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A Lesson in Riding: Falling

Updated on February 7, 2012

If you're an active rider and have been for some time, you've probably heard this mentioned before. If not, of if you're just starting out as a new rider, this may come as bit of a surprise to you.

The most important thing to learn when riding is how to fall.

There's a How-To on falling? More or less, yes. In a sense, there's a right way to fall, and a wrong way. So, how does one learn this craft? Well, much like you learn anything - through experience!

Now, before you rush out and attempt to through yourself off the back of your horse a few times, realize there's a little more to it than just that. Hopefully I can teach that to you while providing my own personal falling experiences.

Lesson 1: Why do falls happen?

In order to learn about how to fall correctly, you need to understand why you're falling in the first place. Naturally, this isn't something that will occur to you while you're falling, but it's a good thing to keep in mind way before you even mount your horse.

Chances are, falling will always be your fault.

Before you rush to conclusion that it wasn't your fault you fell, look back on the moments before you did fall. How was your position? Were you sitting straight? Heels down? Legs tight? If your position is off in any way, it will through you off balance, and that is the number one causing of falls, especially in inexperienced riders. Position is key, and if you're taking lessons or have in the past, you'll probably realize that your position will be drilled into your head. If it isn't or wasn't, you probably weren't taught very well! Position, position, position! Proper position gives you proper balance. Without it results in sloppy riding and possible falls.

What about that horse underneath you? He bucked! He reared! He panicked and galloped and I wasn't prepared! It's totally his fault!

So he bucked. So he reared. Horses have minds of their own, and depending on the horse, it could be a variety of reasons he did this. Maybe you acted too harshly. Maybe he didn't understand. Maybe he spooked. Regardless of why it happened, it happened, but that doesn't make it his fault. It all comes back to position - if you have proper position, you can handle any bucking horse in the ring. Naturally, it's a little more difficult when something's bucking underneath you, but you'll be more likely to stay on if you already have a proper position.

And if he panics and takes off, having proper positioning will prepare you for anything! Remember, a horse has a mind of it's own and anything can happen, so be prepared for everything! Keep your position secure and you'll be more likely to stay on board.

Lesson 2: Look out below!

Okay, we've beaten positioning to death. So what about the actual fall? Regardless of your perfect position, sh** does happen! Falling doesn't make you a bad rider, in fact, it makes you a better rider! But, again, there's more to it than just the fall.

Instincts tell us we must brace ourselves for any fall. Naturally, you may put your hand out to stop yourself. Unless you want to break your wrist, avoid this at all cost!

Often times, we don't even realize we fell until after it happens. The actual fall seems to complete escape our memory. Our brain naturally "blacks out" when things like this happen. If you've ever been in a car accident, you may find that you don't remember the actual accident. The last thing you might remember is seeing that car, then suddenly you're somewhere else. Our brains naturally "black out" when trauma like this happens. So, when you're falling, you may not be able to say to yourself "hey, don't put your hand out!" But, if you can, just tuck your limbs in and let the fall happen. There's only so much you can control during the fall. It may be a quick process, quicker than a blink of an eye, but the more you can keep your limbs inside the ride at all times, the less likely you'll snap a bone.

And, of course, always fall on your butt! Again, you may not be able to control how you fall, but if you suddenly find yourself going face first towards the ground, do what you can to make sure you remain flat so as to not fall and break that neck!

Lesson 3: I fell - now what?

What you do next really depends on the situation you're in. If you fell off a wild run away horse, you may want to get up as quick as possible, or at least crawl out of the way. The last thing you want after a fall is to be trampled, especially if you're in a ring and the horse is running in circles.

When you move out of the way, or if there is no immediate danger and your horse is still or at least out of sight, take a moment to collect yourself. Don't get up right away. Sit back, catch your breath, and remember what happened. Say it out loud. Talk to yourself. Make sure everything's working, then slowly get up. If there's any dizziness or pain, you should immediately sit back down and call for help if no one is around. At this point, worrying about your horse and where he went is last priority. If you're hurt, you should seek immediate help. Chances are, your horse went home, or he'll be back.

Lesson 4: We're not done yet!

So, you fell. You're fine, everything's working, nothing appears wrong. Or, you got the medical attention you needed and now you're as good as new! (hoping for the best, of course!) You may have heard this before, but I'm going to say it anyways: get back on that horse! No matter what the accident is or how it happened, you should always get back on! Getting back into riding is important after a fall if you want to continue to ride and be a good rider. You need to prevent yourself from forming any fears of riding, just because you fell. Just like driving a car - people will always tell you that you need to drive as soon as you can. Driving is such an important part of our daily lives. You can't let an accident take over your life and make you afraid to get in a car again. The same with horses if they're an important part of your life. Get back on that horse, even if all you do is walk around - don't force yourself to get back into intense riding or training. Take baby steps if you need to. Just as long as you get back on and prevent any fears from controlling your life.

Now, let's talk about some of my own falling experiences! Hopefully some first hand experiences can help give you a little insight and prepare yourself for your first fall.

My first fall:

I had my first fall when I was in middle school. I was probably around 12 or 13 years old, and I was at my second barn. The first barn I was at was a huge show barn. I got my first lessons there and rode every week for about a year or two before I decided I wanted somewhere smaller. I was pressured to do shows, and at the time, it wasn't really my thing. The second barn I took lessons at was a small barn with about six horses. I got private lessons every week as opposed to the group lessons I got at the first barn. I got to ride for an hour and got a lot more attention and help. I was there for a few years and became their top rider.

