Greetings and salutations, it’s a privilege to be able to share my trail musings and thoughts with you in this new BCHA newsletter column, On the Trail with the TrailMeister.
For this first go ‘round I think a brief introduction is in order. I’m Robert Eversole, a BCHA member from the Evergreen State of Washington. During the past six years I’ve had the privilege of having served my BCHW members in various capacities including chapter director and assistant state treasurer. When I’m not on the trail I can usually be found writing about riding or teaching riders how to be safe on the trail. You may have seen my regular columns in national magazines such as Trail Blazer, and Western Mule, as well as a slew of regional periodicals. Or we may have chatted in person during my seminars on backcountry navigation or lightweight horse camping at Back Country Horsemen gatherings in WA, OR, CA, and MT as well the Midwest Horse Fair in Wisconsin.
Because keeping trails open to riding and pack stock is important, I operate the largest horse and mule trail riding and camping directory in the US, www.TrailMeister.com, to get more riders out of the arena and on the trails. The more that they’re used the more likely trails are to remain open and maintained. TrailMeister.com is proud to be the official BCHA trail directory. Prior to TrailMeister I served as a US Marine, followed by a stint as a commercial banker (I’ve since reformed) and a member of a mounted search and rescue team.
Lastly, in my spare time I’m a registered PATH Intl. instructor where I teach equitation to individuals with physical and cognitive challenges.
And that was more than enough “I”s. This column is about WE as Backcountry Horsemen and those topics that affect us. One such topic that I regularly encounter is fear. If you ride you’ve experienced fear. Whether on the trails or in an arena the potential for a problem is quite real. Rather than try to push this trepidation aside let’s instead find ways to understand and minimize the inherent dangers that our equestrian activities present. By mentally preparing ourselves the challenges of venturing into the mountains and valleys of the backcountry become much less daunting.
A common fear that we have all felt at one time or another is the fear of falling. From the back of our horse the earth looks pretty far away and a rapid descent is the potential outcome of any problem we encounter. If we can learn to control this very valid fear we’ll be better able to enjoy the ride. Here are a few tips that I use to help control the “fear factor” when the going gets tricky.
It may seem counter intuitive but spend a moment thinking about dismounting. We’ve all felt the sensation of losing our seat so thoroughly that we’re coming off the beast. It’s a matter of when, not if (hopefully, your when happened long ago when you were still young and flexible.). Rather than wait for the proverbial “train wreck” consider taking control of the fall and learning how to perform an emergency dismount. Find a good trainer, and a soft patch of ground, to help you learn this maneuver in a controlled situation.
Relax. Yes, this is much easier said than done. When you’re tense your riding suffers and it feels even more frightening. Rather than clinching the stirrups with your toes, try wiggling them. If you can get your body to relax it will help you feel more relaxed emotionally as well.
Breathe. When you’re anxious, you unconsciously hold your breath. To start breathing regularly, try talking or singing; when I get nervous and tense I often sing (You’ll often hear me singing when pulling a pack string). You may not win a Tony, but you will feel much better.
Balance. When you’re edgy, you have a tendency to lean forward into a fetal position. Fight this by sitting up straight and deep in the saddle, putting your shoulders back (I tell my students to sit tall like a Marine). Try this and you’ll feel how much easier it is to breathe, and sing, and relax.
And finally find something to focus on that’s positive. Put a smile on, think about what a great day it is, how much fun it is to ride with your favorite trail buddy, and what great things we’re doing to keep the trails open to riders just like you and I.
Thank you for hanging out with me, and remember to enjoy the ride!