The Benefits of Falling Off

Candace Wade explores what we gain from our horseback riding mishaps.

Everyone who rides a horse has fallen off, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. For some wacked out reason, riders like to tell of their spills and mishaps.

“There’s the time when my horse jumped the creek and I didn’t.”

“I was testing my friend’s new horse when he balled up and bucked until I flew off.”

“I had a good pace going past a creek when a Blue Heron flew out across the trail like a pterodactyl. My horse lunged right, I flew left. Cracked my pelvis and. . . .”

Why do riders relish sharing these chilling stories? I have not . . . won’t complete the sentence for fear of bad not-falling-off juju. If I did fall off, would I tell? The one thing I don’t hear after these stories is what the rider learned from the fall. I didn’t actually fall, but I will share what happened and all the self-confirming gifts I got from it. Remember, I am the “late-in-life-lesson rider” whose mini-revelations are enhanced by sharing them with my horsey peers.

I still get high every time I saddle my lesson horse, Amber, by-my-self and toddle off to the arena by-my-self to puddle around when my instructor isn’t available. “I’m a real horsewoman now” skips through my psyche as I hum my pleasure to Amber while I adjust straps, gradually tighten the girth, release the leathers and irons and lead her to the wall to mount . . . by-my-self.

The wall. The wall is the perfect height from which to mount. I prefer this over trudging down the hill to an arena that has a mounting block. All the kids do it. The flip-side of the wall is a rather steep embankment with big trees.

Amber set up a perfect parallel to the wall. I calmed my head, took a cleansing breath, grabbed some mane and elevated . . . onto . . . the saddle . . ., but the saddle slid toward the wall . . . toward the embankment. Hmmm. I lay on her neck with my brain slowly ticking off options. I thought:

  • Call for help. No, I’m trusted to be out here, I must handle this.
  • Dismount from whence I came. But, I could slip further. Amber could step off. I could tumble over the embankment into the trees! I’d rather die right here, hanging off the side of the horse like the loser of a gun fight in a bad western.
  • I could slide from her neck, off the opposite side – the wrong side – and drop to the ground.

That’s what I did. Ta da!  Perfect. I smiled at my acumen — made sure no one saw — tightened the girth – patted my good and patient Amber – and we strode off for our ride.

What I learned:

  • Dah! Always re-check the girth before mounting. Always. Always.
  • Though a bit slow, my brain is still a methodical problem solver.
  • I can trust me to handle more horse issues than I thought. To quote Damian Browne, professional rugby player, “I trust my instincts, and I trust myself to be able to make the right decisions in the moment.” (“This is Galway” magazine – May 2019. So, he’s not talking about horse riding, but WOW, he’s gorgeous and the quote fits.)
  • Forget the “rules” (always mount and dismount on the left) – save yourself.
  • Stay calm so you can think.
  • Don’t get all cocky and full of yourself. Life will throw a pie in your face.
  • Amber is a jewel encrusted, solid gold treasure. (I went out to the barn two days later just to groom and massage her as a private “thank you” just between us.)

View of the possible results. Photo by Candace Wade.

I’m glad this minor mishap occurred. Solving the problem strengthened my confidence. It reminded me to really pay attention; riding is a potentially dangerous, athletic activity. I have not spilled my guts to anyone about my “almost falling off.”  Only to you guys. You won’t tell, right?

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