Over the years, I’ve seen the phrase ‘riding a powderkeg’ on occasion. Recently I’ve come as close as I’ll probably ever come to personally experiencing it mounted on an equine. I’m pretty conservative and not inclined to mount an equine that is likely to be explosive. And since I almost exclusively ride Fell Ponies, I’m of course fortunate to have usually calm and thoughtful mounts.
I received some well-meaning feedback on the photo here. I had submitted it with an application for a competition. I was told it wasn’t acceptable because I was riding a mare with a foal at foot without wearing a helmet. I knew the mare and the foal and their interactions at the time, so I knew as well as anyone can know that I wasn’t in any danger, but the photo was considered to send an inappropriate message about safety. I found another photo for that competition.
More recently, it was first thing in the morning, and I was mounted on a mare with her week-old foal at foot. And yes, I was wearing a helmet this time because once again I knew the mare and the foal and their interactions at the time, and I deemed a helmet necessary. We were riding past the stallion pen where the foal’s father was running the fence, both because he hadn’t yet been fed and because there was a new pony, his son, on the move. I could feel the mare under me becoming more and more tense, and while she continued to move where I wanted her to at the speed I wanted, I could tell she was far from content. I considered dismounting because it felt like something big might happen – either I might get assistance in a dismount, or we might be departing at sudden and high speed.
After a few moments, we had progressed past the stallion pen, and I could feel the mare relax under me. With the agitated stallion no longer nearby, she was less concerned about the safety of her foal. Dismounting no longer seemed necessary.
These days ‘riding a powderkeg’ usually refers to being on a roller coaster or a motorcycle. While I’ve done both those things and I understand how the phrase might apply, I would suggest that being on a mare with foal at foot riding past an agitated stallion is an even more thrilling application of that phrase. Riding a broodmare means there’s another independent-thinking brain involved, capable of making decisions in fractions of seconds, decisions about which the rider may have very little input. I have a much better understanding now why my photo was rejected for that competition. I’m thankful for having had my 'riding a powderkeg' experience, and especially thankful I did it with a Fell Pony who remained thoughtful enough to mind my safety while also minding that of her foal’s.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2018
More stories like this one can be found in my book What An Honor: A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.