Monday, January 8, 2007

Fall At Your Feet

I fell off a horse yesterday. I guess after nary a mishap in seven months it was due to happen.

I was riding Huey, who is a much larger horse than my usual mount, the little mare Angel. So right off the bat I was feeling like I was much higher off the ground than usual. His stride is also a lot bigger, so I was feeling like I was bouncing around and a little out of control the entire lesson.

I was cantering on the longe line (a line is attached to the bridle and the trainer has the other end), when Cat Dog ran right in front of the horse and spooked him. He was already going pretty fast and he reared up and jerked his whole body to the outside of the circle. Since I was leaning to the inside of the circle, I completely lost my balance and fell off to the side. I managed to get my right foot out of the stirrup right away and kept hold of the reins while my left foot stayed in the stirrup until the last second. It was a sort of slow motion fall, I didn't land hard but it did scare the crap out of me. After we got him calmed down a bit (and the cat got a good scolding) I got back on and finished the lesson.

Last night my back started to hurt and now where I actually landed on my outer thigh is also sore, but I'm more concerned about the mental after-effects. I know I got back on right away, but the more I thought about it the more upset I became. I switched my lessons to Saturdays because my work schedule is too crazy right now to fit one in during the week, which means I'll probably be riding Huey a lot more.

I could really use some words of wisdom from my horse friends here.
UPDATE: My sincere thanks to all of you who left comments. I think what I am most afraid of is, well, being afraid. I had no sense of fear whatsoever before I fell, I would walk right up to a strange horse and start petting it, or feed a strange horse a carrot or whatever. I would jump right in the saddle on any horse my instructor put in front of me with a "I can do this" kind of attitude. I can't honestly say that anything will have changed when I go back next weekend for another lesson, I hope not, I guess all I can do it keep on keeping on.

The horse I was riding, Huey, was trained for Western Pleasure (which sounds like an all-male Vegas revue!), and they've been converting him -- if that's the right terminology -- to English for a few years now. Because of his early training he tends to start out slow. Really slow. On top of that he is a bit lazy so you have to constant urge him forward, which is just a nice horsey way of saying you have to kick him a lot. I even use a crop when I ride him, because he just.won't.go unless you absolutely show him you mean it. He's also used to being ridden with spurs, so just kicking him doesn't do much. I don't like riding him because it's a lot of work just to keep him at a trot, where I spend most of my lessons; I get exhausted mentally and physically and can't concentrate on my technique.

I definitely plan on leasing Angel when I can switch back to lessons during the week, once my work schedule gets back to normal after the year-end rush and the weather gets more predictable. My trainer said something about leasing Huey, but I just can't imagine it. Yes, Angel is an "easier" horse to ride, but so what? She can also jump so I can really stay with her a long while.


  1. I have no words of wisdom, but I will say two things. First, I admire what you've taken on with such gusto and raw talent. Second, I hope this mishap doesn't deter your zest for horses. As my son said just this evening after running around the neighborhood, "I must be doing it right. It hurts."

  2. I have no wise words either. Just ouch, sorry for that! I was thrown a few times in my horse riding past. It's no fun, but the love wins over the pain and you get back on again.

    (Kind of like IF treatments!) (Well, maybe not really, the rewards are more of a sure thing with horses than with RE's. Maybe I need to rediscover riding!)

