Research can have its ups and downs | Ann Oxrieder

Doing research is one of the most exciting parts of writing a novel, though some people – including me — might say that sometimes my research goes too far.

I needed to give my protagonist a scar. What better way than have her ride a horse that spooks and sends her flying onto a sharp rock? After reading my scene, my writing coach suggested I go a step further and take a ride myself.

I started by touring a friend’s stable and meeting its residents. I had such a good time that she invited me to return for a riding lesson. I responded that “My goal is to learn to steer and walk and go a little faster than a walk and not end up on my butt in the mud.”

“We’ll start out in the arena,” she said.  “I’ll hold the reins and walk you around in a circle.  If you’re comfortable, after that we’ll take a ride on the trails.”

Up to this point, I’d researched material via interviews. How thrilling to move beyond collecting secondhand information and explore the sounds of the saddle creaking, the horse whinnying, my body rocking from side to side.  I came ready with my iPhone for photos, a pen and notebook to record everything.

The first lesson was to sit up straight and look over the horse’s ears.  I passed that test easily. From there we moved to pulling on the reins to stop, loosening them to move forward, and using legs and reins to change direction.  Large block letters were nailed inside the fenced enclosure and my task was to move the pony from E to B, D to A and so on.

As we headed toward B something unexpected happened. My horse jumped. I screamed. I hung on by one stirrup, then flew off. My lower back whumped onto the gravel and dirt surface me and I said, “I really, really hurt.” Several times.  Forty-five minutes later, I was wheeled into an examining room, x-rayed, given pain killers and sent home.

The good news is that I suffered no broken bones. The happy pills the doctor gave me made me forget the pain and laugh when my friend returned my horseback riding goals to me with the message: “Well, mission accomplished – no mud!”












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