Avoid Falling Off Your Horse and Prevent Painful Injuries
Convert this page to a PDF
Posted: Monday, January 16, 2012
by The Old Gray Mare
Impromptu dismounts are sometimes inevitable. Old Timers in the horse business will tell you, “You can’t ride, or ride well, until you have fallen off a horse!” Well, I’m not sure a fall makes a horseman but I am sure that it reinforces the desire to ride.
Riders will hear this refrain if they fall off. The fall will certainly indoctrinate a rider into the official riding world.
It’s how to fall off the horse that makes all the difference in the world for the rider and the horse. Knowing what to do and keeping wits activated can prevent serious injury and will instill heaps of confidence each time the rider mounts up again.
It is important to remember there really is no way to prevent unforeseen accidents or mishaps. We all know that already. Every action, every step inside or outside of our houses, may result in an accident. So it does stand to reason that nothing can be done to avoid a fall or injury. Even knowing how to fall provides no certainty that an injury can be avoided.
Having said all this, knowing and being aware does offer some benefit.
First and foremost, try to avoid the fall
- Ride a horse that is properly suited to your riding skills.
- Ride in a safe location. Avoid riding on the road if at all possible. If you must move the horse on a road to access local trails, never go alone and it’s best polity to lead the horse.
- Ride with all your senses. Listen, see and be aware. Anticipate a “scary” object or animal, keep your horse under control and/or divert or get his attention focused back to you.
- Ride with control and good, tight seat.
- Ride with sound equipment, adjusted properly.
- Ride with proper stirrup length. Never attempt bareback riding unless you are a seasoned rider and have a tight seat – even then, perhaps instead of bareback, you can ride with saddle without stirrups if you’re working toward tightening and perfecting your seat.
- Ride with properly cinched girth.
- Wear protective equipment. Nothing can help prevent injuries as much as appropriate gear.
- Wear an ASTM approved helmet.
- Wear riding boots. Have at least a 1” heel.
- Fit the saddle with safety stirrups for their quick release functions.
- Crash vests are now available to protect the torso.
- Wear riding gloves for a secure grip on reins. The gloves also protect your hands.
This is the subject of a future article:
How to do emergency dismounts and emergency stops - Knowledge of these emergency procedures will give you an added edge of protection in case of a fall. Publication by The Old Gray Mare is soon.
Here are still more ideas about preventing falls.
- If your horse is anxious, or if he hasn’t been out of his stable for a while, or if you have not exercised him properly, he is likely to act nervous, spooky and may even prance and buck.
- When it’s cool and windy, your horse is more likely to spook. Keep a tight seat.
- If the horse does spook, know that your foot or both feet may get stuck or even slip through improperly sized stirrups. This can become extremely serious because the bolting horse can drag or step on you. This is where safety stirrups are so ideal.
- When you learn a new riding skill, i.e., jumping, always do it with an instructor present or another person.
- Never ride when you are already exhausted. You need to use your whole body, including your brain, to ride properly. Stay physically fit.
Sometimes you get a split second to decide what to do. The fall is going to happen. Should you hang on to the reins? In an enclosed ring or riding arena, let go and fall free. On the trail, try to hold on to a rein if possible. This will save you a long walk home as well as keeping your horse from getting loose and encountering more trouble.
Other times it’s just better to bail. If the horse has been stung by a bee, for instance, he may be in a state. Let go. Don’t get entangled or dragged.
Finally, just how can you fall “properly”?
You already know you’re going to fall. Drop or kick out of the stirrups. Perhaps your luck has yousitting on your rear as your horse stands aside watching you.
Or, you may have to roll out of the way of your horse’s legs. It’s best not to use arms and hands to block the fall since your extremities are at risk of getting stomped on by the excited horse. Instead, curl up to fall on your side, head tucked, fetal position. Avoid all ways possible to land on your head or back.
Make that split second decision about the reins.
Try to remain calm and allow yourself to turn sideways as you fall. If you can slide down the horse’s side, you may land on your bottom.
You are on the ground after falling off
Get your breath back. Check yourself out thoroughly. You are probably alright, your ego might be bruised, and your horse is rattled. Brush yourself off. Stroke your horse and keep him calm. Then climb back into the saddle. This will bolster you, others watching the scene, your riding companions and your horse. Sure it’s tough. Regain your control and determination.
