On the way home things were even worse - she broke into a full out gallop several times and to discipline her I took what may not have been one of my best decisions of all time - every time she broke into a gallop I'd turn her around, walk her to the end of the group and only let her catch up with the group at a walk or a slow trot. This understandably pissed her off even more, but I can't always let her have her way, especially if it entails unsafe behavior around other horses. Anyhow this strategy worked more or less until we got back to the hilly park, where the rest of the horses walked down the hill and since she wanted to gallop and I wasn't able to rate her, I wouldn't let her go after them. We circled and circled at the top of the hill and as the rest of the horses moved on out of sight she got more and more frantic until finally my friend Virginia came back with Coco to rescue us and we followed them down - at a trot, which was faster than I wanted but slower than Starbuck wanted. I guess this is an example of “a good negotiation is one where both parties walk equally unhappy”. I am now convinced that what I should have done is get off then and walk her down in hand, but I was too frantic to think clearly about anything but my aids and immediate strategy for not getting us killed.
The most serious scare was when we passed some people who were fixing a stone wall on the side of the road - a little old lady helping them started telling me "How lovely to see people riding horses out here in the countryside on a Sunday" when two cars passed us and Starbuck freaked out, lunging towards the poor little old lady before getting back in line and passing her. She didn't get closer than about 5 feet, but still - it was still much too close for comfort and I felt awful for the poor lady. I was so freaked out I don't even remember if I apologized. Then only a few minutes later Carmen's horse Trueno got a little closer to Starbuck's rear end than she wanted and she gave a mini buck and then a BIG buck when he didn't heed the first one - thankfully he wasn't close enough for her to reach him but still... I was really losing it at this point - after two hours of tension and barely controlled explosions I was starting to really feel angry and superfrustrated and noticed that I was starting to do things like jerk on the reins and use the whip as a punishment. So as soon as we got off the road I stopped her as soon as I could and jumped off and led her the rest of the way back to the stable, which was good for both of our backs anyway. But I was feeling guilty, pissed, and scared.
By the time I longed her in the arena (no way she was getting off easy after the ride she gave me), showered her, rubbed her down and gave her a nice pile of hay, I was able to be a little more philosophical. I do think my biggest mistake was not getting off earlier but trying to muscle my way through her craziness by riding, so next time I'll bring my long lead rope so I can do some emergency longeing if I need to. Lesson # 1 learned. Other lessons: it's important to be reminded from time to time that no matter how well she behaves on one trail ride (or lesson, or show, or whatever...), it's no guarantee she'll behave so well the next time, and that I can't get cocky since I still can't necessarily control her all the time. I'm also going to get a green ribbon for her tail to give people (myself included) a visual reminder that she's not completely predictable, and I will never again stop right in front of a little old lady, even if it means being rude.
Mostly, I have to remember that we all have bad days, and I can't get bogged down or discouraged by this one, no matter how harrowing it was. After all, it wasn't SO bad - we discovered a new route and went on a trail ride in sketchy (wind, dark threatening clouds) weather without maiming anyone, including ourselves. And although it was touch and go at some points, I WAS still able to control her in the end. I'm even trying to be optimistic and remember that usually when she has several really bad days close together it generally signals a learning spurt. But still, next year she's getting liability insurance - it'll be one less thing to worry about.