After a fall, you’ve probably heard that you have to just “get back up on the horse.” Is it really true, or just an old wives’ tale?
(top image from HorseJunkiesUnited)
After you’ve been riding a certain amount of time, falls and accidents are inevitable. We all know you’re supposed to get right back on if possible—but what if you can’t because you’re injured or it really is unsafe? Will you be traumatized forever? Are you a bad rider? Or a wuss? I decided to do some research.
According to Discovery Health, when you experience something traumatic, your brain reacts with a surge of adrenaline for a fight, flight or freeze response. Then once the danger has passed, your brain relaxes…until it recognizes an environment similar to the one that caused your accident.
For me, it was cantering in corners. At one of my first shows as a kid, my green horse tripped and fell on me as we cantered out of a line of jumps—unbeknownst to me as a beginner rider without much feel, we came out on the wrong lead, and he tripped trying to balance himself around the corner. In this case, I was more or less unhurt, and able to get back on to compete in another division. But for months after, a deep part of me associated terrible things happening with cantering in corners.
My heart would race, even though objectively I knew everything was fine. I tensed up, giving my horse an excuse to get worried—and that just made me more nervous. It was a vicious cycle. Yet I thought I had done everything right—I got back on after I fell, and I tried to muscle my way through my fear.
Eventually I felt comfortable again, but “faking it till you make it” doesn’t always work. In my case, my fear was more in my mind than reality, but if you really do fear for your safety, getting back in the saddle might not be the best idea. I’m no psychologist, and even the experts at the American Psychological Association say there’s no one tried-and-true way to overcome a traumatic event.
Their advice is to just do what you feel comfortable with. That’s ambiguous, and hard to deal with when others at your barn may be going along, business as usual—trail riding, doing 2’6” courses and riding green horses like it’s no big thing, when you have that niggling fear in the back of your mind, whether it’s rational or not.
There are a lot of ways you can overcome that lingering fear—from “faking it till you make it” to backtracking and taking baby steps to build up your confidence, or even taking a hiatus from riding until you feel you can tackle it again.
What’s worked for you? Share in the comments.