The Emergency Dismount: Part 3; Leaping Before You Look

Do Not Try This at Home

“Today…” I say as we pull into the barn.

“I know.  I know.  We’re gonna do the emergency dismount.” Micah says, quickly checking the parking area for vehicles.  All clear.  Not a car in sight. His shoulders relax.

“Um…there’s a bit more to it than getting off the horse quickly.”  I say. I haven’t mentioned (yet) the part where the horse is still moving when we dismount.

“Uh duh.” says Micah.  “EMERGENCY dismount?”

“Right.” I say.  “Emergency.  As in, there’s a major problem: a rein broke, or for some reason, you have to get off now.”

I brace myself as we walk down to the barn.  “That means you have to be able to get off while the horse is moving.” No answer, no change in attitude.  Uh-oh.  I don’t think he’s quite put this together.  Do I spell it out?  Or show him?  (What…like the fence?  Oh sure, that’s a good idea.)  Chicken that I am, I decide I’ll show him, rather than be forced to say the words “canter” and “dismount” in the same sentence.

Micah gets on Tiny.  I’ve prearranged to borrow a friend’s hyper, sneaky little paint Quarter horse.  I can deal with hyper and sneaky…it’s close to the ground that I’m looking for.  Priorities.  Also, unlike most well-trained western horses, Weasel doesn’t stop the instant you drop the stirrups.  He’s exactly the kind of horse on which you’d need to know how to perform the Emergency Dismount.

I talk Micah through the steps we’ll use:

  1. Kick your feet out of both stirrups
  2. Keep your horse as straight as possible, or bent slightly to the inside.
  3. Push the palms of your hand (on a slight diagonal line) on the pommel of the saddle, lean forward slightly, (you do NOT want to catch a saddle horn in your chest) push up while swinging your body in an arc up and over (and OFF) the horse, landing with soft knees, feet on the ground.  One rein in the had if you have split reins.

This is easy at the halt.  It’s how we’ve taught him to get off.

It’s still fairly easy at the walk and trot, because the momentum of the horse helps with the pushing up, out, over, and away.

(I leave out that sticking the landing causes a nearly uncontrollable desire to throw one’s arms up like a gymnast and say “Taaa Daaa!”.  Even if you’re over 50.)

The canter starts to get tricky, because the momentum of the horse REALLY helps with the pushing up, out, over and away.  i.e. the faster your horse is going, the more likely it is you’re going to FLY off in a less, uh, controlled manner.

A horse that is actually bolting takes more finesse than effort, if you want to land sort of upright (at least for a few seconds) and AWAY from the horse.   Thus why the practice and body memory.  There’s no time to think; hmm, how much pressure should I use, when one’s crazed horse has bolted down the lane, leapt the ditch, and made a beeline for the apple orchard with low hanging branches.  With a broken rein.   (Not that this has ever happened to me, the rider who never falls off.  See part 2)

I explain all this while getting on and off the paint, who is more or less jigging at the halt.

Not exciting.

Micah fidgets.  “How come you’re doing it while he’s standing still?  I thought the horse was supposed to be moving.”

“I’m trying to activate my body memory for how tall Weasel is – how far away from the ground.  I haven’t ridden him for awhile.  I don’t want to jam my knees when I land once we get moving.”

Micah’s eyes light up with interest.  You have to calculate? He looks down at the ground, visually measuring the distance from Tiny to the ground.  Tiny swishes his tail in annoyance and opens an eye.  Some of us are trying to sleep here. Did you HAVE to wake Micah up? I was just getting comfy.

I think I got it.” I say, gathering reins.  No time like the present.

“Can I try?” asks Micah

“Sure” I say.

If looks could kill, Tiny has murdered me.  He cocks a hoof with exaggerated patience, closes his eyes, and pretends he’s going to sleep through this.

Micah jumps off, gets on, jumps off.  Hey.  He already knows this:  it’s called dismounting.  “Got it.” he says.  He can’t decide if this should be said with disappointment, or face-saving-competence.

Tiny lazily lowers his head, pretending deeper sleep.  Micah pokes him.  “Hey, you awake in there?” and gets back on.  Tiny uncocks the hoof, exaggeratedly heaves his back straight, opens his eyes, and sighs mightily.  This is the horse equivalent of eye rolling and acting put upon.  (Maybe the two of them are a good match after all?)

Show time.  Having ridden Weasel on and off for a year, I’m familiar with the ways his sneakiness manifests.  Fortunately, he’s not creative.  It’s the same 10 sneaky things over and over.  With the same 10 warning signs. He’s not mean, just dishonest.  I mount with the inside rein slightly turned in while simultaneously blocking with the outside rein to prevent him from squirreling off through his outside shoulder, which would leave me hanging over nothing, like Wile E. Coyote going over a cliff.  Weasel is disappointed.  (He cheers up quickly though.  He’ll get me later. ) I put him into a walk before he can start actively thinking, and lightly do the ER dismount.  I stick  it.  I resist the urge to Ta Daa.

“THAT’S IT?!” says Micah.  Clearly not impressive at the walk.  Tiny cocks a hoof again.

“It gets a little harder the faster you go” I say.  Micah’s look says, so go faster.

I’m old. I have to go faster in small increments.  I passed the stage, somewhere around 30, where you unconsciously believe you’re invincible. I put Weasel into a jog.  I can feel his brain flipping through it’s rolodex of tricks.  Before he settles on one, I do the ER dismount.  Nail it.  I’m way too proud of myself.

