year in barrels and worked on overcoming my fear of riding and on healing up from the wreck. It was 6 months before I was pain free. By the end of that year, my sister’s pinto and I had won the age category championship.
Over the next several years, I stuck it out with getting on my mare and working on finding the courage that I had lost.
Saturday was a climax for us.
We didn’t win. We only took 12th place in the lowest division but, we had several BIG wins for my mare and I.
Saturday for the first time, she never spooked. Not even once! She wasn’t even looking for scary things. The second BIG thing that happened Saturday. My mare, Special took the correct lead both times that I asked her to enter that arena. We have argued leads for YEARS!!!
The third BIG thing that happened Saturday: Special remembered that she has a butt and she can use it!!! It wasn’t lost that day and she wasn’t spooking because “Holy Smokes!!! My butt is after me!!! Yikes!!!” She’s done that before. She has had a tendency to swing her butt wide coming off the barrels and she has tended to spook at the mere sight of the tip of her tail.
So, true, we didn’t placed within the money what so ever. However, for that little mare and I, Saturday was a bunch of BIG wins!!! We did win, just not in a sense that spectators would know about.