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October 29, 2013 at 2:11 PMComments: 3 Faves: 0

A Guide to Falling: Shout out to Sierra, the most scareable mare

By Breana Ostrander More Blogs by This Author

Yesterday, for the first (and second) time in my life, I fell off of a horse.

I've been riding since I was 12, when my parents decided I needed a hobby that didn't involve remaining stationary for hours, moving only enough to turn the page of a book. And so came Jack, a bah humbug retired race horse, measuring in at a slightly-too-tall 16 hands, but whose hair color matched mine almost exactly, making any argument for a shorter horse moot. And so I began to horseback ride, never really competing, just happy to sit on Jack while he mosied around the pasture, trail, or arena.

Perhaps because I grew up whining about mucking stalls in the winter, trying to catch flighty horses in pastures, and seeing family and friends get bucked off every once in a while, I never thought much of 'being an equestrian.' It sounds a lot more like 'outdoor chores' to me. As a result, I never really considered myself well-versed in the ways of horseback riding, but when I moved to college I was shocked at how my peers lacked knowledge of any and all things equine. I went to the University of Michigan; weren't these supposed to be the rich kids that got to board horses in fancy stables in New York's countryside? There were a few of those, but not nearly as many as I had thought there'd be. What there were more of were kids that had ridden once, on a trail ride, with a guide who probably gave them a hot cider and a pat on the back afterwards.

Along with the stories of “I went on a trail ride once! It was so fun...” I also heard a lot of stories of kids who went for one ride, on one horse, and inevitably found themselves on the ground very suddenly, and now refuse to go within ten feet of the beasts. I do not like these kids; they're wimps. Don't be one of those kids. You can be better. Here's how:

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1. Wear a helmet. This is a gimme. You're a ridiculous person if you don't wear a helmet while riding a horse. Keep in mind that you're sitting on top of a living breathing thing that can decide he/she doesn't want you on top of them anymore. Is this likely to happen? No. But just in case, you need to wear a helmet. Which brings me to...

2. Horses are people too. Do all people have the same personality? Do all dogs have the same personality? No. The same is true of horses. I would also go so far as to say that they have feelings, although I would also categorize their main feeling as “needing something.” Still, I maintain that horses all have different personalities. For example, Cozy, a very oddly named horse that lives in my parents' barn, is a high-strung, fearful, and bossy gelding. He has been afraid of almost everything at some point in his life, but not so scared that it hinders him from being first in the pecking order. He is not cozy; he is sassy. Then there's Sierra, technically my horse, but I've been thinking about disowning her after yesterday's shenanigans. Sierra is typically calm, stubborn, and the only mare in her herd, so understandably vain. Try to keep personality in mind when choosing a horse to ride.

3. Bareback pads don't always translate well to trail riding. After learning how to ride in a standard Western saddle, I discovered the wonder that is a bare back pad a few years ago. Bare back pads are smaller, lighter, and, if you ask me, cuter than most saddles. The particular one currently residing in our barn is apparently English style (or so my mother says), but what I love about it is that it's really, really easy to put on and cinch up. Bare back pads are also much warmer and allow the rider to feel what the horse is doing based on muscle movement. They also, however, lack stirrups or any kind of stabilizing aspect. So when your horse is very suddenly spooked by the rustling of corn stalks, you 1) won't feel her muscles contracting soon enough and 2) will find yourself on the ground next to said cornstalks while your horse is half way across the field. I would advise only putting a bareback pad on a horse that you're very comfortable with, especially if you're about to go out into a field. This was my main mistake: I'd been riding with the bare back pad all week, just on a different horse.

4. If your sister sighs and says, “I was just worried she would step on your face,” don't panic. I know it's tempting to let your heart start racing, but the danger is actually over. Regardless of the terrible thing your sister may have just said, somehow happily still atop her much more easily spooked gelding, you are okay. Yes, you're sitting in the middle of an untilled corn field, making sure you can still wiggle all of your toes, but you're pretty much okay. Just overall, try not to panic. Your horse is already freaked out, and if you're okay-ish, there's no reason for you to get all riled up too.

5. Fall off the right way. It sounds silly, but there is a right and a wrong way to fall. Three things to remember: relax, roll away, and remain calm. First, relax. I've always found this tip hilarious, because, hi, I'm falling off a horse, and I don't feel very relaxed. One way to do this is make sure your elbows are bent. If they're not, and you land in an unforgiving way, it's likely that you'll break an arm. Next, roll away from the horse. It's tempting to curl up in the fetal position right where you drop, but you're more likely to get stomped on this way. Finally, remain calm. If you scream, or create any kind of big scene, you're only going to scare your horse, not to mention any others around you.

