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A How-To Guide to Getting Back on After a Fall

When it comes to horses, what goes up always comes down, sooner or later. Hilary Walesch shares some advice on getting back on the horse, both literally and metaphorically.

Photo: Flickr/carterse/CC

Photo: Flickr/carterse/CC

If you ride horses you also fall off of horses. It’s inevitable really. Just like any other thing in life, you’re not going to be doing everything perfect 100% of the time. And unfortunately for us equestrians our mistakes usually end with us unintentionally flying through the air.

It hurts, it knocks the breath out of you, it leaves you feeling like you’ve failed, like your skills are inadequate, and it shakes your confidence. But if you decide to devote a significant amount of time to learning how to ride a horse then you also need to devote some time to learning how to get back on when you fall, because you will fall. So, how do you do that?

After 15 years of riding, and falling, off of horses, I’ve come up with three steps to help make the process of getting back on a little easier.

1. Assess the damage.

2. Stand up and brush the dirt off.

And 3. Ask for a leg up.

It’s still going to hurt, you’re confidence and possibly your whole body will probably still be a little shaky, but as soon as you get back on and get back into the groove, you’ll realize why you do it even with the risks.

The worst fall I’ve had was about four years ago. I was riding one of my favorite horses named Slim Jim, which was fitting because he kind of looked like one. He was a huge thoroughbred, with long skinny legs and a deep chestnut coat that resembled the same dark reddish color of the beef jerky snack.

Slim and I were in the middle of a jumping lesson and we were on a roll. My trainer wanted to call it a day, but of course, I said the most cursed words in the horse world, “one more time.”

When done right, the feeling is indescribable; unfortunately, this was not one of those times. I took the first jump too early which messed up the distance to the second jump, which resulted in me losing my balance and accidentally kicking him as we landed, and let me tell you, he was pissed. This anger was expressed in a very enthusiastic buck that threw my already unbalanced body right into the dirt.

Which brings me to my first step, assess the damage, aka make sure you’re still alive. First things first, breathe, because more than likely, you’ve gotten the wind knocked out of you. Now it’s time to run through a mental checklist, can you wiggle your toes? What about your fingers? How’s your tailbone feeling? Do you know your name?

This is the point at which famous equestrian and trainer, George Morris’s, voice should be going through your head, “You either go to the hospital or you get back on, hospital or on!” If you’ve decided that you are in fact alive, and do not need medical assistance you’re ready for step two.

I can tell you from experience, dirt tastes bad. Not only is there that crunchy feeling in your teeth but there is also the overwhelmingly earthy taste of failure and disappointment. So for step two, stand up, brush yourself off, and if you happened to land face first like I did after falling off of Slim Jim, spit the dirt out of your mouth.

This is where acceptance comes in. So you messed up. Or maybe you didn’t even make a mistake, maybe things just didn’t go as planned. Millions of people fall every day at their given tasks. On BrainyQuote there are over 10 pages worth of quotes about moving on after failure, getting up after you fall, and moving on with your life after a disappointment. In fact, falling off of horses spawned the go-to cliché advice for failure, “Time to get back in the saddle.”

This step requires you to accept that you’ve made a mistake and move on. Falling is a part of life, so getting back on once you’ve fallen should be as well.

This leads me to my last step, asking for a leg up. Failure has a tendency to make us feel isolated and alone. This isn’t true. Everyone falls, and everyone needs help sometimes, so don’t be afraid to ask for it. This help can come in many forms, your trainer, your best friend, your parents, your arch enemy, or in desperate cases, you can always get back on with the help of the arena fence. Don’t be afraid to lean on the people around you for support. It doesn’t matter how you get back on, only that you do get back on.

So do I practice what I preach? When I fell off of Slim Jim it hurt, a lot. But as I lay in the arena dirt I realized that nothing was in an extraordinary amount of pain. After catching my breath, I could wiggle my toes, and I remembered my name. I could stand up and spit the dirt out of my mouth and my trainer was there to give me a leg up.

When you commit yourself to something like riding horses you have to acknowledge the risks. It’s not a matter if you will fall but when. So you need to know what to do when that happens. You need to assess the damage, stand up and brush the dirt off, and then you need to ask for a leg up.

When I got back on Slim Jim my confidence in myself and my abilities was shaken. But as I began to ride, I felt my body relax and regain control. When I pointed him towards the bounce that had resulted in my fall I was determined to get it right this time; it wasn’t perfect but it was better.

Like I said earlier, when executed properly a bounce is an indescribable feeling — a feeling that makes the risks of falling well worth it.

About Hilary: I’ve been in the horse world as a camper, lesson kid, competitor, groom, and stable hand for the past 15 years. I love horses and writing and am happiest when I get to combine the two. 

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