When I arrived at Meredith Manor in the fall of 1991, I was proud of the fact that I had not fallen off a horse in years. It was proof that I had good balance. Right? Well, as I found out, apparently not. There was the time period I like to call the “month of creative dismounts”. I had 2 lessons a day (one was a longe lesson) and it seemed like I fell off my horse at least once a day. Sometimes I fell multiple times in one lesson.
Once my instructors succeeding in un-gripping my legs, unlocking my joints, and unfreezing my muscles, I had no backup for staying on my horse, so I fell off – a lot. In addition, I had been balancing on my reins, because when they were taken away from me, I lost my upper body balancing aid, which further assisted my unplanned dismounts.
I fell off in every conceivable configuration. There was a quarter horse who simply stopped cantering and launched me over his head so that I could perform a spectacular slide on my belly while eating arena dirt. A small Arabian liked to swiftly change direction every couple off strides; she usually left me standing without her underneath me. Then there was the round little horse who felt like one of those exercise balls underneath me; he is the one who put his head between his front legs and bucked so hard the saddle and I slipped down his neck, over his head and front legs, to land in the dirt with me still sitting in the saddle.
It wasn’t uncommon for me to go through a corner and simply slide off my horse to the outside, clearly illustrating lack of balance over my inside seat bone. Sometimes I took the saddle with me. One of those times, in a last ditch effort to stay on, I managed to get myself back on my horse’s back after slipping sideways, albeit it was sans saddle. I triumphantly rode my horse to a halt sitting on the girth with the saddle and pad hanging on the side.
It didn’t take much for me to lose my balance – transitions between gaits and changes in direction were all it took to topple me off my horse. And if my horse took off racing around the arena and added bucking to the mix, I simply practiced my emergency dismount skills. At one point, my instructor yelled at me over the microphone to STAY ON MY HORSE!
I have shaken arena dirt out of my shirt and my helmet, spit it out of my mouth and cleaned it out of my ears. I even pulled down my breeches and emptied out dirt in the restroom between lessons. And when I took my boots off at the end of the day, I emptied out more arena dirt.
Simply put, without gripping or holding on, I had no notion of how to sit in balance on top of a moving object with an opinion that rarely matched mine regarding gait, speed, and direction. Unlike some of the younger students who seemed to have “natural balance,” I showed no predisposition for balance. I had to learn how to balance. The instructors with their creative teaching strategies played a part in teaching me how to ride in balance. However, it was the hours spent in the saddle, on all of the different horses at Meredith Manor, both on and off the longe line, without my balancing crutches, that finally taught my body how to ride in balance with my horse.