Monday, October 3, 2011

Mort and Me - Segue

I have been suffering from writers block, sorry about the wait. I am trying to shake things up with a Mort story that is not other half of the endurance ride, that's the one I'm stuck on. This tale goes back to the first few months I owned Mort...

    The sun prickled hot through my jean jacket. An impatient yank pulled the arms inside out and the buttoned sleeves coiled tight around my bony wrists.  

     Mort began to jump when he felt the reins tangle and the jacket began flapping around his head. He shook his head in irritation and my dirty, tanned knees were flecked with pink foam.

    The scars across his tongue had opened again and remorse swept through the anger and deepened my frustration.

    He just wouldn’t stop. He jigged, he leapt from side to side, a growl rattled low in his chest and vibrated up to my clenched hands.

    Horses shouldn’t growl. Horses were supposed to nicker sweetly when you came to see them. They were supposed to be your friend, your best friend, not a quivering muscle mass of roaring, raging, lunacy, day after day.  

     This horse, this glowing, magnificent horse wanted nothing to do with my tentative gestures of friendship. He fought to run every time I was on him, he fought the bridle and he fought me.

   I finally untangled my hands and slung my battered jacket over the barbwire fence. Mort jumped sideways, with the twist of a cat falling from a roof. I slid to the side and grabbed his mane to keep myself seated. By the time I found a precarious balance we were running flat out.

   Fine. Let him run. We were headed away from the barn and I would just keep it that way until he was tired enough to walk, then we would come back.

     Mort flew across the field, the pounding of his hooves dulled on the mat of dry prairie grass. I leaned back as far as I dared and watched the brilliant blue October sky flash overhead.  The rows of suburban houses lined up next to the field blurred into the silhouette of a rocky canyon wall in a black and white western. I was an Indian, racing after the buffalo herd, a pony express rider trying to deliver the mail on time, Alias Smith, trying to find Jones, to tell him a posse was hot on our trail.

     Mort relaxed and leveled out. He chugged like a freight train and the heady smell of his sweaty coat made me lean into his neck. His wet sides grabbed my legs and glued me to him. I urged him around the edge of the development and into the open fields between Academy Boulevard and us.

   If we circled the huge field a few times he might come back to me and we could head home, if not, then we would go east into miles of undeveloped prairie. I’d ride him to Falcon if I had to.

     Mort felt the tug of a rein as I tried to ease him into a big circle. He shook his head and jumped in the air. My seat suddenly didn’t feel so secure and I grabbed a bigger handful of mane with one hand and gave a savage pull on the reins with the other.

     His angry growl turned into a roar and he jumped again before yanking his head forward and bolting. A huge surge of power from his haunches shot us forward and we were flying. I pulled at him again and he picked up speed, straight as an arrow, straight at the Boulevard.

   What was he doing? Home was the other way. It was rush hour with the road packed with commuters burning along at 55 mph. They were never going to see us, they would think I would stop, if only he would stop.

   We were headed in a straight line to my friend, Karen’s, barn. Oh god, oh God, we were moving so fast. Mort had abandoned all thoughts of home and was running to horses he knew, friends he could trust. I was not his friend.

     The bumper-to-bumper traffic was coming at us with terrifying speed. I pulled again and got nothing but more speed. I had never gone this fast on a horse before and through my terror a flicker of excitement began. If I could control this, it would be like riding a dust devil, a hurricane.

   We were going to cross Academy, that was a given. We were going to be smashed flat, I was sure of that too. Maybe, just maybe, the traffic would slow for a loose horse.

     The ground raced by underneath us and my stomach flipped when I looked down. This was really going to hurt. One deep breath and I slid my leg over the side. I clung to him for a few seconds until the tip of my bare foot caught the ground.

    A bolt of pain shot up my leg and I was jerked to the ground. I rolled and the world tumbled by, first the sky, then grass, then a glimpse of my horse disappearing from sight. My head slammed into the rock hard earth, the coarse grass scratched my face, a stone bruised my shoulder. I felt blood running down my legs and a stick poked a good hole in my side.

    I finally stopped and lay flat in the grass, gulping and grabbing for air. With a pounding head and a crushing pain in my ribs I tried to sit up but I still couldn’t find any air. Was I just going to die here in this field?  The sky spun in circles over my head and nausea rolled in like waves on a lake. I struggled to my knees and threw up in the grass.

   The smell of my own vomit made me stand up and stagger after my horse. My nose was swelling and my knees and elbows were a bloody mess. A sharp, painful poke in my side let me know a rib or two were no longer where they belonged.

     I limped to the side of Academy and waited until a gap gave me time to stagger across and made my way down the long dirt road to Karen’s stable.

