rider falling off horse going over jump

How to Fall Off a Horse & What to Do If It Happens

If you’ve fallen off your horse countless times, welcome to the club. No matter how well or how long you ride, falling is inevitable. Even professional riders fall often. As you become a more experienced rider, you’ll also become more experienced at falling. Falls aren’t always preventable, but the fear of falling shouldn’t keep you from riding. You can learn techniques to protect yourself and ways to practice falling safely so you’re prepared when your horse crashes into a jump or startles and bolts. We have years of experience riding, which means we’ve also fallen a lot. So we have plenty of tips to share on how to prevent a fall to the best of your ability and how to fall off a horse well when it happens.

Dangers of falling off a horse 

Falling off a horse can be dangerous, and it’s important to learn how to fall well to incur minimal injury. This should encourage you to ride safely, but it shouldn’t scare you from riding. Like any sport, riding presents a risk, but according to Dr. Sara L. Mastellar of Ohio State Univerisity’s Equine Faculty, the risk is low compared to football, basketball, or baseball. But Dr. Mastellar also reveals that even though horseback riding is a low-risk sport, when injuries do occur, they are often severe. Injuries from riding result in more hospitalizations than hockey and are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury from sports in adults. 

In 1995, Christopher Reeve, the actor known for his role as Superman, fell from his horse that decided to stop abruptly as it approached a jump at a competition. Reeve fell headfirst and was paralyzed from the neck down and in a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. A fall just a centimeter to the left would have been fatal, and a centimeter to the right would have only led to a concussion. Fortunately, the majority of falls leave us just a little sore but able to get right back in the saddle. However, we can’t predict which way or how hard we’re going to fall, so every time we get thrown from a horse, we should protect ourselves with the proper form and protective equipment. 

How to prevent falling off a horse

Most of the reasons we fall off our horses are unpredictable, which is why even the best riders fall and why falling is difficult to prevent. Your horse might get startled and buck you off or refuse to complete a jump and stop suddenly. Neither would you see coming, but both would send you flying. However, there are things you can do to make you less prone to falling and to maintain your balance on your horse. 

  • Ride attentively. Pay attention to your horse and your surroundings. Try to read and respond to your horse’s body language, doing your best to keep him calm or distract him from anything that might startle him. 
  • Maintain good posture in the saddle. Good posture helps your control your horse and stay securely in your saddle. Your back should be straight, eyes ahead, shoulders relaxed, core engaged, and heels down. 
  • Don’t overestimate your ability. Don’t try to advance before you’re ready or to complete jumps that are more advanced than you’ve practiced. If you ride beyond your ability, you will have less control over the horse and will not be able to guide him well. 
  • Stay fit. Riders who are more flexible and have stronger cores are better at maintaining balance and holding tight with their thighs when a horse is spooked or bucks. Strong riders are also better at tucking and rolling and protecting their heads and necks when they fall.
  • Maintain control. Your horse should get the sense that you are the one in control. You should maintain a relaxed but firm control over the reins. He should know that he’s not supposed to stop or go unless you tell him to. 
  • Warm up well. Just as you wouldn’t expect to run well without a proper warm-up, your horse can’t be expected to perform as well without a warm-up either. Allow your horse to practice smaller jumps before a competition, as you practice sustaining good posture and balance.
  • Make sure your tack is properly fitted. Your chances of falling increase if your saddle isn’t fitted properly or your feet slip from the stirrups. Learn how to measure for an English saddle or contact The Farm House to help you find the right fit for your horse. 

How to fall off a horse 

When you fall from your horse, you only have a split second to act. Before you land, remember three steps–let go, tuck, and roll. 

1. Let go of the reins and kick your feet from the stirrups. 

As soon as you realize you’re going to fall, free yourself from your horse and accept the fall. Let your horse run away and retrieve him later. If you hold onto the reins after you fall, you’ll likely get stepped on, dragged, or kicked, causing many broken bones or life-threatening injuries. 

