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The Realities of Falling Off Your Horse

Submitted by member: Brandi

I would LOVE to see a story on what professionals think about falling off.  What is their real attitude on it?  How often do they fall? What do they expect out of students in relation to falls? What have they learned over the years? I am not talking about accidents, but how does falling due to a riding mistake play into their overall picture of development as a rider…or does  it? And do they ever fall off now?  Of course any advice for morals would be great.

I am an adult rider, and I have always been ultra cautious my whole life.  I was raised that you DO NOT fall off….so I would go YEARS and YEARS between falls.  In the last year I have decided that I am going to really get serious about my showing at a higher level.  I bought a very nice, near push-button horse….and I ride daily, lesson bi-weekly, show often, and study all the time.  That said, as the fences go up, courses are harder, and I ride with more demanding clinicians, I have found that I have fallen off a lot more (3 times in a year) in the course of going outside my comfort zone.  All VERY controlled falls—”learning falls” I would call them—but it still really bothers me.  In my amateur mind, good riders don’t EVER fall off.

Answer by Linda Allen

I doubt very much that anyone ENJOYS falling, be they amateur or professional.  But, honestly, unless you restrict all your riding to simple arena or trail riding on only the most bomb-proof, older horses, I doubt that any rider can go forever without the odd involuntary dismount.  It isn’t particularly surprising that you’ve experienced a few falls since you have begun to challenge yourself with more difficult jumping courses.  You just don’t want to make a habit of it!  My question would be what kind of falls have you had?  Do they result from becoming a bit “loose” in the tack after a bigger effort by your horse over a jump?  Did your horse put in a refusal that surprised and unseated you?  Or, did you just part company with a spook or quick turn that took you totally by surprise?  Even your “push-button” horse, if he has experience competing at a higher level, will move and jump quicker and with more power than what you might have ridden up to now.

When a rider falls as a result of a refusal or run-out, it is essential that both the insecurity of the rider and the reason for the “denial” by the horse are addressed before continuing on.  Simply hoping that the refusal won’t happen again is a poor response!  A run-out is purely a ‘steering’ issue.  Even the nicest of horses can quickly learn that an approach to a fence offers two options: over or around.  The rider should ALWAYS correct any attempt to go to the side of the jump—immediately and with determination—by keeping the horse on the correct line, or by bringing the horse directly back to the center of the fence where your horse should have jumped from if he was successful in avoiding it. Circling away from the jump after a run-out is something I hate to see as a trainer or coach.  Punishing the horse AS he passes by a jump only leads to quicker duck-outs in the future.

A direct stop in front of a jump is a totally different story.  This type of refusal almost always results from the horse: a) being confused due to the rider’s interference in the last stride or two;  b) an inappropriate pace or balance for the take-off spot arrived at (note that I did NOT say a BAD spot!);  or, c) a real lack of confidence on the part of the horse and/or rider to successfully negotiate the jump on that attempt.  The rider either needs to correct the problem on the next approach or drop back on the degree of challenge being attempted.  Never risk creating a lasting problem with an otherwise willing horse.

While the odd unexpected fall can and does happen to even a seasoned professional, if your falls have resulted from a fundamental weakness in your position —one that might not have shown up over smaller jumps and simpler courses—it is something that you should address immediately.  I see far too many riders at competitions looking very precarious in their position.  These riders take far more than their share of falls when their horse’s ability to jump and turn exceeds their security in the saddle, experience, and reflexes. Riding is an active sport and requires good core strength, an ability to regain one’s balance in the occasional tricky situation, along with a feel for what your horse is thinking and doing under you. These come through good coaching, practice, and thoughtful progression in the challenges put in front of you.  If you hate to hit the ground as much as I did riding, you will work hard to minimize the situations that might result in a fall, while developing the skills that will keep you on top of your horse in all but the most rare and unexpected circumstances. Those rare occasions we all accept and learn to deal with as part of the sport, at least according to every rider (pro and amateur) that I’ve asked since getting your great question.

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Linda Allen

Linda Allen (Hunter, Jumper, Course Design) - is an accomplished Olympic Course Designer, Clinician, Judge, Equestrian Facility Design Consultant and Author. For more than 45 years, Linda has been a fixture in the Equestrian Industry. Linda is an FEI Official International Course Designer, FEI Certified Steward and Course Director for Show Jumping and US Equestrian Federation "R" Course Designer for Jumpers and Hunters. She is a USEF Registered Judge for Jumpers, Hunters and Hunt Seat Equitation, Foreign Judge for FEI Events in Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Italy and Saudi Arabia and has been Member and President of the Ground Jury for multiple World Cup Finals and World Equestrian Games events. Visit her website:

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