     Mort stood flirting over the fence with Karen’s mares. He waited while I gathered up his reins and was quiet when I leaned into his shoulder. I hated him. What was I going to do? He was way too much for me to handle. It had taken so long to get my horse and I had ended up with this one.

     He wrapped his neck around me in a warm horse hug. I stepped back and stroked the perfect diamond on his forehead. His eyes were warm and soft and he gently lipped my bloody, scratched arm.

    “Do you get it?” He seemed to say. “Do you understand?”

     I didn’t. The ache from not knowing was so much bigger than the cuts and bruises all over my body. I wiped my bloody, snot-filled nose on his bright dun coat.

     “There,” I told him, “war paint.”  

     I gingerly prodded my swelling face and wondered how I was going to explain this one at home. My parents could never know Mort had done it, not in a million years. They’d freak.

     Mort followed willingly down the road towards home. It made sense to wait to get back on after we crossed Academy. I leaned on him to support my shaky legs and he slowed his steps to match mine.  


  1. I swear it is a miracle any small child ever survives life with horses. It's also a heck of a tough job being the horse tht is trying to teach a small child how to be a rider. I guess the only people who get out of it with a whole lot of peace of mind are the parents as they must never know ninety percent of what happens.

  2. You got that right. 35 years later I regularly horrify my mother with these stories. It's really fun.

  3. Mugs, you just keep blowing me away. I was sitting on the edge of my chair (thank god my desk was there to catch me!) with chills and every hair on my arms standing on end. And here I thought MY horse was out to kill me when I was a kid.

  4. My first horse was exactly like this. No bit or strength of arm could stop her. Can't blame non-horse savvy parents though, bought her myself when I was 21. There is nothing like that feeling of being terrified and thrilled at the same time.

  5. "I hated him."

    Brings back memories of my Starman, who is now 23 and belongs to someone else. As a horse poor 25 year old who needed a break, I gave him away after 10 years together. I'll never get him back and that saddens me more than I can say. This remindes me of the time I tore off down the dirt road to home and I couldn't stop him until we were standing in front of his corral. I learned so much (most of it the hard way!) on that horse.

  6. That should say "he tore off down the road..."

  7. Was it Will Rogers who said that after a certain age, you no longer bounce and instead splatter? I was afraid I was gonna splatter, just reading this! Egad.

    I have never, and WILL never, tell my mom some of the stupid horse-related stuff I've done. She'd never stop having nightmares. I will never give her your web address either....!

  8. Knock on wood, I've only bailed once and I hope I never have do do it again. Its a terrible feeling to see the ground rushing past and know that its absolutely going to hurt, but its your only option. I was unseated and hanging half-way off anyway, there was no way I could have wiggled my butt back up into the saddle at that speed. I was strangely rational about it, though as I made the decision to just let go. I don't even know how many somersaults I did when I hit the dirt.

    This story had me holding my breath with the anxiety you must have felt at the time.

  9. Cycle...yes, that moment when the ground zooms in and you know how concrete hard it's going to be...I still have dreams about that day. I had knocked out a tooyh and didn't know it for three days.

  10. I had to put one hand over one eye while I was reading this. Wow!

    I had a Shetland pony "teacher" while growing up and I still can't share stories he "taught" me to my folks...

  11. My first horse was perfect with me. Honest. We would ride for hours on two farms, do whatever we wanted. She never put a hoof wrong. On the other hand, I do not think I developed as much as a horsewoman or rider as those of you "blessed" with more challenging first horses.

  12. So was he in pain from the bit re-opening the scar on his tongue? Was that why he went faster when you pulled on the reins?

  13. sahara4d- He was surely in pain, but any chronic bolter will push against a straight back pull. It doesn't change the way their feet are travelling.

  14. Wow, reminds me so much of my first horse, Sniper... Two major concussions, three broken vertebra (which I didn't find out had been broken until last summer, 3 years after the fact), and a whole lot of hanging on and hoping later, I finally sold him. He wouldn't bolt tho, not till you were on the ground. He'd tense up at the slightest provoking and when you asked him to walk thru his fear, he'd buck till he threw you. I can sit some good bucks, but not his. He made some rodeo ponies look mellow. I found out after I sold him that he was sold to me because the "trainer" that raised him was sick of him hurting her and her daughter.

  15. This is the fourth time I've read this today and I still get twitchy. What the heck did you tell your parents?! I don't think "an icicle fell on my eye!" a la Christmas story was a good enough excuse.

  16. When I was a kid my horse bolted because I had tied a metal saucer sled behind her with a lunge line for my friend to ride. My parents found out because the had to take me to the doctor with a concussion...

  17. Becky- I told them I'd fallen into the cement ditch by my barn....

  18. I like these stories. Don't know who I feel sorriest for here, but I think it's Mort. Poor poor horse, damage from bits and what ever was causing him to bolt like that.

    Looking forward to hearing how you two finally got it together, what he was trying to tell you and how you finally figured it out.

  19. oh my I felt like I was riding that with you. I am glad that you weren't seriously hurt and that your horse was not hit by a car.

    By the way I was nominated for the One Lovely Blog award and part of it is to pay it forward and list other blogs of note. I added yours to mine:

  20. I'm sure glad you survived that one. I think we can all agree that despite your injuries, you were pretty damn lucky.

    How nice it would've been to have known about one rein stops earlier in life. At least that's how I feel about it. They're no guarantee, but they do give one a chance.

    Stories like this make we wonder why on earth I introduced my daughter to horses and now her daughter...

    Horseaii being genetic is the only answer I can come up with.

  21. Here's the important question: Did they buy it?

  22. my kid riding story is when i was around 10, went to local farm where they brought you a tacked up horse, you got on, and they let you go anywhere on the property - alone. i had never had a lesson. first the horse tried to rub me off on low branched trees. then on a dirt road it was headed home and would not stop so we jumped the tree fallen across the road, a large tree. i had never jumped before. when we got back to the barn the owner chewed me out for lathering up the horse and made me walk it cool and brush it clean - what a "punishment" LOL. now at 54 I know the one-rein stop, just had to use it last sunday.

  23. So Mugs, Have you ever wondered what riding adventures YOUR daughter has not yet told you about?

  24. I wish I could say I was a stupid young kid when I expereinced the same thing....but mine just happened 3 years ago when I was 47horse bolted...we were heading for a fence and I thought, "Oh God he is gonna jump." Got into two point he went up, spinned on his hind legs, front legs churning the air like he was making butter, hit the ground running along side the fence. Lost a stirrup, both legs on the left side, jumped a brush pile, had mane and reins clutched in hands and lost the other sturrip, weaved in and out of a grove on pine trees, cut through someones back yard, and turned down the driveway towards the road. I said, "horse, it is your day to die" and bailed. He was going so fast my feet could not keep up. Did a belly flop on the hard ground, my glasses were driven into my face, did a head stand, and landed on my back passed out. Came to and that little devil was nudging my foot making sure he hadn't killed me. I cussed and called him every string of dirty words I could think of. He nickered. I loved him.

    What I gained was: I hadn't taught this unbroke five year old Arab nothing. So I could only blame myself. I set him up to fail and I felt like an asshole. And I learned about feet. Control the feet control the mind.

    I had failed to see all the red flags he was waving in MY FACE. I failed to heed his repeated warnings. I FAILED.

    We went back to basics. I learned to listen to him, and ignore the 'horse people'. He is a pleasure to ride, a pleasure to work on the ground with.

    Can he still get strung out? Hell yes he is a prey animal....but I listen, and I now know how not to set him up to fail.

    Hard damn listen for a 47 year old. Had to let go of the ego, you know?

    I still love him. Better yet, I trust him and he trusts me.

  25. Wow, that was scary and brought back a memory for me too. Riding a crazy nimble hackney pony - he could move sideways faster than some horses could move forward - bareback, in jean shorts and a tee, racing some friends on a horseshoe shaped dirt road that surrounded a cranberry bog. The dirt road started and ended on a busy street... and the direction we were going, "home" was just across that street and through some woods.

    Long story short, he bolted, I saw that street looming, cars zooming along it, and bailed.

    The old guy who owned all the horses we were riding had told us that we'd never ride them again if they came home to the barn riderless, and we'd better not let go of the reins, ever. So of course, I clung to those reins as hard as I could, being dragged on gravel for a few feet before the horse finally stopped.

    I was bruised and scraped all over. When I could stand up, I went over to that cranberry bog water and sat in it. I'm surprised I didn't catch some awful bacterial infection. :)

  26. I love these Mort stories. They remind me of my escapades with my 17.2 hand horse, Bambi - the best horse and friend in the world!

  27. I've never asked my daughter what goofy stuff she did on her first horse because I remembered how my cousin and I used to take chances on our wide open horses when we were about 15. She recently told me about a party she had at the house when I was gone, so I guess she'll start telling more stuff. :-)

  28. Hi Mugs, I have gone back and read all your other posts about Mort to understand more about him and what the problem might have been. In one you said you rode him in a hackamore and in another said he did well as long as you weren't hanging off his face. Here you mentioned he was a serial bolter and it sounds like he reacted badly when you tried to tun him.

    Am I right in thinking he may have had problems with his teeth, and/or needed very light contact with his mouth? Also that at the time this story was set either you were riding him more with reins than legs or he'd previously been ridden more with reins than legs , and neither of you knew about the one-rein stop? And maybe he'd mostly been used for 'hooning around' on?

