Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Art of Falling Off

The Art of Falling Off

Believe it or not, there is an art to falling off your horse. Falling off is never enjoyable, however, you can learn to fall in ways that will minimize the impact of your injuries. This particular post is not meant to frighten you but to show how to be prepared in the event of a fall.

Pre-Flight Checklist

Before mounting your horse there are a few items I call the pre-flight checklist, this pre-check may help you go from a major to a minor injury:

  1. Make sure your riding helmet has a flexible brim. Your helmet may strike your nose in a fall; your nose has less chance of being broken with a flexible brim. Also, be sure your helmet has a secure harness to keep it on your head in the event of a mishap.

  1. Your stirrups should be wide enough for your boot to slide out easily but not too wide that it can slip through the stirrup. In addition, wearing a boot with a heel will prevent sliding through. Breakaway stirrups might also be considered.

  1. Check your girth and make sure it is secure enough so the saddle will not spin under the horses belly when you put your foot in the stirrup while mounting.

  1. The stirrup bar under the saddle flap where the stirrup leather slides onto it, has a moveable bar at the end, this is always in the down position, in order that the stirrup leather can slide off in the event of an accident and you will not be dragged.

  1. Make sure the bridle and reins are buckled and attached properly, if the reins become unattached, you will have lost control of the horse.

  1. Never use a cell phone when riding; it is unprofessional, and just as dangerous as talking while driving a car, (my opinion only). How can you give full attention to your horse if you are focused on a phone conversation? Cell phones should be put on vibrate (no interrupting bells or whistles), which may spook the horse. When riding alone, or on the trails you may abruptly part company with your horse, a cell phone will enable you to call for help. Phones should be kept on your person, not on a horse headed for home. Have emergency numbers and the barn numbers programmed into the phone.

  1. Here’s a little tip you won’t find in a professional handbook, never ever Show Sheen your horse before saddling, or worse yet prior to a bareback ride. This is commonly known as “the quickest ride in town” or “on one side off the other”.

Be Prepared ‘Just In Case’

Below are some scenarios that may arise and some suggestions that may help to minimize injuries:

If you feel yourself becoming unbalanced on your horse grab mane or a nifty little item called a grab strap that attaches to the front of the saddle. It could help to avoid a fall and get you resettled.

A friend of mine once used ‘grab mane’ in the most unusual way but it kept her from hitting the ground. Jan lost her balance and was hanging off the side of her horse. What did she do, you ask. She grabbed mane, with her teeth and pulled herself back up into the saddle. This may be the single most inventive way of grabbing mane, but it worked. At times, you have to do whatever it takes to save yourself.

One of the most important things not to do when you begin falling is to break your fall with outstretched arms or legs, although it is a natural reaction, you might break a few bones. The general consensus is to keep your wits about you, make an effort to use the tuck and roll position. This serves two purposes; it helps you land safely without broken bones, rolls you away from the hooves of the horse preventing you from being stepped on, and takes you out of the path of a falling horse.

If you become unseated and are not injured get up as quickly as possible and take hold of your horse’s reins. Most horses will stand quietly for a few moments wondering where you went. This may well be the only opportunity you have to catch him before he heads for the hills. Catching him quickly is important, otherwise, I can guarantee that he will be back at the barn causing havoc or munching hay long before you get back. On the other hand, if you are in a ring there is no rush, as he is not in imminent danger. Under no circumstances should you move or try to get up if you are seriously injured.

One trail riding mishap comes to mind concerning this scenario. My daughter was riding along a wooded trail, to the right of the path was a felled tree, her horse spooked sideways, she became unseated and landed in the tree’s upward reaching branches, and then promptly fell out of the tree. Technically, she really did not fall off her horse but fell out of a tree. Luckily, her horse just stood there eyeing her as if she was a most foolish girl dangling in tree branches. Her riding companion could certainly have helped, but unfortunately, she was laughing so hard, aiding my daughter was impossible.

One other reminder, if you do fall off, let go of the reins immediately. Holding onto the reins could result in a dislocated shoulder or being dragged or stepped on. You never know how a horse will react; the reins you are grasping may pull on his mouth and upset him even more.

During a schooling lesson prior to a show, I encountered a similar situation. The ring was very muddy with puddles everywhere. I had the perfect distance to a jump, my horse put in an extra half step, threw me off balance but we both landed on the other side of the jump. He was on all four legs and I was on my stomach, still holding onto the reins. Erik dragged me for a few steps before he realized I was no longer aboard and stopped. When I stood up, I looked like the creature from the Blue Lagoon or Swamp Thing. Fortunately, the mud was soft and squishy, and I should have let go of the reins, but it never entered my mind at the time. The ride home was no picnic either.

Some Amusing Falls

Here’s one that stand out in my mind. My eldest daughter was in a lesson when the horse stopped dead in front of a jump. She somersaulted over his head, landed on the other side of the jump and stuck the landing; still holding the reins and facing the horse, she took a bow and said “Tah, Dah”.

One of our trainer's daughter was a bit of a know it all, and was showing off one day when she was unceremoniously deposited in a manure puddle face first. Should I have laughed…..probably not?

Then there was the time my daughter was too lazy to walk her horse in from the back paddock. The setup: one very hot day, slick wet grass, riding bareback with halter and rope. The deed: Riding at a walk towards the gate, all the other horses start galloping towards the gate; he decides to join the herd. In a flash, she is flying through the air faster than a speeding bullet, just like superman, landing and sliding tummy first on the wet grass, hands splayed in front of her. Really, she just needed the cape. Naturally, the construction crew working on the barn really appreciated this to break up their day.

Although it wasn’t laughable at the time, I can appreciate the humor of it now. During a jumping lesson my horse Erik pulled out of a jump and stopped for a split second, I sat back to regroup, from almost a standstill we then sailed brilliantly over the 4ft. standard beside the jump, I slid off his back to land on mine. My helmet took the impact to my head before careening across the arena. The truth is I never wore a helmet with a harness for vanities sake; the look just didn’t do it for me. Since that day, I have always worn a helmet with a harness.

One more, the time Dusty cantered off as I was mounting; of course, I landed in the dirt. When my head hit the frozen ground I bit down hard on my tongue, then she came over and stomped on my foot. Nice mare. With my swollen tongue and throbbing foot, it was not my best day. With the limp and the lisp everyone probably thought, “poor thing, she must have had a mild stroke”.

Falling is not enjoyable, but most times the falls are not as dramatic as you would think they are bound to be. Almost everyone will fall eventually; perhaps if it happens to you, things will not be as dreadful as you imagine. Do not dwell on what might happen, but if it does, at the very least you should be somewhat prepared for the event.

Until next time

Quote for Today

The horse stopped with a jerk, and the jerk fell off
- Jim Culleton

Sorry I couldn’t resist that one!

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