They bought a new horse who they decided was for more experienced riders. At the time they bought him, I was working for my lessons and had a lot of extra free time, so I helped train him. I watched as they trained him in the arena, learned different techniques, and eventually, I was able to ride him, making me the first student to ride him. We did a lot of walking mostly, trotting in lines, between cones, and eventually short bursts of canter.

During one of the training sessions, I had him cantering for a couple seconds in straight lines. During one of our canters, he spooked. To this day, I don't know what spooked him. It could have easily been a car in the distance or a shaking branch I didn't notice. Regardless, he took off suddenly at a gallop. I was still a fairly new rider, and of course, had never fallen before. This caught me off guard and I fell off to the side, butt on the ground.

Of course, my instructor was there, along with my mother, and the horse actually stopped as soon as he realized I wasn't on top anymore, and he came right over. I got up and dusted myself off. Nothing hurt and I didn't even feel panicked. After convincing them I was fine, I let the horse sniff my hand, gave him a pat, and we continued our training.

My Second Fall:

My second fall happened in high school. I was at a new barn at this point. I had just gotten into Civil War Reenacting and one of the guys in the group had a neighbor with horses whom they were good friends with. Naturally, I was introduced, and she offered to give me free lessons. I took lessons with her for many years. She was an older lady who had won many shows in the past and once a month, her own instructor, another older lady, would come down and offer lessons as well.

At this point, everyone was bragging about my riding skills. My instructor spoke highly of me to her own instructor, and eventually we got to work together. She was very impressed with my riding abilities and constantly asked if I was available every time she was in the area. I learned a lot with both of them. I began to jump, I learned some dressage techniques, and I learned how to handle myself and 6 other horses while pulling a roughly 4,000 pound gun (in other words, a canon, though it's technically a gun. But, that's beside the point!)

I helped trained other horses to pull and to work together. I was in control of many horses at the same time at some points. The training was rigorous for the horses and I. Naturally, I needed to be trained first, then every horse individually, then slowly introduce them all to working together. It was a very long process.

In the process, I had the chance to work with a very beautiful Morgan. He was purchased for the sole purpose of reenacting. Unfortunately, the man that bought him didn't know much about horses and bought him just because he looked good. The horse, though a beautiful ex show horse, how many problems. He was very afraid of people as he was abused in his last home. So, naturally, most of my time was spent building a relationship with him. I came by every day and brushed him down, fed him treats, and just sat with him and talked. Eventually, he came right over to greet me, allowed me to pick his feet, and put my weight on his back.

I lunged him daily, brought him past scary objects, and soon I got tack on his back and was riding him at a steady walk around the ring. Before long, I had him cantering happily around the ring. Eventually, we were able to tack him with civil war period tack and being the reenactment training.

I had him in a civil war period saddle with regular reins and we were cantering around the ring, just like any other day. However, something unknown to me caused him to spoke. (Isn't that how it always is?) He took off at a full gallop. Unlike many years ago, I was able to stay on and collect myself. I used the techniques I had learned over the years to try to settle him down, but he was going and he wasn't going to stop. We had already done a few laps around the ring, which in reality probably only lasted 30 - 50 seconds, but I knew he wasn't going to stop, and in the chaos I had lost a stirrup. So, I figured the next best thing to do was to just jump off instead of putting myself in danger.

I had learned how to safely jump off a horse in case of such a situation, so I felt confident in my actions. I dropped my other stirrup and prepared to launch myself off and away, like I practiced so many times before. However, I hadn't practiced this on a horse in a full blown gallop!

I swung my leg over and did my best to push away as he was galloping around. Unfortunately, I ended up flying into a wall. (I'm sure it has something to do with math and science. Centripetal force? Something like that that caused me to seem to go flying through the air as I attempted to jump off). I remember vaguely going face first into the wall, and the rest I imagine to be like in the cartoons - me, just sliding down and onto the ground. I must have blacked out for a split second, because when I realized what was happening, the horse had already made it around the ring and was heading right for me. I pushed myself up and ran towards the center of the ring, out of his path.

I was greeted by my instructor who looked me over and asked if I was okay. I felt fine, just a slight scrape on my elbow and knee, and we waited until the horse finally tired himself out. When he did come to a stop, I approached him carefully and inspected all damages. He was fine, but the saddle, however, was not. After I jumped, it must have worked it's way around him, and it now hung below his belly. A stirrup was torn along with some other straps. But other than that, everything else was fine.

I removed his tack and walked him around the ring, cooling him down, before returning him to his stall. When I returned the next day, we began the training all over. I walked him around the ring, lunged him, put some weight on his back, and eventually, after a few weeks, I was able to get back on and ride him around without any mishaps.

So, those are my falling experiences! I was pretty lucky I didn't get seriously hurt, and I was fortunate enough to be able to get right back on. Despite the scary moments, I didn't let that stop me from being the rider I wanted to be, and I know I'll always get back on, despite the severity of the fall, even if it kills me!

Of course, I don't want that to happen to me or anyone! But hopefully this gave you a little insight on falls. If you haven't had a fall yet, I only hope your first fall isn't severe, and I hope this helped you prepare yourself mentally for any future falls. And, if you have had plenty of your own falls, maybe you can relate and provide your own insight. And, hopefully, you learned a little something you didn't already know.

Happy riding and happy falls!


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