If you ride horses, there’s one thing that’s pretty much inevitable; you will fall off one day. No matter how careful you are in your selection of mount or in the activities you take part in, there’s no guarantee that you won’t make an unscheduled dismount at some point. Even participants in the most sedate disciplines like dressage aren’t immune. I’ve seen many riders unceremoniously decanted mid-test, especially if the event was outside on a windy day.
So how do you fall off “correctly” and hopefully avoid injuring anything but your pride?
Avoid the issue in the first place!
First and foremost, choose a horse which fits your current skill level and ride it in an environment which is safe for both of you. Before you set off, check that your girth is tight enough – horses are very adept at “blowing out” and you can easily end up with a girth that’s two holes too loose as soon as you’re on board. Make sure that your stirrups are equal and the correct length for what you are going to be doing. It’s much easier to stay in balance and control whilst stationary so try to avoid having to adjust them once you’ve set off.
If you are a novice, don’t take a flighty horse out hacking on a wild and windy day when it will be at its most spooky. This sounds very obvious but you’d be surprised just how many people make that mistake and live to regret it later.
When out hacking, always be aware of your surroundings and look well ahead for potential hazards which could cause your horse to spook so that you can prepare well in advance and ride accordingly. Never sit daydreaming and admiring the scenery or chatting on your mobile phone with your reins in one hand at the buckle end! Sit correctly in the saddle and make sure that you are in control at all times.
If you’re equipped with proper safety kit, you are less likely to sustain serious injury if you do come off.
Always wear a hard hat. I know that you often see very experienced riders (who should know better) riding without a hat. If you fall off, it’s highly likely that your head will hit the ground and even if you’re riding on a soft surface you could suffer concussion. If you are not wearing any sort of protective headgear, the outcome could be a whole lot worse than just a headache. Never ride out on the roads without a hard hat.
If you are a beginner or you’re going to be doing fast work or jumping, it’s a good idea to wear a body protector. This will save you from severe bruising and will offer some protection for your spine if you fall.
Wear riding boots with a proper 1” heel. This will prevent your foot from slipping right through the stirrup iron should you lose your balance. Always set the stirrup bars on your saddle in the safety release position. If you fall off with your foot stuck through the stirrup and the leather does not come away from the saddle, you risk being dragged along the ground which could panic your horse and lead to a very nasty accident.
Not everyone likes wearing gloves when riding but they do give you greater grip on the reins especially in wet weather or if your hands sweat in the summer. They will also prevent nasty blisters should your horse pull.
Okay; so the unthinkable has happened and you know that you’re about to fall off. Do you hang on to the reins or let go? This largely depends on where you are and how fast your horse is moving at the time. If you’re in an enclosed arena, it’s usually best to let go. If you’re out hacking, you should try to keep hold of your horse if you can. The last thing you want is for your horse to run for home across roads or other dangerous areas. Obviously, if the horse is bolting or bucking, you’ll have to let him go to prevent yourself becoming entangled or dragged.
How to fall
First of all, kick away your stirrup irons. Hopefully, you will just slither out the side door and end up sitting on your backside unhurt but hoping that there were no witnesses. Your horse will be standing nearby (probably grazing), and wearing a smug grin.
If however your fall happens at speed, try to curl up into a ball and roll out of harm’s way as soon as you hit the deck. Don’t put your arms out to try to save yourself as you will probably break a collar bone or wrist; instead, fold them across your chest. Bend your knees as you land and roll away from the horse. Don’t try to land with straight legs and stand upright as you risk breaking an ankle.
Lie still for a few minutes to get your breath back. Sit up slowly and make sure that you’re uninjured. If all’s well, by all means remount and carry on with what you were doing but if you were knocked unconscious (even for a few seconds) or are in any pain, seek help immediately. There’s no point in trying to be a hero if you’ve broken a bone or are suffering from concussion.
When you’ve had chance to recover, think carefully about why you fell off in the first place so that you can avoid the same situation arising again.