So, I've been riding Estes bareback, albeit at a walk, for a couple of years. The little temper tantrum she had about the flag at the livery was always in the back of my mind (along with my disbelief that I managed to stay on). On rare days, when I'm feeling brave, I'll push her up to a slow trot and on even more rare days, I'll let her slide into her beautiful little Morgan gait. And I mean, rare, probably only two or three times since I've been riding her bareback. I'm closer to forty than thirty now and I'm a little more conscious of how hard that ground actually is.
Last spring, Bill and I went out for a ride in the forest and decided to break trail. Estes enjoys being out on the trials, but she loves breaking trail. It must take her back to her cattle gathering days, because she loves-loves-loves it. And I love-love-love being on a horse who's enjoying herself. We'd spent the majority of the ride being good little riders and staying on the trail, but on the way home we decided to take the more direct route - straight up and over the mountain.
Thanks to Meeker, I've learned to grab a handful of mane when climbing hills. Everytime I wind my fingers into her mane it reminds me of Alec and the Black (yes, I grew up reading The Black Stallion and loving every word Walter Farley wrote). As Estes and I headed up the mountain, me with handfuls of mane and her with fire in her eyes, her bounding legs ate up the hill and took us straight toward a couple of dead saplings. In order to follow the path Bill and Ranger were making, we'd have to crash through a small stand of dead saplings, duck under a branch and pick our way through some deadfall.
No problem for Bill and Ranger, as Ranger doesn't like things to touch him, so he always manages to dodge trees, live and dead. Estes, however, is a firm believer that if you want to go where she does, you'd better be able to stay on.
We rapidly approached the saplings, but being dead, they wouldn't be hard to break through. Or at least I thought. The sapling on my right hit my boot, but didn't snap off as it was supposed to, knocking my leg back before it finally broke. That wouldn't have been a big deal except that our next obstacle involved ducking under a low-hanging branch and I had one of my legs completely out of position.
The branch came up and the only way to clear it was to lay forward over Estee's neck, so I did. By the time we slowed to pick our way through the deadfall, I was laying on her back like freaking Superman flying between buildings. Trying to readjust myself on her back while picking through the deadfall was interesting to say the least, but I managed just in time for us to clear the deadfall and resume our bounding up the hill in persuit of Bill and Ranger.