  3. Miss Donna,

    It sounds like you have already done the difficult thing - having the courage to get on in the first place. In your writings about riding, I've noticed that the whole "switching horses" dilemma about lessons keeps coming up - which I think is very reasonable on your part. Yes, of course we all want to be the kind of excellent and experienced riders who can get on any horse and feel comfortable, but in reality, the key to your continuing enthusiasm for riding - which in turn leads to the desire to practice and gain experience - is YOUR COMFORT. Not what your instructor or anyone else thinks is appropriate for you, but what you feel comfortable and confident doing. So, my suggestion is a long-term one: I know you're not yet ready to dive in and buy a horse yet, but maybe you should consider leasing a horse (you can lease with others and time-share)so that you can develop a relationship with one specific horse and know the horse's equipment and personality/talents/quirks inside and out. That way you are free to concentrate on your development in each lesson and not on trying to figure out who you're on and what they're going to do at any given moment. Plus, when you have a relationship with a horse that is more specific, it's really a give and take thing on both sides and the horse will become more trusting and less likely to react in an extreme manner when spooked or when asked to do something new.
    Just my two cents, but I really feel from your posts that you are looking for something a little deeper, which is why you enjoy Angel so much.
    And BTW, my horse spooked at a cat in the arena the other day - after he had already been looking at it for a few minutes - and jumped sideways when the cat ran. Since we were at a walk, it wasn't an issue - but it never ceases to amaze me what can trigger that response in even "bombproof" horses.

  4. Hi Donna,

    I'm sorry that happened to you. But it seems to me that the longer you ride, the more chance you have of taking a fall.

    You should be very proud of yourself for getting back up there. Good for you! But it is reasonable certainly (and very sane) to be frightened in the aftermath of that. Horses are big animals. You can get hurt.

    I think that Deva's advice is excellent. If you don't lease your own horse right now, then I would certainly tell my instructor what horse I'm the most comfortable with and stick to that horse so you will then have the comfort level to continue working on your skills. Deva's absolutely right and makes a very important point--it takes a lot of years of experience with horsemanship to be able to just flit about from one horse to the other. I have a friend who is a lifelong horsewoman, a student of classical dressage (in a very serious and high-level way) who will never ride a strange horse. That's the relationship and trust thing that Deva's talking about. And I have that type of relationship with the five out there in my pasture. I know their quirks, but we've developed a level of trust and partnership.

    I also think that you'd feel much more comfortable up there on the longe if you learned an emergency dismount. Have you worked on that with your instructor? If you don't know what that is, let me know, and I'll send you some info from the Pony Club book. Before I began vaulting, it never occurred to me that I could simply get off in the middle of trouble. You should at least know how to roll away from the horse when you land on the ground. As I read your description of what happened, I was cringing, expecting you to be stepped on. Maybe when I go vaulting this weekend, I can get the coach to have us demonstrate that emergency dismount with me or my daughter, and I'll send you or post the video. I'm a little concerned about how you got off of that horse, unless I'm just not understanding what you're saying (and you're a superb writer!)

    Take a deep breath, friend. Don't push it. And Deva's right--ride the horse you're comfortable with. You can ride lots of different horses later if you wish. Or, frankly, buy or lease a horse that suits you and on whom you feel safe, and stick with him/her.

    Sorry I have been so out of touch with you and all of my other blogger friends. I've got too much stuff going on right now. Nothing bad, just busy.

    Take care.


  5. Oh, and despite the trouble he caused you, I'm glad that fluffy orange catdog was not squished.



  6. Sorry about the fall! But you will feel so much better about this whole situation when you get back on the horse. Dont postpone it because it will only prolong this period of anxiety. And we dont want our anxieties to win! As FDR said, we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

    I have a massive phobia about the dentist, which i have been working on, so much so that i've been actually seing the dentist twice a year. ((GASP!)) It's shocking even to say it. But, recently i had to change postpone an appointment due to a conflict with an IF appointment (and we know what takes precedence...suckers.) Anyway, i developed so much anxiety about the postponed dentist visit because of this delay and i realized that i would have had a much easier time if i never changed the appointment. On some level you think maybe it's better to deal with this later, that delay is good. But it's not. It never is.

    It really does pay to get right back on the horse. It nips those fears before they have a chance to grow into scary monsters. And horseback riding is an important passion of yours. You need to get back on that horse! And i know you can. Your love for the sport will see you through.

    God bless and take care, fs

    PS wow, so much a**vice in one post. I suppose you should consider yourself lucky ;)

  7. No advice, just words of encouragement. a friend of mine who recenly got back into horses took a spill and refused to ever get back on. I've taken a fall or two, and it's not fun, but so worth all the hours of complete happiness when things are going well!