Micah is unimpressed.  His arms are crossed, and Tiny emits a gentle snore, with one eye half open.  He’s not about to miss the show.  He too, knows Weasel.

“Scary”  Micah says.  “I could get really hurt doing that”.

Jumping off while trotting is slightly more impressive.   Except I’m ticking off Weasel, who hasn’t been able to pull anything yet.  Weasel does not understand why I keep leaping off on my own.  Shouldn’t he be helping?  I bite the bullet.  Time to canter.  I do a visual re-check.  Ground…Weasel.  Ground….Weasel.  K.  Think I got it.

I put Weasel into the canter.  He relaxes.  Being tricky at the canter is his element.  I block the change into the wrong lead I can feel coming.  Uh-oh.  Now he’s mad.  He never has mastered the lope, he actually canters.  I get ready to dismount.

At this precise moment, a wild turkey flaps into the arena, stupidly circling.  It missed going OVER the arena roof, and flew under it,  clearly confused.  What?  Huh?  What happened to the sky??

That’s all it takes for Weasel.  A legitimate excuse.  How often do those come along?  I look up.  Weasel hopefully drops his inside shoulder, sinking down and outside (the horse equivalent of Sayonara, I can wiggle right out from under you. HAHAHA)  before bolting like a rocket.  He manages to switch leads too, so he’s on the wrong one.

Heading into a corner.

Could there be a better set up in which to show an emergency dismount?  I’m slightly unseated, on a gleefully bolting horse, and coming into the short side on the wrong lead.  The turkey is still perplexedly weaving overhead, but has decided to follow Weasel, presumably hoping he knows the way out.  This doesn’t fit into Weasel’s original plan and he starts to panic.  It’s CHASING him! AHHHHHHH.

There is no dealing with Primal Flight Brain in a panicked horse when they stop processing data.  It’s time to bail.  No amount of whoa’s or half-halts are gonna bring Weasel back to reality. In a last ditch attempt at staying on board I cue him to switch leads.  He pins his ears back and takes it as a cue to RUN FASTER, NOW!

Great.  Just great.  At least I have my seat back.  I straighten him as best I can and push off.  I’m used to bigger horses.  My body memory over-calculates the physics of speed, height and shove.  I’m going way too fast and high.

Weasel and I hit the ground at about the same time, thankfully already parted or I would be slammed underneath him.  He was going too fast and out of balance to make the turn: he scrambled and fell. I landed on my hands and knees (What happened to drop, tuck, and roll?) about 15 feet away.  The turkey, also panicked, flew into the rain curtain, and knocked himself out.  He’s struggling to come-to another 10 feet away, flapping feebly.  The three of us: turkey, horse, idiot, are in varying stages of stunned-ness.

Micah is sitting up completely straight on Tiny, who is wide awake, alert, and absolutely stock still.  He didn’t move a HOOF during the whole thing.  God I love that horse.  I swear he’s amused.  If he could talk, I’d be hearing: I told you so, you think THAT horse is better than me?  Get Real.  Hellooooo.  Giant Crazed Bird…what did I do?  NOTHING.

I get up as quickly as possible: Micah is probably scared and worried.  He’s never seen me come off.  I need to show him I’m fine…I am fine, right?  A quick check confirms all systems, if not go, are at least intact.  In a wobbly sort of way.

His mouth is open.  Micah is beaming…with…shock…pride??  “WOW, mom!  How did you make him DO that!?  That was AWESOME.  AWESOME.”  He’s practically vibrating with excitement.  So much for worry.

“Can you show me again??  I want to do that!  That’s like, you know, extreme skater dude stuff.”

I hold up my hand in a “hang on a sec” gesture.  I can’t talk yet.  I point to Weasel scrambling up off the ground and limp over to check him.  Other than one slightly skinned knee, and what will probably be a whopper of a bruise where he landed on the western stirrup, he’s fine.  My leg would have been between him, the stirrup, and the ground.  Probably broken.

Meanwhile, Tiny has started to wander offhandedly (Tiny never does anything offhandedly) in ever widening circles.  Micah isn’t paying any attention.  He’s waiting for me to get back on Weasel and do it again.  (Uh…NO.)

Tiny ambles indifferently over to his real destination, stretches out a foreleg, sticks his nose down, and nudges the flapping turkey, inadvertently righting the bird while getting whacked in the face (unperturbed) with a wing. The turkey ruffles, orients himself, and WALKS out of the arena.  Once out, he looks up.  Nope. Just sky.  He does a running take off, flapping steadily, flying fine.

Tiny watches the turkey with a smirk on his face.  I swear if I didn’t know any better, I’d think Tiny set the whole thing up, and has just secretly paid him off.

“You didn’t.” I say.

“What?” says Micah.

“Sorry, thinking out loud.”

“So when do I get to do it??” Micah asks.

I look deeply into Tiny’s eye.

“Right now would be good” I say, without breaking eye contact. “Start at the walk”

“Aw mommmmm…”


“Okay, okay.  Don’t have a heart attack.”

Tiny ambles along at the walk while Micah jumps off.  He nails it.  “Yeah!” he shouts, fist in the air.

What can I do?  I smile.

Ta Daaaaa!

Copyright © 2009. The Literary Horse. All rights reserved.

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