Autumn is arguably one of the best times of the year here in the mountains of Virginia. Pumpkin spice everything, cozy down vests, football, crisp weather…what’s not to like?
But I’ll admit that when it comes to riding, I’ve become a bit of a self-professed wimp lately. A few years ago, I would’ve loved to have gone on an adventure like the Mongol Derby, though after adding a child and several rather unpleasant riding injuries to my life, I prefer a bit of a more relaxed approach to my saddle time these days.
As those first gusts of chilly wind come blustering through the mountains on our farm, my 22-year-young mare (bless her little heart) turns into a slightly feral beast. Snorting, spooking, eye balls bugging, nostrils flaring… our rides become much more “interesting” to say the least. And hopping on a freshly clipped horse on the first 30-degree day of the year?
I’ve had this lovely Connemara pony for over two decades now, and if there’s one thing I think I’ve gotten pretty good at, it’s dealing with the “Autumn Spooks.” Here are a few of my must-have essentials for riding a renowned skitter bug during the fall:
I like to call this my “Oh, SH#*!” strap, but only when the Pony Clubbers in our barn are out of earshot. This elusively simple little piece of equipment comes in handy during any type of riding. Sometimes during an especially spooky moment (like hacking past our little goat pen or when my toddler comes bursting out of the barn chasing our corgi), I’ll just tuck a finger around it, knowing that if my pony shies, I’ll likely stay with her, since she tends to squirt forward when she spooks. Eventer Colleen Rutledge has some great examples of how to do this–and how it can help you fine-tune your balance as well.
Also, grab straps can be useful when jumping, too, especially if you have a tendency to get left behind, as Todd Minikus recommends.
This magical concoction comes in a variety of forms and brands, so take your pick. Some riders prefer to spray/smear it right onto their boots, or others just put it directly onto the saddle. Make sure you don’t put it onto the saddle seat… you may think that it could give you extra grip, but really it’ll just inch your breeches down. Even worse when you’re at a show… ask me how I know this. Anyway, this little product is awesome for helping to keep your horse between you and the ground on a gusty day.
Horses, being herd animals and all, tend to be happier with their buddies. Often if I’d like to get in a good ride, but the weather is a bit sketchy, I’ll try and plan to join a friend during her ride. I always think, “Safety in numbers!” which is probably true most of the time… unless both your ponies decide to act up that day. Then, good luck to you, and I hope you both have grab straps and sticky spray!
There are a few rules I set for myself when I ride. I’m sure I don’t always follow them, but I do try to because, let’s face it, no one likes hitting the dirt when it’s 30 degrees outside (or really, ever.).
1. Don’t literally hack on the buckle. It’s a fun little term to use, and I’m all in favor of relaxed ride with a long rein or a good stretch, but on a blustery autumn day, (at least in my case) I never know when a spook is just around the corner. Our ring is surrounded by wispy trees and undergrowth that often rustle annoyingly in the wind–our horses are convinced that Bigfoot lives there (they’re probably right). So, heaven help you if your reins are a bit too long and a squirrel comes darting into the ring from Sasquatch’s lair. #byebye
2. Avoid using headphones. I know some people love listening to music or podcasts when they ride, but if I did that with my spunky little gerbil of a pony, it wouldn’t end well. My mare is especially spooky with strange noises, so I try and stay alert and in the moment. I’d like to think that Wofford would approve!
3. Always let someone know where you’re going. If I’m going for a trail ride, I’ll always leave a note at the barn letting others know the time I left and where I planned to ride. That way, when my pony comes gleefully trotting back up to the barn without me, they’ll know where to look for my broken little self.
Enjoy the fabulous fall weather, stay safe and always remember: