Hanging High & Dry

By Julie Goodnight


Cheryl loved Sunday mornings at the barn. If she got there early enough, it was quiet and peaceful, no other boarders to bother her, no dogs and kids running crazy. Some of her best rides happened at this time and a Sunday morning ride was the highlight of her week.

As usual, Cheryl got her mare out, groomed and tack and decided to ride in the arena and do some specific schooling on some of the maneuvers she had been trying to learn. The barn was some distance from the owner’s house and the only other person around was the Charlie, who was in the back barn cleaning stalls. She virtually had the whole place to herself.

There was a little chill in the air this early in the morning so Cheryl was dressed in her favorite barn jacket, a fleece-lined, nylon shell zip-up. After a lovely ride, Cheryl sat on her horse, reflecting on the great things they were achieving. She was riding Western this morning and without thinking Cheryl dropped both feet from the stirrups and vaulted off her horse, as she was accustomed to in the English saddle.

As she swung her leg over the horse’s rump, she leaned forward, snagging the bottom of her jacket on the horn. By the time she realized what had happened, she was already hanging by her jacket from her 15.3 hand horse. Fortunately, Cheryl had done hours of ground work with her mare, so the horse stood perfectly still, even though having a human attached to her and hanging was a new and somewhat disconcerting feeling to the mare.

Cheryl hung for a few moments, with her toes barely able to touch the ground, but not enough to bear her weight. She immediately realized the dangerous predicament she was in and could visualize the outcome, should her mare decide to spook. First she tried to get enough contact with the ground to jump up and release herself; to no avail. Then she tried calling Charlie, yelling repeatedly as loudly as she could; again to no avail. Realizing that she was in an extremely dangerous and precarious position, Cheryl recognized that she was going to have to rescue herself; no one else was coming to her aid. Suddenly she missed the normal hustle and bustle of a regular day at the boarding barn.

Next, Cheryl spied an old bale of hay in the corner of the arena and she toyed with the idea of trying to get her horse to walk over to the hay bale so she could stand on it. But even though Cheryl had done plenty of groundwork with this horse and her manners were impeccable, she was reluctant to ask the mare to move, realizing that once movement began, she might not be able to control it. So she abandoned the hay bale as a possible means of escape.

Then it occurred to Cheryl that if she could unfasten the cinch, the saddle would slide off and release her jacket. She tried and tried to get this accomplished but since she had one hands on the reins to control the horse if she should try to move, and she was not willing to release that grip, she was unable to make any progress with the cinch.

Finally Cheryl realized that she had no way out and she knew that she couldn’t wait forever for someone to appear, sensing that the mare was starting to get impatient. With one last effort, knowing that it could make the difference in whether or not she lived to tell this tale, Cheryl made one last attempt to jump up and clear the jacket from the horn. Miraculously it worked and Cheryl’s’ feet hit the ground solid; she was once again free to stand on her own two feet and she had escaped a near-disaster.

The Analysis

Another crisis averted and lesson learned! It was immediately obvious to Cheryl that her nylon jacket, while great for baseball and other sports, was inappropriate for riding. As she did a little exploring, she discovered that most jackets made for riding horses have snap closures, the purpose of which is to pop open if you get snagged on something; made specifically to avoid the type of problem Cheryl had. Her new favorite riding jacket, purchased later that very day, has snap closures and a gathered waist, to prevent the snag on the horn to begin with.

But there were some other more subtle lessons to be learned from the near-miss incident. Cheryl had to rethink her Sunday morning routine. Perhaps it was better to ride when others were around to come to your aid if needed. On the outset, it didn’t seem like Cheryl was alone and she certainly wouldn’t go out on the trail by herself. But having Charlie in the back barn and the farm owner some 400 yards away in her home, was clearly not enough presence to render her aid if needed. From then on, Cheryl made the commitment to only ride when there was at least one other person in or around the arena.

Although Cheryl was already a firm believer in ground work, now she had a whole new perspective. Her control over the horse from the ground was perhaps the one thing that really kept this from turning into a total disaster. The hours she had spent developing this kind of control over her horse paid off in spades because she had the ability to make her stand perfectly still when it was critically needed. Not all horses would have been so cooperative, especially with a strange thing hanging off them.

Finally, Cheryl’s decision not to ask the horse to move toward the hay bale was very smart. Once you start a horse moving in a situation like that, you would probably lose control. As the horse moved, it is quite likely she would become anxious about the weird thing attached to her and as a horse’s anxiety builds, her desire to move her feet to flee would increase. With limited means to exert control from her precarious position, Cheryl may have ended up being drug around and seriously injured.

There are countless stories about being hung up on the horn of the Western saddle and this one had a happy outcome. Remember when dismounting English or Western to slide down your right hip as you can also rip your breeches on the stirrup keepers in an English saddle.

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at office@CHA.horse