I combined my experience & knowledge of physics and martial arts to help teach my son and others to fall off a horse as safely as possible.
How to fall off a horse is an acquired skill. When you see a rider who has mastered how to do it, falling well is truly a thing of beauty. When a horse throws its rider, if they are relaxed, they "go with" the fall and when they land, they just roll onto their feet. One young rider I know even bows to the crowd every time she falls, to great applause.
Why Is It Important to Know How to Fall off a Horse?
My son started riding a horse at the tender age of 5, and the first thing I thought about when he asked if he could ride was, “Oh my gosh! What if he falls?”
We all know the many horror stories of riders who have fallen off a horse and were seriously hurt or even killed. Many of us remember what happened to Christopher Reeve. For me, the fear was even worse because I live on a horse farm that doubles as a riding school and I watch people ride—and fall—every single day, right from the comfort of my front porch!
My initial instinct was to say no to my son, but I soon realized that I couldn't stop him from pursuing his passion, even if it meant I’d have to watch him fall off a horse and possibly even get hurt.
Luckily, I’m married to a very talented and experienced Martial Artist, and he suggested that what my son (and everyone who rides a horse) needs is to learn some Judo or something similar to help them fall. That is why we created a training course to teach young riders how to fall off a horse as safely as possible, because YES it is a very important component of learning to ride a horse.
There is no sure way to avoid a fall or injury while horseback riding. Even being an expert rider, or knowing how to fall properly, is no guarantee that you will not be injured if you fall. You can fall off a horse a thousand different ways and there are all manner of obstacles that can get in your way.
The information in this article is therefore for information purposes only with the understanding that the only way to avoid horse riding injuries is to avoid riding horses.
The Reasons Why You Fall Off a Horse
Before we get to the falling, let’s first understand the reasons why you can fall off your horse. This is important because if you can avoid the cause in some way you may then be able to avoid the fall.
The main reasons you can fall off a horse are:
- Your horse trips or spooks and you fall off.
- Your horse gets excited or is naughty and it bucks you off.
- Your horse refuses a fence but you fly over it.
- Your horse over-jumps a fence and throws you out of the saddle.
- Your horse stops or turns suddenly.
For these reasons, the first safety consideration is to match the mount to the rider. Make sure that you are on a horse equal to your ability. Choose the horse that you ride with your head and not your heart.
The Directions You Can Fall From
It is good to remember that you can fall off a horse in eight general directions. Visualize the compass points or the face of a clock.
Most falls go forward over the horse’s neck. The next most falls occur off the side of the horse and the least amount of falls are backwards. You should focus your practice on these percentages.
Bertrand Triguer, the French inventor of the ‘Equichute’, also wanted to teach jockeys how to fall off a horse. The Equichute is a mechanical horse that travels on a rail and falls forward to dump the rider on a mat, thus acclimatizing riders to falling and training them in the proper falling methods.
Although it is limited to only falling forward (approximately one-half of riding falls are sideways), it goes a long way to help riders learn how to fall properly and roll away from their horses.
The important thing about falling training is that it teaches you to be proactive and to do something when you come off your horse, as opposed to just sitting there waiting to hit the ground, as the majority of riders do.
To Hold Onto the Reins Or Not... That Is the Question
You will instinctively want to hold onto the reins when you fall (who wants to walk halfway around the world to fetch their horse), but by holding on you are unable to tuck and roll away to safety. This increases the likelihood of your horse landing on you or trampling you when they’re getting up and your landing will not be any softer either.
Not everyone agrees with this and I also understand that my main motivation is the safety of the rider after the fall. You can always find your horse but it will be a lot worse if you are hurt or have a broken limb.
Never wrap the reins around your hands or your waist. If you fall off and your horse starts running while the reins are like this then you may be dragged to death.
Keep Your Arms and Legs Tucked In
Do not stick your limbs out to break your fall. This is your natural instinct but in this case, falling from the height of a horse and landing on your wrist, for example, will bring all your weight with the resultant velocity down onto one of the smallest joints of the body. You get the picture.
There is a right way to do this which I will explain later on.
Before we get to the falling, let’s first consider the basic safety requirements to protect you when you fall.
