How to Fall Off a Horse Safely, Without Injury
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 8 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 of a horse.The Equichute is a mechanical horse that travels on a rail and falls forward to dump the rider on a mat, thus acclimatising 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 horses 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 and 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 correct balance. An important part of this is the 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 backwards 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 of a horse, using a couple of old mattresses, a garden table and a chair. This simple setup should be enough for you practise 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 latter 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.