  8. I don't ride horses, but I know you did the right thing in getting right back on! I hope you're feeling much better soon, as the bruises and aches heal.

  9. So sorry to hear about the fall.

    I agree with everyone that you must get back on. I think leasing is a great idea as well, but if it's just not possible I would talk to the instructor about a different horse if the trust is gone.

    One of the first lessons I took I was taught to fall off. It seemed strange at first but made a lot of sense later. Of course I haven't gotten to use the technique I was taught because usually the horses I fall off of jump sideways and I stay in the middle. Yea - a great cartoon that would be.

    Hang in there!

  10. Did the horse look back at you with that "What are you doing down there?" expression?

    I hate it when they do that. They act so damned innocent...don't let the long face fool you! I'm convinced they have conversations about how funny people are.

    But everyone's right, of course, get right back on. I agree with leasing a horse, or talking to your instructor about being able to ride one or two horses in particular. If you're riding with a group of people, if you can, try and watch how the other horses behave with them as well as one another. Also, if you can spend any amount of 'extra' time at the barn, just hanging out with the horses and getting to know them better, that will also help any jitters immensely, because even if you haven't ridden them, you'll get a good feel for how they'll behave for you.

    Above all, remember that they're just as nervous about getting a new rider as you are getting a new horse!

  11. I'm going to urge you to get with a horse you feel comfortable with too! The stuff you're describing about having to work him so hard to keep him going, or even to get him started? That is exactly how I fell off when I used to ride and it affected me too. I was fearless before then, and it really bummed me out when I lost that... but as someone said, it's going to happen if you ride. I'm glad you got back up on as well, that's the best thing you can do.

    Lots of good advice here from people who know a lot more about riding than me, but the thing about sticking with your comfort zone is key.

    Ride on, girl!

  12. Good for you for getting back on that horse!
    I fell off a horse once when I was a kid. The saddle became loose and it and me ended up on the underside of the horse. I was ok, and got back on the horse once it was resaddled,but I can't honestly say that I ever went horseback riding again. (That horse must have been holding his breath when he was initially saddled! I'm sure he planned the whole thing.)
    Anyway, I know you will face Huey with courage the next time you have to ride him, but are there any other Saturday horses that you can ride?

  13. ouch! I fell off a horse once when I was a kid too, and it hurts like a mother. And scary to boot. The trail guide we were with was awesome and very smart, though - he had me back on that horse before I even had time to think about what had happened.

    I was going to add the assvice of "If you don't fall, you're not trying hard enough," which I apply to myself when skiing and ice skating. But reading through the comments from the horse-knowledgable, that seems like it may not apply here. ;) Good for you for getting back on and working through the fright. Cheers!

  14. First, I love that song by Crowded House 'Fall at Your Feet', but not for what it can mean to horse people.

    It is my first visit to your blog (what took me so long!) and I am bummed to hear about your fall.

    Here is the gig though-I have done this same thing 2x the last 14 months or so. Horse spooked, I was off balance, fell off. It damaged my ego more than my body, but I got back on. I believe things happen for a reason and we are supposed to learn something from every encounter. At least I tell myself that when I come off.

    There is something to be said for riding a lazy horse. I like taking lessons on lazy horses because mine are much more responsive. I figure if I can get a lazy horse to do it, I can simplify the aids on my own horse. And there is HUGE reward in getting a lazy horse to perform and light on the aids.

    However, I agree, if you want to be more comfortable, tell your instructor and make the time for that other horse. But horses that fail to challenge us don't improve us. I owe my advancement in riding to horses that just kept pushing me to ride more and be better. A few times I almost got scared away.

    That said, I DO NOT get on a horse that I cannot trust. I want to watch the owner ride it, I want to observe its behavior, then I make my decision.

    Good luck. I will come back often and read.