1. Be Prepared Before You Get On Your Horse
Make sure that you are dressed correctly, that your saddle is tied securely and that your stirrups are the right length and not getting hooked on anything.
Also, make sure that you visit the bathroom before your ride. A fall with a full bladder can result in a ruptured bladder.
2. Wear An ASTM/SEI Approved and Properly Fitted Horse Riding Helmet
The safety classification and fit of your riding hat is very important. Your riding hat ensures that your head is protected during a fall. Remember, it’s not the fall, per sé, that hurts you, but the landing and anything that you hit on your way down; or your horse's hooves that may hit you when you are down.
Make sure that you buy an ASTM/SEI (look for the label inside) approved horse riding helmet with a secure chin strap and wear it every time you get on a horse, without fail. This one thing alone can save your life. (It’s serious, so get a good helmet.)
If you fall and your head hits the ground or a pole you will need to replace your helmet immediately. Even though it may look fine, helmets are designed to take the full force of impact once and can be rendered useless after impact.
3. Learn to Use Good Riding Technique
The first thing that you are taught as a rider is the proper way to sit in the saddle in order to facilitate the correct balance. An important part of this is positioning your feet in the stirrups with your heels down so that when you fall, your feet will slide out of the stirrups instead of being caught in them resulting in you being dragged by your horse.
4. Invest in a Body Protector
If you do a lot of jumping, invest in a body protector. You can wear one when you jump in the ring or when you’re out on a trail. They are lightweight and help to protect your internal organs if you fall off your horse, hit something hard or if a horse kicks you.
5. Wear Riding Boots
You should wear riding boots with at least a one inch heel to ensure that your foot doesn’t get caught in the stirrups and as a result get dragged by your horse.
If you do feel yourself falling, kick your feet free from the stirrups.
Never, ever, go riding in trainers.
As with any kind of safety equipment, make sure it is approved by the relevant authority and that it is the best that you can afford.
6. Bring a Mobile Phone
When going on an outride carry a cell phone (on your person so that your horse doesn’t run away with it) programmed with your emergency numbers (and don’t forget the number for your stable). Keep the phone switched off, on vibrate or silent mode as the ringtone may spook your horse and cause a fall in the first place.
Carry the phone on your person in a place that is not likely to be impacted (and therefore rendered useless) if you should fall.
How to Fall Off a Horse
Ok, so let us get into the details of how to fall off a horse safely.
To create a safe landing after your fall has three requirements.
To relax requires that you remain calm. Any tension in you or your body will cause you to want to break your fall and that is when you break things (instead of your fall). If you feel yourself falling, don’t resist, just go with it. I know it is easier said than done, but when everything slows down when you start falling, remind yourself to relax. It really helps.
Tuck yourself into as small a ball as possible, irrespective of the direction of the fall. You are less likely to have any limbs sticking out and at the same time, this facilitates rolling away from your horse.
C. Roll Away From Your Horse
Whichever way you land, once you hit the ground roll yourself clear and keep rolling until you are out of the way of your horse or your horse's legs.
How to Learn and Practice the Movement
You can practice rolling on grass or a thick mat or mattress. Either way, you simply have to get the hang of how to tuck your head in and how to roll.
When you are falling forward, your momentum is going forward and all you have to do is tuck correctly and the rest will take care of itself. It doesn’t matter what height you fall from, the principle holds the same as your landing technique is only applied when you hit the ground.
What you don’t want to do is land straight on your face as your helmet doesn’t usually protect you there.
The key is to create momentum by rolling along your arm. You roll along your right arm, from the hand to the shoulder, then across the back to your left hip and stand up with your left leg (or vice versa).
Watch the video below to see how to do this properly so that you do not hurt yourself.
When you are falling sideways, there is no technique to control your landing as when you fall forward. What you have to do is to tuck your chin to your chest, relax and allow your body to crumble (fall naturally) to the floor and then to roll away from your horse in whatever position you find yourself in.
You are least likely to fall backward unless your horse rears and you are thrown. The same principle applies as falling sideways, you don’t have much control over how your body lands, but again, roll away in whatever position you find yourself in.