If you do feel pain and believe that you have sustained an injury, ask for help at once. Don’t attempt to be overly stoic or ignore pain until you are certain there are no broken bones.
Later, consider what happened. Think it through and determine if you made any type of mistake that could easily be prevented.
While nothing can thwart accidents, you can possibly lessen the effects.
Hope any of your riding falls will be soft ones and in mossy cushion.
This article is written by The Old Gray Mare of www.DressYourHorse.com.
This Article has been viewed 1,394 times. (Not updated in real-time.)Top-level comments on this article: (3 total)
More great advice, and it just makes me wish I could ride all over again. Yes, I slid down the side of the horse once, so does that count as a fall? We were not safety conscious back when I rode many years ago, and we should have been. Great job.That's funny. I write about falling off and preparing for it and you wish you could ride. Lets not get ahead of ourselves. I'd say you could ride and skip the falling off. Just know not to fall on your head. We expect heaps of additional articles from you yet! Heck, safety years ago? Nope. I have never worn a helmet in my life. Funny thing is, western and dressage and saddlebred and walkers - we don't wear helmets even these days. Oh sure, when we learn to ride the instructors and farms would be smart to insist on helmets but mostly it's ignored. Our technology is such they should incorporate a safety type head covering for all disciplines. Would that I could invent something stylish, I'd get rich.
You put all the great tips together into one package! But I'm afraid it might keep some people from ever getting up on a horse. :) :)
I've fallen four times since I began riding. I've been told I have to fall at least ten times before I can be considered a rider. Well, that last was said to me with some humor. But frankly, I'd be happiest if I never fell again. That isn't really an option though. I know I will fall again.
I did stay on "Lucifer" the other day when he suddenly jigged to the left because the horse standing to the right of us tried to bite Lucifer's face. I was sitting there on his back, calmly relaxed and watching another rider put her horse through her paces when the rudeness occurred. It has always amazed me how quickly such big animals can move when they've a mind to.
Anyway, I enjoyed your article. It made me laugh in a few places ... been there, done that. :) Now I have to check out your articles from the other day.
DianneThank you friend. You've done quite a bit of reading today and I am thrilled you read my horsy stuff. Been on a bit of a writing kick - I think mostly to avoid working on the website right now. Am overwhelmed with all that I have to add.
This article is tough - I mean who wants to even think about falling off the horse. It is the reality though. It's not the norm and we don't ever want to fall off, but we have to face it. It can happen and knowing more is better than knowing nothing. I mean, how many people would know enough to fall into a position not unlike a wooly bear? That is, to roll into a ball on your side with head and arms tucked out of the way. Well duh, you don't want to fall on your spine. You don't want to land on your head or neck or chest or hip. Best to spread the landing to the side of your body and avoid getting stepped on. Lets hope it never comes to this falling bit. Lots of it is a tight seat, and good contact with the horse. Riding is what it is; there's always some danger to most everything we do.
These big guys are mighty nimble footed when they want to be as you learned with Lucifer.
I think I have gone off four times too. Problem is, I went off my beloved Folly (in the ring) yuck yuck. I completed the class but only because I needed Folly to finish. Red faced, yep. Disheartened, yep. Embarrassed, yep. Oh well.I haven't fallen off in the ring ... yet. :) But I've seen others do it. At least the rings usually have better footing and the landing isn't on hardpacked dirt like three of mine were. One fall was in a friends dressage arena as I was practicing for a show. It was almost cushy by comparison. :)
I read online after my first fall about an emergency dismount that is supposed to allow you to put your feet on the ground and step away from your horse. But I've never been able to employ it in my three subsequent falls. Honestly, I don't know that my reflexes would ever be that quick. All my falls, except for the first, have been the result of the horse startling and doing something totally unexpected. No warning.