  15. Hope you have gotten over your soreness and have 'gotten back on that horse'.....
    I love the title of this one...CH song, don't ya know. ;)

  16. I took a trip to the Anza-Borrego desert last weekend and thought of you as I passed a few horse farms. I don't know if it was the sight of the horses or just being alone in the desert, but when a little pack of them started to run, I welled up with tears. I hope to follow your lead some day (no pun intended) and learn to ride myself.

    Thanks a jagillion for the music, BTW. I LOVE LOVE LOVE it!


  17. Yeah, I know nothing about horses, but I'm guessing that while some think that you should probably learn to ride all sorts of horses, I say if you're not comfortable riding Huey, you should totally ask to train on a different horse if it's possible. You're paying for lessons to succeed, not fail. But you're doing great for getting back up on the horse.

  18. Hi, just stumbled onto your blog and felt like I was visiting with an old friend... :) I'm Christie, or Hummingbird, or just Birdie. You know what I was told way back when? You're not considered a horsewoman until you've fallen or been thrown 7 times! :)I used to ride, a lot. It was my passion all throughout my childhood and adolescence. I did dressage worked at a horse camp (western) in the summer. So loved it. Went ass over tea kettle a number of times (even broke my nose!) when a horse spooked or just refused a jump. Always scared me but I always was forced to get back on. Lots of lessons with satanically, sadistic teachers (whom I absolutely adored) who would make us work on our 'seats' by doing posting trot for 45 minutes, bareback. Yegads! Best advice I can give you is get back on that horse! It isnt just the fact that to sit atop a large (huge) animal is brave (or crazy) Or the fact that what you learn when you ride horses is so much more than horses, and so much about the Self, and life. Its about communication, learning confidence and being deeply connected to your own body. Its about learning to control your mind. There is a kind of zen there...But its also that magical quality of melding two different species, to become a symbiotic unit, to learn what it means to trust... It cant be qualified or quantified by words. Brave woman, keep at it. Its the magic you are chasing. Dont let fear get in the way of that. I havent been on a horse in years. I envy you and wish so much to get back to it. I live in BC in the Gulf Islands....

  19. Hi again D, thanks for your lovely comment. Am adding you to my blogroll too. Hope to see you often. You write very wel, BTW :: Bird.

  20. The first fall off of a horse is always scary! (or kick, rear, etc.) I’m glad that you got back on and finished the lesson. Unfortunately even the most docile horse (IE if you leased one for comfort or security) can spook or throw you. (They are unpredictable these beautiful creatures.)

    The nice part about riding multiple horses is you can become well rounded, since, like us, every horse has their own personality and “quirks”. I found when I ride the same horse for long periods I get into a pattern that may be great for that horse, but it takes me a bit of time to adjust to a new one. I totally agree with learninghorses that the horses that challenge you often teach you the most.

    I also agree that it’s important to learn how to fall, as well as emergency dismounts. It’s also good to know what to do in other emergency situations. (IE if a horse ever starts running out of control, taking you along with it...)

    Horses are very good at picking up your vibes so take it slow and evaluate your concerns. I would definitely talk to the instructor about your comfort level—but don’t be afraid of a challenge now and then.

    I hope that you keep on riding—the pros definitely outweigh the cons!

  21. Hey there - sorry for your fall . it happens . i can relate to your fear issues . You know i'm a farrier - when i first started 16 years ago i got KICKED LIKE HELL by a horse totally by surprise . i had his front shoes on and finished and has both rear shoes on and was finishing the rear - when all of a sudden He kicked - everything went in total slow motion . Kicked me square in the knee . Well the whole experience left me spooked in a big way - every time i got under a horse to shoe it all it had to do was sneeze or blow snot and i'd be climbing off the rafters . Took me about 6 months before i got settled down from that and could put it behind me ( mentally ) physically i couldn't kneel on my leg for a full year , kneeling is one of my favorite positions . Well after i could finally kneel i couldn't stand back up on it until i massaged the KINK out and it would pop like a firecracker before i could stand - so alot of time has lapsed and now i sometimes can't remember which leg i got kicked at .. Don't think your fall is too serious that you won't get over it quickly enough
    take care