Below is video footage of my husband practicing falling at home and teaching our son how to fall off a horse, using a couple of old mattresses, a garden table, and a chair. This simple setup should be enough for you to practice with and to get a feel for falling.
A Note of Caution
There are many variables when riding horses and even with the best falling techniques you can still get seriously injured. These techniques are designed to keep you as safe as possible but if you want to avoid riding injuries you should avoid riding (have I said this before?)
After the Fall
Sooner or later the inevitable will happen and you will fall off your horse. After the fall, check yourself for injuries first, if you’re okay, find your horse and always make sure that you get back on your horse as soon as possible (barring injuries). Don’t leave it for long as fear can creep into you and what was a simple fall off a horse can stop you from riding again instead.
Horse riding, like any other sport, has its pros and cons. If you want to be a horse rider you must prepare yourself for a fall. There is an old horse-riding saying that goes like this:
You don’t know how to ride until you have fallen off a horse at least 7 times!
However, don’t let this put you off the sport of kings. Be prepared, make sure you follow the advice in this article, always have the right riding equipment and with some practice at home on how to fall off a horse; you will be able to enjoy your riding without unnecessary stress.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Trinity M (author) on July 28, 2020:
Hi Brenda Ann! Thank you so much for your wonderfully supportive comment. So, sorry to hear your son fractured his wrist! Wishing him a speedy recovery and hopefully this hub will help prevent future mishaps. God Bless you and your family and stay healthy and safe in these difficult times. :)
Brenda Ann on July 26, 2020:
Excellent instructions, including showing children how. This could apply to falls anywhere including ice-skating. My son made the mistake of putting his wrist down as he slipped on the ice. Sure-enough, he fractured his wrist as you suggested would happen to those who put their wrist out! Wish he had watched this first! Thanks again & God bless you for sharing!!
Trinity M (author) on September 10, 2012:
Hello Sunshine :) To be honest with you I have never been on a horse either! However, seeing as I live on a horse farm and watch people riding from my porch I have seen so many falls, including my son when he was only 5 which is what lead me to writing this hub in the 1st place. As always, thank you for your unwavering support. Take care and have a lovely day:)
Hi Rema, so nice to see you! I had to giggle at your comment as I never thought about it that way, probably because I see people falling off their horse daily and every rider I have ever spoken with agrees that falling off a horse is completely unavoidable. Thanks for stopping by and for your great comments and support. Have a great day! :)
Rema T V from Chennai, India on September 07, 2012:
To be honest, I don't know much about horse riding, so was surprised to see a title such as this one - "how to fall off a horse" when all I would have expected from a hub was "how NOT to fall off".
But on reading the entire hub I understood why. Great hub. Excellent tips with awesome videos. Loved it. Cheers, Rema.
Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on September 07, 2012:
Well done Trinity! I've never riden a horse or intend to ride one, but I could imagine how many people this information will help. I've also picked up some pointers to possibly save someone from falling. I hope. For their sake.
Trinity M (author) on July 25, 2012:
Welcome back spazticfish24! Glad to hear that your laptop is back in working order and glad to hear that you are riding again, and better than before.
You are so right about the horse world being dangerous yet fun and rewarding. My 6 year old went to his very first horse riding show this weekend and won his very first ribbon, so I was a very proud mommy. Funnily enough (and not in a haha way), he was the first rider of the show and the little girl who followed him came flying off her horse and got hurt, confirming the necessity for knowing how to fall off a horse. Thank you so much for stopping by and letting me know how you are. Enjoy your riding and stay safe! :)
spazticfish24 from New York on July 25, 2012:
Hi Trinity, sorry for the late response, my laptop has been in repair :/ But yes, right when the neurologist gave me the okay to ride again I was back a horse that weekend, jumping twice as high and rode all day. I actually have my own horse now :)
But yes, everyday I am reminded that our senses as humans goes further than touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing, we also have our "gut" and knowledge, those two things put together, when listened to, can be a life saving thing.
Of course, us horse people have to stick together! the horse world is a dangerous one, but a fun and rewarding one if done right! :) Thank you for posting this.
