Green Rider Disaster

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life

For many years, I belonged to a group of women who went on a trail ride and camping trip every September. I’m no trail rider, but my sisters were in it, so it was nice to get to spend time with them and many of the other women who became good friends.

My horses were never trail riding horses. They knew if they were saddled that there was a job to do, and in their minds I imagine they thought it was going to be quite a big job with from 50 to 60 horses and riders involved when on this trail ride. I rode many horses over those years, some were absolutely terrible at it, some hated it, some went along with it because I asked them to. Chigger was one of the latter.

He was an older gelding by this time, a little stiff in the shoulders from a wreck on the ice, but absolutely as broke and reliable as a horse could be. At almost 16 hands and nearly 1300 lbs, he wore a size 3 front shoe, and was a big guy. When cowboying on him, I always knew that anything I caught was mine to keep and he could take it where we wanted it.

Taking him on this trail ride gave me peace of mind, though he wasn’t too keen on that many people and scary things like tents, table cloths and silly antics. But, he was so broke that he just dealt with it. On probably the second ride I took him on, his steady nature saved the day and maybe the life of another rider.


We were in the foothills of the Black Hills on this ride, with high ridges, long sweeping vistas, and timbered ridges to ride through. I avoided the drama and wrecks as much as possible, but couldn’t help but notice one gal having a terrible time with her horse. She was a novice rider, so of course, brought a green broke horse that her husband was riding for someone else. And the horse was a  mare, who of course, was horsing. But, this mare was going way beyond just being fidgety from horsing and being green. She got progressively more agitated the further we rode, would run sideways, backwards, rear, and strike at her head as we neared our “water break” area. A showdown was pending, it was clear to see.

This lady was nearly out of her wits scared but couldn’t get off as the mare was throwing such a fit. I didn’t want her to get hurt, so seeing as how I was on a rock solid horse, I told her I’d ride in close to her and try to get ahold of the halter rope that was still on the halter under her bridle so she could get off. As I got close to the mare’s head, her eyes were big with rings of fear around them, and she was slobbering at the mouth terribly bad. It was then that I saw what was undoubtedly the problem.

The gal had put the bridle on “inside out” so to speak. The bit was in her mouth backwards, thus digging into her tongue and bars, plus the very tight curb chain was putting a terrible amount of pressure on her lower jaw, added to the pulling on the reins that the woman had been doing. It was awful, as you can imagine. No wonder the mare was frantic.

I eased up next to her, sidepassing very slowly, and rubbed on her neck until she leaned on my right knee and Chigger’s shoulder and stopped. I got the halter rope off the saddle horn and got a good hold on the mare with it, then told the woman to climb off onto Chiggers hindquarters and off onto the ground and get out of the way. Since the mare was standing still and the other riders were a safe distance away, I carefully unbuckled the bridle at the throat latch and then the cheek piece. With it loose, I slid it over her ears and helped her get the bit out of her mouth. She pulled back a bit when I was getting it out, but once it was out, she took a big breath. Her tongue and bars were bleeding.

Dripping with sweat, she was shaking from the stress she’d been under, so I just led her away from the group and walked her off into a meadow so she could relax and cool off. I’d stop every so often and just rub her neck and head. I loosened her cinch a bit too. She was so relieved to be rid of the bit that she really settled down and had quit sweating and shaking in about 40 minutes or so. I could see a few riders getting back on, so I led her back to the group. I asked a gal who was riding her horse in a side pull if she’d be willing to trade bridles for the rest of the ride so the scared mare wouldn’t have to have a bit in her tender, bleeding mouth again. She said they could and I adjusted it so it fit right on the mare and she was fine with it.

The lady wasn’t too excited about getting back on, but I wasn’t going to trade her horses. I was over that stage of my life by then, for sure, but told her I’d lead her until she felt confident with the mare again. I had her pet on the mare and then get back on while Chigger and I held her. The mare was a little worried, but, the bridle didn’t hurt her and in a quarter of a mile, they were fine to be turned loose, though the lady rode close to me all the rest of the ride. It seemed like the mare felt better close to us too.

I sure felt sorry for that pretty black mare that was under such a load of trouble. It probably was a long time before she could stand a bit in her mouth again. One has to wonder what people are thinking when they bring a green horse on a deal like that, and are very green themselves. I guess if you’re too ignorant to know what all can go wrong, you can sometimes get away with it. That lady very nearly didn’t.

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life

About Jan Swan Wood

Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....

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