It doesn’t matter if it’s your first day in the saddle or if you’ve been riding all your life—you’re going to fall off your horse. Falling is a part of horseback riding, and if you jump, race, or trail ride, you’re even more likely to take a tumble now and again. Horses are unpredictable animals, and even our best trained equines can bolt, buck, or spook without warning. There’s no such thing as a “safe fall” when it comes to traveling on the back of a 1,000+ pound animal, but there are techniques riders use to decrease the risk of serious injury.
The first step in making your fall as safe as possible is to be prepared for the inevitable. There is always risk associated with riding horses. Skill and experience have their benefits, but they aren’t always enough to keep you safely in the saddle. Before you mount, make sure you’ve taken these steps to stay safe.
- You’re wearing an ASTM-approved helmet.
- Your boots have a 1″ heel to stop your feet from slipping through the stirrups.
- You’ve chosen a horse that matches your skill as a rider.
- You double-checked your girth and cinch.
- You are focused and in control.
The Best Way to Fall Off a Horse
Once you hit that point of no return, you have a split second to think about the fall and what you need to do. Every fall will be different, but if you already have an emergency plan of action tucked in your brain, it will eventually be second-nature to move your body and fall in the safest way possible. The art of how to fall off a horse has been studied by experts, and there are definite ways you can help yourself avoid broken bones and serious injuries.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Kick both feet from the stirrups so you don’t end up dangling upside down with your face near your horse’s hooves.
- Decide whether it’s best to hold on to the reins or let go. You don’t want to hold on and be drug by your bolting horse, but if you’re outside, you also don’t want your horse to get away from you and put themselves in danger. If you’re in doubt, however, it’s always best to lose the reins. Hanging on could cause injury to both you and the horse if the fall ends up being worse than you think.
- Resist the instinct to stick your arms out to break your fall. That’s a good way to break your wrists and potentially your arm. Instead, tuck your limbs in close, touch your chin to your chest, and aim for hitting the ground with the backside of your shoulder first. Then you can roll onto your back or butt.
The key to how to safely fall off a horse is directing the bulk of the impact away from the most fragile parts of your body. There’s no way your wrist can withstand the combined pressure of gravity, momentum, and your body weight. That’s why it’s best to keep your hands and arms tucked in to your side.
You also want to protect your head (even when you’re wearing a helmet). Your shoulder is the best place to land because it’s strong, but make sure you hit the ground with your shoulder blade and not the back of your neck. Your somersault should end up looking slightly crooked as you direct your momentum away from your neck and spine.
After the fall, take a minute to inspect yourself. Your adrenaline will be so high you might not immediately notice you’ve been hurt. If you suspect you’ve broken a bone, hit your head, or seriously bruised something (besides your ego), it’s always best to take a short break until you can be sure you’re okay. Riding with an injury will only make that injury worse.
The next step is to make sure your horse is okay. There was a reason why they threw you off, and if they fell on a trail or while jumping, they could be hurt. You also want to make sure your horse didn’t bolt after the drama of the fall.
If both you and your horse seem to be in good shape, the only thing to do is get back in that saddle. Falling off a horse can be a scary, even a traumatic, experience, but it shouldn’t scare you away from the sport. Think about what happened before and during the fall so you can avoid making the same mistakes on your next ride.