Trinity M (author) on July 24, 2012:
Hi Victoria Lynn! Yes I guess the title is a little misleading, although the subject matter certainly isn’t. You are quite right though about it being valuable information for riders. I was at a horse jumping show this weekend and in the 2 hours I was there I saw 4 people fall off their horse and 2 of them get hurt! Thank you so much for stopping by and for leaving your comments. I really appreciate it.
Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on July 24, 2012:
I'm like billybuc in that the title drew me in. I thought it was a spoof hub! I've never thought about the proper way to fall off a horse. This is great info for those who regularly ride horses. Cool hub!
Trinity M (author) on July 11, 2012:
@rebeccamealey I can imagine how painful that must have been. I have seen many riders fall and hurt themselves and that is why I wanted to write this hub. Thank you so much for dropping by and for your comments, I really appreciate it.
@spazticfish24 what a terrible thing to happen to you! I hope that fall didn’t put you off riding? I so agree with you about trusting your instincts. There are so many variables when you are riding something that has a brain of its own that you have to trust your gut and always stand up for yourself – such good advice for young people who are afraid to speak up to their riding teachers. I’m glad that you survived your fall and for taking the time to read and leave your comments about this article. I really appreciate your support.
spazticfish24 from New York on July 10, 2012:
Hi Trinity, I saw this hub and found it to be an interesting topic, and later find out that it does have a lot of valuable information. Sadly where I live falls aren't mainly caused by a horse's natural instincts or random mishap when asking them to do something unnatural for them, but caused by repuation, ego, and money.
I would also add personally, that even though your trainer might be more expert than you, listen to your own instincts and knowledge. I sadly made that mistake when taking a riding lesson and that mistake literally landed me in the pediatric ICU for 3 days and a severe concussion. I did not have my own helmet that day, and was fitted with one of the barn's, the chin strap was loose, and I asked my trainer "The strap is loose.... Is this okay?" she replied with 'Yes, we did the touch your toes test, and it didn't fall off so you're okay." even after hearing this, my knowledge on physics, horses, and my gut feelings I thought to myself, but the touch your toes test doesn't have the same force and throw falling off a horse would, are you sure this helmet is okay? Well my trainer said it was fine, so it must be. WORST THOUGHT TO EVER HAVE. Never disregard any gut feeling or knowledge, and never not ask questions, because had I said that thought outloud, I may've not had the same exact accident I did.
But anyway, enough with my rants. I really did appreciate your videos and photo add ons, it really added a little more to it, and help than just words.
Happy trails to your son! The horse bug travels fast ;)
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on July 10, 2012:
This is a really nice hub for horse riders. I fell off a horse, (she threw me) once years ago. My coxyic (can't spell it) or tailbone was sore for months. I vote this very useful It might keep someone safer!
Trinity M (author) on July 10, 2012:
Hi Christy, yes I know… I hang my head in shame, however I feel the message is more important than a small spelling error.
I know what you mean about being frightened of falling off a horse! Even though my son who is so tiny rides with such ease and confidence I’m not so blasé myself. Thank you for your valuable comments and for sharing. Always much appreciated.
Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on July 10, 2012:
I also was going to comment on the title and now see it is intentional by you. I took a horse adventure a few years ago and was so scared of falling off. This topic is important. I like the variety of your hubs! I will share too.
Trinity M (author) on July 10, 2012:
Oh billybuc my dear friend, I blush. To be honest I’m afraid the mis-spell was actually intentional. I really feel strongly about the subject but in order to reach the people who need the information I had to bite my tongue and go with the spoof.
I am truly blessed to live where I do. It’s really amazing to see how many things we have in common! I cannot believe you owned Arabians! I always dreamed of owning a pitch black Arabian. Thanks you so much for stopping by and for your oh so valuable comments my friend. :)
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 10, 2012:
I swear, Trinity, when I saw the title of this I thought it was a spoof hub! How wonderful that it was serious and oh so valuable. You live on a horse ranch??? How cool is that! I used to have horses for five or six years....Arabians and Morgans mostly.....loved them completely. Also worked on a friend's ranch with ten thoroughbreds. I am in love with horses and your recommendations are oh so correct.
This is a great hub with very valuable information. As one who has fallen on several occasions, I can tell others that your recommendations are right on!
Nice job my friend!