Well ladies and gentlemen, we experienced our first involuntary dismount last night. Yep, my trusty off track thoroughbred, Indy, was all of a sudden not so trusty.
And do you want to know what I did?
I pulled myself up out of the dirt, brushed myself off, took hold of the reins and got back in the saddle to school my OTTB.
Because that’s what you do.
What you don’t do is get scared or angry at the horse or at yourself. If you do, you’re just asking for the same thing to happen again. I understand this is something that’s much easier said than done, especially if you hurt more than just your ego, but it comes with the territory of riding horses.
“If you haven’t fallen off you haven’t been riding long enough.”
Falling gets easier if you can do one thing: get back on the horse and work it out. If it’s something so bad that you’ve gotten hurt or your confidence is shattered, get a trainer and take lessons as soon as you’re physically feeling up to it. Don’t wait around for your horse to improve without you — earn it.
In all reality, I was bound to fall off this horse eventually. Add physical power to a wobbly and sometimes unbalanced rider and you can do the math. I’m relatively new to this and we sure know the racehorse is!
Remember the fable about the scorpion and the turtle? The nice friendly turtle gives the scorpion a ride across the river if he promises not to sting him and low and behold they cross the river and BAM! Stung by the scorpion who says to the turtle, “I’m sorry, it’s in my nature.”
There’s no use in being upset with the scorpion for doing what’s programmed into his DNA. The same logic applies to the horse once you’ve fallen off. He’s just being a horse. A horse that doesn’t know what I’m asking for and that’s the whole point of training.
Hitting the ground is also an easy excuse to over-analyze and search for excuses or things to blame. It’s important to understand what happened, what caused the train to go off the tracks, but try to avoid the blame game. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is when you’re the one steering the ship.
After I climbed back into the saddle a little more sore than before, I took stock of what preempted my flight. I’ll paint the picture for you: Tuesday nights we have a group ride that incorporates some sort of game, race, etc. It was a cone relay race and Indy was handling the poles and picking up/dropping of cones into buckets really well, which definitely put me in a bit of a complacent headspace.
Without thinking much of anything, we stood around for 15-20 minutes before it was our turn to run again. I should have taken a minute here, but again, complacency breeds over-confidence when I know he struggles going from standing around to active. I should have taken 5 minutes to warm him back up. I didn’t. Strike 1.
During this particular relay run, I picked up the 2 cones I needed and rounded the barrel, dropping both cones towards the bucket while one bounced in and the other fell to the ground. Indy was unphased by this but as we turned for home I asked for a canter. Strike 2. With an explosion of power that caught me off guard my reins were loose and it all started to fall apart. Strike 3.
As Indy crow-hopped and took off with me on his back into a crowd of people (all of whose horses stood there like champs despite the freight train barreling towards them) I felt myself losing the balance battle quickly. Before I knew it I was standing up in my stirrups, holding on by the reins and with one sharp turn to the left I flew off to the right landing at the base of the arena fence. I missed the fence by a few inches but it did me a huge favor by slowing Indy up just enough to soften the blow a bit.
Direct causes. At least three of them that were well within my control. Direct effects. I knew the cause as soon as I peeled myself off the ground. I almost stuck it out. I will stick it out next time.
So the big takeaways here? What goes up must come down? Ride horses long enough and you will fall off? All equally true but don’t be confused — falling off your horse is not a bad thing or a sign of failure. It’s evidence of the journey. It’s part of the training and learning process in this sport and if you can’t accept that… well, then you might just as well keep your feet planted firmly on the ground.