2. Tuck your chin and knees toward your chest, and bend your arms up to protect your head.

As soon as you start to fall, curl up like a rolly polly and tense your muscles, with your chin and knees tucked inward. It’s a common misconception to relax into the fall, but it’s important to maintain muscle tension to maintain a sturdy tucked position. Don’t let your arms flail outward, but put them over your head to protect it. It’s better to injure your arms or break your wrists than suffer trauma to your head or neck. When you hit the ground, do your best to absorb the impact with your shoulder to protect your neck. 

3. Roll away from your horse. 

Rolling distributes the force on your body upon impact and gets you out of the trample zone. As you roll, keep your muscles tight, holding your curled position until you stop. 

How to practice falling off a horse

None of us is eager to volunteer to fall off a horse, but it’s a good idea to train to fall so you can become a safer rider. If you practice falling from a horse, there are two things you should never do–practice alone or practice on hard surfaces. The best way to gain practice falling is under the close supervision of experienced professionals. Some coaches offer Horse Rider Fall Safety Training, where they use dummy horses and gymnastic mats, so you can experience falling softly without the risk of injury. Training helps the proper tuck-and-roll movements become second nature, so you won’t have to recall how to fall as it’s happening. As you gain experience, the coaches will gradually increase the height and distance of your falls. 

What to wear to minimize injuries if you fall off a horse

In addition to tucking and rolling when you fall, you should never ride without the following protective gear. 

1. An ASTM/SEI-approved riding helmet

In the show ring, it’s mandatory to wear a helmet that has undergone testing and meets standards set by ASTM International. But for your safety, you should wear a protective helmet any time you ride. According to the American Medical Equestrian Association, ASTM/SEI-approved helmets have reduced all head injuries from riding by 30% and severe head injuries by 50%. Remember that after your helmet has experienced the impact of a crash, you will need to replace it. 

Learn how to choose the best riding helmet or choose from our list of 5 safest riding helmets

2. A protective riding vest 

A protective riding vest is mandatory for cross-country riding and has been proven to reduce injury. Protective vests and air vests are designed to protect your ribs and internal organs if you fall. While these aren’t mandatory for most riding if you’re trail riding or show jumping, wearing a protective vest is a very good idea. 

Learn the top reasons children should wear an air vest, or choose a protective vest from 10 of the best riding vests or 4 top safety air vests for kids

3. Riding boots

Although we don’t often think of it, our riding boots contribute to our safety. They help us maintain stability and prevent our feet from slipping out of the stirrups. To ensure optimal protection, riding boots must have a 1-inch heel.

Choose a new pair of boots from 12 of our favorite riding boots

What to do after a fall

  1. Check for injuries. If you are hurt, get help. If someone is nearby to help you, don’t try to go after your horse or brush off the pain and start riding again. You could aggravate your injuries by trying to be brave and ignore them. 
  2. If you aren’t hurt, find your horse and get back in the saddle. This will reassure you and your horse that you’re ok and that you don’t need to be scared to start riding again. 
  3. Evaluate your fall. Think about whether or not you tucked and rolled successfully or if you made any mistakes falling that you should try to remember to correct the next time. 
  4. Replace your helmet. After an impact, the helmet’s integrity has been compromised, and it needs to be replaced. Helmet manufacturers recommend you replace your helmet after any fall, regardless if you hit your head or not. Learn more about how to care for your helmet and when to replace it

The better you know your horse, the more instinctively you’ll know what spooks or intimidates him and how to calm him down. Learning about your horse and how to communicate with him effectively will help you become a rider and will make your horse happy too. Here are a few resources to help you get to know your horse and care for him well.

Disclaimer: The tips we’ve provided can help prevent injury should you fall off your horse, but there’s always a risk of injury if you fall, no matter how well you follow them. We hope this information helps you fall safely, but we can’t guarantee that you won’t get injured, and The Farm House assumes no responsibility or liability for injuries that occur.

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