It was a great day for a trail ride! Sunny, about 75 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, and we are in beautiful Arizona! We decided to ride the historic Butterfield trail, near the Sonora Desert National Monument which is close to Maricopa Arizona.
This is a great trail with a significant historic value to the State of Arizona. In addition to being known as the Butterfield Stagecoach trail the main path is also referred to as the Juan Batista trail, the Mormon brigade, and the 49’ers trail. Quite simply, one of the best trail riding areas in Arizona!
As we made our way along the trail enjoying the fragrance of the wildflowers, the enormity of the hundreds of saguaro cactus’ that surrounded us and beauty of rugged terrain we all decide, the day simply could not be better!
Suddenly, the horse I was riding, for lack of a better term “Exploded” bucking and trying to bolt off.
Well, I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have been riding horses for more than 30 years and I have come across some rough stock in my life, so I did the same thing I have done in this type of situation several times in the past, I started looking for my spot on the ground to land as softly as possible!
In the seconds that followed I thought to myself, “Falling off HURTS” and here it comes again! I hope nothing breaks!
Then something happened, a voice, a very loud voice cut through the fog of my fear, as my life was flashing in front of me. Just two loud, very clear words; blasted through my panicked state, “EYES UP”!
Not a request, a demand!
I followed the order! What happened next reminded me of the lesson I have been told every good husband should learn when ordered to do something by their wife, “Just Follow Orders” in an emergency!
As soon as my eyes went up, my butt returned to the deep part of the saddle and Rocky stopped bucking! Boy was I glad of that, because as I so vividly recall, falling off hurts!
The voice, seemingly from heaven, that saved me from the crash I had already decided was going to happen was that of my beloved wife Trish Beres-Zaabel.
Trish is a certified John Lyons trainer and riding instructor with more than 25 years’ full time experience working with young horses, who, sometimes decide they no longer want a passenger. She is an expert in handling those situations. I have watched Trish take on horses to train that other trainers have given up on, and within less than 30 days she is riding as if the horse likes it!
Setting all of that aside, Trish was more than my teacher that afternoon, she was my guardian angel! No matter how good you are (or think you are) there is always room for expert advice.
We eventually got home safely, and after things settled down Trish and I laughed about the experience. Several lessons were learned that day by both of us, not the least of which was that when she yells at me around horses, I better listen! We decided to de-brief the situation to learn from it.
Being that there is a little more to this story I should back up a bit and give you some background.
I am a pretty good rider! I have been around and worked with horses more than 30 years. I presently own twelve horses myself. I am also the owner and General Manager of Wooden-Bridge Ranch LLC located in Concho (near Show Low), Arizona. I have been a trail guide, worked with Hunter Jumper show horses, exercised polo ponies and logged literally 1000’s of miles trail riding on horseback. I am almost an expert, right? ——–Right!!
The two or so hours before Rocky threw his fit he rode pretty well! He was clearly a little barn sour and slightly cantankerous. Rocky is a Missouri Fox Trotter who from the beginning had a little spunk and a strong mind of his own. Trish had been working with him for the owner who had a bad back and wanted a smooth riding trail horse, which is why he decided on a Fox Trotter. She had about a month of working with him and he had come along nicely for her, or so we thought!
When we decided to ride the Butterfield Stagecoach trail that Saturday morning Trish asked me to ride Rocky so she could see him move out from a perspective other than on his back and with a different rider aboard. She knew I was a confident, experienced rider so neither of us were worried. For the first four or five miles Rocky and I got along splendidly. We climbed several small mountains and rode along flat ground for a long while.
Several times Trish and I noticed (especially me) that as we crossed small sandy washed Rocky would throw a buck as he exited the high side of the bank. Why? I still have no idea, he just did!
Trish suggested that when I come to a wash I turn him into it rather than just crossing it and make him walk in the sand for a while. So, I did and, by golly the bucking stopped ——temporarily!
Then we came to the spot where we were to turn around and head back to the trailer parking area. This is where the barn sour part kicked in, I guess!
Almost immediately Rocky leaped forward on the downside of a small hill and started bucking. I didn’t like it much, but I rode it out and he settled, and after a few minutes so did I.
Just a short distance later he started bucking again. I was able to keep his head up and regain control, but each time his fits were becoming increasingly more serious and violent.
Trish asked me if I wanted to get off, and I replied, in my now cracking, best cowboy voice, “No, I think I can handle him”! All the time thinking, I wonder how far a walk it would be back to the trailer after I shoot this nasty plug and walk away. I must admit that my fear factor was up, but how does that song go, “my pride says, Oh yes you caaan!” So, onward we pushed.
After only a couple of hundred yards, Rocky flattened his ears, threw a savage buck that tossed me so far forward I was sure we were going to do a summer-salt. He leaped forward and pulled one reign from my hand which allowed him to get his head down. I lost one stirrup, and the rodeo was on! Two, or maybe three bucks later I guess I decided I was coming off! I had lost my peripheral vision and was simply looking for the softest place to land.
Then came that thunderous commend, “EYES UP”!
When you are under great stress and in fear for your life science has proven you will follow a command if it comes at you loud enough and with enough authority. Its how SWAT teams rescue hostages after throwing smoke grenades and making lots of noise as they enter a room and eliminate the hostage takers. I am here to tell you, it works! My eyes suddenly saw blue sky and my butt found brown leather. I guess Rocky gave up at that point because the bucking stopped.
My heart was racing! I noticed my right hand was bleeding (I must have cut my thumb on the saddle horn as I frantically reached for the rein Rocky pulled out of my hand).
A moment after things settled down my peripheral vision returned and I saw Trish and the only ½ broke young colt she was riding spinning around through a large dust cloud. Apparently, he got excited with all the action, and decided to show off a few dance moves of his own.
Trish settled him and came over to where Rocky and I were standing. She barked her second order of the day. “YOU NEED TO GET OFF”! I was only too happy to comply. I hadn’t fallen off physically, but mentally I had crashed!
Fortunately, another friend of ours had come with us and was ponying one of her horses along with the one she was riding. She suggested I ride that horse and pony Rocky back which sounded like a plan to me, but of course Trish would have no part of that plan. I dismounted, and in less than a blink of an eye she was on his back. The first words out of her mouth were something to the effect of, “OK tuff guy, you are going to settle down, OR ELSE”! You see, she does this for a living, so she is always ready for tricks like the ones Rocky was pulling. I guess he knew that, because the rest of the way back Rocky behaved just fine.
As we talked (or “debriefed”, as Trish called it) she reminded me of the importance of staying centered on your horse. You see, as I began looking for my landing spot on the ground, I was leaning forward, off balance with little or no contact with the seat of the saddle, or for that matter with the horse. I was actually helping Rocky throw me over his head.
When the order came for me to get my “EYES UP”, I responded by following the command. As I threw my head back to look up my body straightened and as I centered my torso (and butt) in my seat, I regained my balance, and made it harder for Rocky to eject me from his back.
I am sure he was disappointed!
Trish reminded me to “center myself” with the only advice that would work in the moment. “EYES UP”! One lesson I will not soon forget but will likely draw from again!
Center your gravity, and balance yourself! Something Bull riders fight desperately to do to control the violence of the sport. I think I understand!
I hope you never find yourself in a situation like the one I just described, but if you ever do, just remember Trisha’s lesson, “Eyes up”, because falling off hurts! Happy Trails! .