Oh well, I'll just deal with it as it happens. :)
DianneI'm working on an emergency dismount and emergency stop right now. Find it tough to write so I can explain it properly. I'm getting some help from Action Company - my sales rep is a past instructor and, as a rule, she always taught this to her students at each lesson. The stable was so preoccupied with having a great safety record, that they deemed it necessary to include it with the lessons. They progressed from standing to walking to the rest with the emergency dismount. I find it amazing and a good thing. Not only the dismount but then the kids have to remount. That's also important. Take me for instance. I could no more get up on a horse now without a mounting block than I could do a quick dismount. I think I'd buckle up.I'm so short that getting up on a averaged size horse is hard. That whole knee in the stirrup thing that little kids do is beyond me. Guess my age is a problem too. :)
Basically, the way I read the emergency dismount described was: As you feel yourself about to fall off, completely let go of the reins, get both feet out of the stirrups, lean forward and hug your horse's neck and hold on tight, let your body go to whichever side of your horse that it wants to, when your feet hit the ground you let go of your horse and step away. Yeah right. :)That's about it. Once you know what you should do, that's what you do. But another thing to do is to try to get the horse to go into a turn. Best is to the right. Obviously there could be a problem if you are on a trail and he is bolting. But if he's a runaway, he might come back to his senses. This would work in a field or in an arena. You try to get him to go to the right because it's almost impossible to go hellbent for water when he's not facing front. Other things too but in theory it's easy - in practice it's a different story.I've been told that's called "the one rein ho." And I've actually had to use it on a number of occasions. Everyone keeps telling me that the horse goes where his nose is pointed. So when you pull his nose around to the toe of your boot, he has no choice but to go in a circle. Of course, all of this supposes that he will LET you pull his head around. I'm always amazed that he does! Horses want to be good ... I feel this from them ... it's just that things get a little scary from time to time. Can't blame them really. :) I find things scary from time to time.
The other thing is that you have to have a least a little bit of a clearing in order to use the one rein ho and you can't do it all sudden like or both you and your horse might surely end up on the ground ... maybe him on top of you ... that wouldn't be good. I know a woman who seriously broke her leg from her horse falling on her.
Tell me again why I love to ride. :) :)Exactly right. That's why I said field or arena. The horse isn't going to pick the ideal place to bolt. And like you said, he'll probably won't even respond to getting pulled around if he's taken the bit between his teeth. Whatever - The situation isn't a good one. If he's bolting that doesn't mean he's bad. A bee send Be Calm over the edge. He absolutely went nuts. Fortunately I stayed with him. I don't hesitate for a minute to grab hold of the neck if I have to and hold tight He had this awesome neck and I held on.
Are Prince Charles' fall and Christopher Reeves' fall notable only because of their fame? How frequent are Reeves kinds of injuries? Thanks for this great article.What a great question! There have been very serious falls - some have actually killed the rider outright. There is an inherent risk to riding, as is skateboarding or rollerskating, jogging or even walking. Obviously if riding, and if the horse is moving fast, then the fall becomes that much riskier. The whole point of going through this "knowing how to fall" is to prepare for the possibility, thing about what to do, etc. If the rider is going off, there isn't much to do except go off. But it's important to consciously keep limbs out of the way, avoid falling on the head or back if in any way possible. If it's engrained in your thought processes, you have a better chance of surviving.
In Reeves' case, he was jumping (I believe) when the horse veered - something the horse did. He catapulted off and fell on his head (I think). And wasn't his neck broken? In any case, his was a most serious fall and yes they happen. I believe, however, the numbers of serious injuries are fewer than we might suspect based on luck, proper riding gear, improved helmets, conditioned horse tack and riders taking no unnecessary chances.
I knew a horsewoman very very well for many years. She was a fellow horse driver, showing in pleasure classes and sleigh rallies. She showed a Morgan. This woman was an astute horsewoman, had been for many years. One day her horse bolted, she came out of the carriage in an arc and fell, head first, on a stone. She died at the spot. Unforeseen things can happen, anytime, without warning.
Prince Charles has been in "horse trouble" many times including in the driving obstacle" classes. Falling off makes no distinctions.A prominent dressage rider, Courtney King-Dye, fell off her horse and very nearly died. She was in a coma for a very long time and no one was certain that she would wake up. She was not wearing a helmet because she wasn't going to do any serious work. But you can never know what a horse will do. Because of King-Dye, the United States Equestrian Federation changed it's rules about wearing helmets during competition. Most other organizations followed suit. The club I belong to, Dressage Desperados, has always required a certified hard helmet be worn at our schooling shows whenever you are on a horse. Some people protest, but then they just have to get off. We're pretty darn strict about it.
Obviously, the more risks you take with your horse (jumping and cross country are fairly risky), the more risk you have of a bad fall. Even so, serious falls don't happen as often as you might think. And they usually do make the news. Some don't stay in the news for as long as others though, as was the case with King-Dye. I'm sure fame keeps such things in the news longer and increases the chance that everyone will hear about it.