    I would love to know how you figured out what was going wrong and how to fix it (eg the slow riding practice you mentioned in another post), clearly you later developed a very good relationship. Thanks for sharing, I am usually left thinking a lot after reading your posts.

  29. I grew up with a Mort. QH/Arab as far as anyone knew and a really great horse.
    Mine once bolted down a busy paved road. I remember trying to stop him, as best I could, which when I look back now was by just panicking and randomly hauling on the reins. I made the decision to just give up and let go and ended up with road rash and missing a good chunk of hair from the back of my head (tragic for a teenage girl ;) Wouldn't you know when I came to I was in the middle of the road with him calmly standing over me and traffic somehow stopped.
    Made me realize that perhaps he wasn't bad at all, maybe it was me causing our problems.
    And for the record, my parents still believe I fell off my bike :)

  30. Holy cow, great story! Two runaways for me; one at 13 on a paved road (no traffic luckily but I can still hear the sound of those hooves on the asphalt!) and along the railroad tracks toward home. I still believe that horse could have run the rest of the 6 miles home if it hadn't been for the mud bog she ran into. 2nd time I was 51 and bailed knowing what was ahead; boulders and a dropoff. Still haven't forgiven myself for not being able to ride that one out, but your story helped a little!

  31. Oh the times when we bail. I've had two: one in a nice soft arena, I bailed because my horse ignored me and knocked me off balance in an arena with 30 other people (bareback drill riding...yes, it was organized. My mare is just crazy sometimes.) and I chose to fall in a nice soft open spot with nobody coming at me...rather than into a "pile" of people a few feet later. I was completely fine.

    Two was because of my stupidity...I decided to ride a half blind (missing her left eye) ex-racing Arab bareback in a halter...figuring the halter was close to the hack she normally goes in. Long story short, she took off, a halter is NOT the same as a hack, and I had lost all control. I chose to bail when a tree loomed incredibly close on her blind side...I kind of slid and landed literally 8 inches from the tree. No injuries...because it was cold out so I was wearing a thick coat. Lots of padding!

  32. Poor Mort! Poor you!
    Only ever been bolted on, truely, once in many years of riding, on a stallion with nothing but a rope halter. I wasn't paying attention to him and he wanted to see his girls, he plum forgot I was there. Gee whiz that was the most exciting ride I ever had! Came to my senses and ORSed as he was sizing up the gate to the mare's paddock :D

  33. I had a similiar experience with my mare, back when she was inexperienced and I was even more so. I was by myself when I was 13 or 14 and she took off on me on the road, right through a busy intersection (which, and this is the only time, was actually empty, thankfully or I'd be dead) and right down the road. After I finally got her to stop and we were in the hay field, she bolted again. Before she hit the trees I decided to jump off. I landed and cracked my pelvic bone. And I still had to walk a kilometre home, all uphill through the trees. I tried to think of a good lie the entire way back to the house. Jumping off was one of the scariest things I've ever done and I hope that I never have to do it ever again.

  34. CJay:

    I had a cracked pelvic bone too from getting bucked off my gelding. Aside from childbirth I think that is the most painful thing I have ever had happen to me :(

    I didn't walk home though I rode. I think I actually passed out a couple of times on the way...still I made it and put my guy up, not before he STOOD on my foot!!!

    We were supposed to go and see the Canadian Mounted Police do their musical ride that night, instead I spent in at the local hospital getting x-rays and trying not to pass out again....sigh, still wouldn't give up my horses for a million bucks, er, dollars, ha haa!!!

  35. Wow! I'm such a wimp, I'd probably hang on! Hope I never have to find out. You *all* are so lucky!

    Mugs: Quick training gelding is relearning to carry himself at a canter, from hollowed out to rounded out. His right lead is pretty rough - he is really heavy on the forehand, and I've figured out how to get him to use himself better from my seat position. He is not crossfiring. His left lead is progressing much better. His back is getting stronger each time I work him, and the muscling on his withers/shoulders is balancing out.

    Question: Would you work his weaker lead first, and then switch to his better lead, vice versa, or alternate? I've been working his worse lead first so he has more strength, then switch to his better lead.

    Thanks!!! Jackie

  36. Jackie - I always address problems first. I spend 70% on problem areas, 30% on easier.

  37. Thanks! And for confirming my gut instincts are correct. I tried it the other way, but then (a) he's too tired to handle the difficult side and (b) I can't end on a good note, but a tired achy note.


  38. Thank goodness I didn't have a Mort when I was growing up...I probably wouldn't have survived. You were so determined to make that horse work out...amazing story as always~