6. Don't let your horse run back to the barn sans you. This is particularly important if you have a nervous mother who scream-cries whenever she thinks something may have gone wrong. In fact, I cannot stress the importance of this point if this is the case with your mother. Also, your horse will probably find a way to get into the grain bin, which means that while you're trudging back to the barn, he or she is triumphantly munching away.

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So if you're wondering, “Are horses more trouble than they're worth?” then you're on the right track. I would absolutely describe them as trouble. However, there are few things nicer than when they nicker at you when you visit them. It's very much a give and take relationship. You give them all your time, you get a nicker. You give them all the apples you had originally picked for apple crisp, they let you take them for a trot now and then. All in all, they're not so bad. And if you do fall off, which you inevitably will if you ride with any consistancy, just get back on. Most likely the horse was spooked by something else, not by you or your inadequacies as a new rider.

Now, if you'll please excuse me, I'm going to ice my...entire right side.

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3 Comments

  • I am one of those people who have only been on a horse twice. My first ride was extremely uneventful.... Almost boring. It was fifth grade camp, and we were kept in close proximity to each other, and by that I mean that if I tried to move my horse to the left side, his head would have hit the horse in front of him. Close proximity. Nothing exciting happened that time.

    Now, fast forward about seven or eight years. Here comes the second time I'm on a horse. Now, at this point, I'm somewhere between 16 and 18, and I am about as awkward a teenager as they come. I had a large body with big feet to go along with it. My feet were so wide, in fact, that they did not fit into my stirrups. I could put the top of my foot into it, but could not get the stirrup into the arch of my foot. This did not prove to be a problem at first. We rode along, taking it easy, and having quite a distance between the horses, giving me a feeling of freedom with my steed. So, on we rode, enjoying ourselves as much as possible. Then, as the horse, who was so broken that he barely raised his head, (Scout was his name, if memory serves), realized he was on the final stretch on the way home, he picked up his pace. At first this was enjoyable. But as he bounced, and I had not developed muscles nor the understanding needed not to kick him as he galloped, he sped up (to no fault of his own). Now, as I had been fighting with my footing the entire trip, my right foot fell out of the stirrup, and as I was trying to put it back, he bounced me about three more times until I fell of his back. (At this point in the story, I used to say that he threw me, but an equestrian corrected me quite severely, so I tailored the story a bit.) I bounced off of him, falling toward the ground, landing squarely on my back. It felt like I landed on a stone, and that it had broken my back. My mother came riding up next to me, got down off of her horse, and came up to me, frantically asking if I was alright. The only words that came to my lips were, "Just leave me here to die."

    As the seconds wore on, it became clear that I only had the wind knocked out of me, but I thought my life was over. And then, as the apologies came flooding in from the guides, (I tried to help them understand that it was not their fault), and as my family calmed down, (and so did I), I came up against a very difficult decision: was I going to get back onto this animal off of which I had already fallen once? I walked next to him for a few feet, but realized my body was aching and didn't want to do that much more. So, the alternative seemed the best choice, and, to use a cliche, I got back on the horse. I then was able to enjoy the rest of the ride with a clearer understanding of how not to have him go faster.

    Now, you might be thinking, I know why that guy has never been on a horse again, and you would be wrong. I have not been afforded the opportunity. I would get back on the horse, literally, if given another chance. But, my circumstances in life have not allowed me to do so. So, at this point, that was the last time I was on a horse, but I do not think it will be the last.

  • Hahaha, that is a great story. I hope that when most people fall off they do it far enough away from their end point, and land hard enough, that they have no choice but to get back on, if only because riding home sounds more appealing than walking. Personally, I feel much safer on a horse's back than on the ground near their feet.

  • Excellent story Rex! I've been horseback 4 times, each was awesome. Best and worst was the same expedition in TN. Amazing woods with a horse that new her way around them and was completely fearless. Terrifying downward slopes all covered in rocks... that we went down. Incredible that an animal that large is that nimble on muddy, rocky mountainside! Then there was the horse who decided to trot through a creek while I was on her. That was a bit painful but also awesome to be up there with water flying everywhere, seriously, like a movie. Yeah, I'll be going back.

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