Bridger was nervous in the arena. He was worried about the trash cans outside the fence, where black cats once popped out right under his nose like Halloween Jack-in-the-boxes. He was skeptical about the safety of the dais at one end where judges looked down on the proceedings. And he was seriously concerned about the staffer hosing down the alleyway next to the arena. The shadowy figure, the hiss of the water, the spray and fleeing dust were dreadful to the young horse.
I rode him through our lesson, round and round and across the arena, urging him closer and closer to the worrisome spots while trying not to push him to panic stage.
We were working on some small circling maneuvers near the hose man. I was keeping Bridger’s attention focused on a minute task in the presence of something scary, trying to take his mind off the threat. Someday, hopefully, Bridger will look to me in these cases and take my lead on whether there is danger, but we’re not there yet. He complied with my directions, but stayed alert to the dangerous situation next to us.
Suddenly, Bridger tucked his enormous haunches under himself and launched forward and sideways. He worked so hard at his instantaneous spook that he let out a huge fart as he went.
My brain lags at these moments — it took me a few milliseconds to realize what was happening. By the time I processed it, we had jumped halfway across the arena and he was trotting out the end of his spook. I was securely in the middle of the saddle, hardly a hair out of place.
Here’s what I loved about this. I was not afraid. I sat deeply in the saddle and held on to the gullet. When he was back on four feet, I calmly gathered the reins to prepare to slow him down or simply go on to the next thing.
As he launched into the air with his gaseous assist, my brain spoke very clearly: “stay with him and wait.” I wasn’t sure what he was doing but I had learned not to panic. I knew I needed to keep my balance and stay on the horse and that the moment would pass. I learned this the hard way.
Last summer, when Bridger gave out a much less impressive quasi-buck, my brain told me something else: “holy shit! disaster! abandon ship!” So I did. I thought his minor upheaval was the beginning of mayhem without end, and I fled. And got a broken bone and several lasting bruises for my choice.
After months and months of dedicated effort, including a volume of tears and sweat, my instinctive brain was finally able to say something reasonable and helpful. And correct. Stay with him and wait. So I did and all was well.
And now I go forth, hoping to do the same in whatever life throws at me. Which looks to be quite a bit in the near future. I hope to ride the upheavals as they go and wait for the moment when I can right the ship. And keep my bones intact.