The aim of riding is to stay on your horse and to have a good time. However, it is part of the horseback riding experience to fall off once in a while. As a safety strategy to prevent injuries during a fall, many hiding instructors teach beginner riders how to do an emergency dismount.
What is an Emergency Dismount?
An emergency dismount is a way to get out of the saddle and on the ground in a controlled, practiced manner. Rather than trying to stay on and falling off in an uncontrolled heap, the emergency dismount teaches riders how to safely dismount a moving horse and land in a semi-controlled way.
Done correctly, a rider doing an emergency dismount can, in seconds move from riding a walk, trot, or canter to standing on the ground next to their horse. A rider should be able to practice until they can perform an emergency dismount from all gaits and land on their feet (though in a real emergency most riders won’t be able to stay on their feet, the practice can help riders learn to fall in a safe, controlled way). 1
Getting off a moving horse can prove impossible if you attempt a typical dismount using stirrups. Instead, in an emergency dismount, a rider drops stirrups and slips off the horse freely rather than stepping down using stirrups.
Ideally, an emergency dismount results in a rider standing next to their horse facing forward, while the horse moves away leaving the rider free from injury.
Deciding When to Use an Emergency Dismount
In a riding arena, a buck and a rear may not feel scary, but on a narrow mountain, it can be life or death. When our horse acts up in an arena, it is different from when it acts up on the roadside with incoming traffic.
Often, when your horse gets out of control it’s best to ride through it and correct the behavior. In some situations, though, the best thing to do is get off. Being able to perform an emergency dismount gives you the option to dismount instead of fall off a badly behaving horse.
You do not need to do an emergency dismount every time you start to feel unsafe on your horse’s back. That feeling is part of learning to ride! When to make the decision to dismount is different for each rider.
You’ll have to balance intuition and reason to make the call for yourself.
The ideal time to do a dismount is before a situation goes too far out of hand. There are many instances when a person will try to ride it out when a horse bolts, and it will be too late to perform an emergency dismount.
If you’re riding on narrow trails of mountains with fallen trees, you definitely don’t want to fall and get impaled by a branch. If you’re on a roadside, you don’t want to be on your horse’s back when he acts out into the traffic.
When your horse is in full-blown bolt, it’s the most unsafe time to do an emergency dismount. If you paid attention to Physics, you know that when a thing departs a moving object, it’s traveling at an equal speed as the object it was on. When your horse is traveling 25 miles an hour, the only way you can stay on your feet when you dismount is if you travel at 25 miles per hour too!
Because you can’t run that fast, you can expect to take a couple of steps and proceed to collapse on the ground. An emergency dismount performed at speed is definitely going to hurt, but it’s usually a better alternative than a bad fall.
When faced with an emergency, dismount before things get out of hand.
Caution: If you’d like to learn an emergency dismount, contact a riding instructor near you for expert coaching. If you’ve never been coached through this emergency maneuver, do not attempt dismounting a moving horse unless you are in an emergency situation and have assessed risks.
Two Ways To Do an Emergency Dismount:
1. Vaulting Off
This is the method I prefer. It’s similar to when a gymnast gets down from his pommel horse when in a straddled position. It’s much easier than it looks and the rider ends up in a forward-facing landing.
You begin by kicking free from your stirrups.
Then, put your hands on the withers of your horse or your saddle’s pommel.
Next, lean forward and kick your legs up and over the back of your horse.
Then drop to your horse’s left side facing forward, with your horse’s left rein your left hand. (If you dismount on the right side, the same thing will happen, but you end up with the right rein on your hand.)
IMPORTANT: Remember to bend your knees when you land so you absorb the landing’s shock.
Be sure to kick high enough and when you lean forward, make sure that your shirt is not caught up in the saddle horn. If you manage to hang on the left rein, you can slow or perhaps stop your horse.
The vault-style emergency dismount has the advantage that you are likely to end up facing forward after dismounting. It’s likely you’ll still fall, but by facing forward you’ll have the opportunity to catch yourself by stepping forward or using your hands to protect your head and face. Your helmet’s visor provides an important safety function here, as well.
Remember: when using an emergency dismount in a real emergency, you’re probably going to get bruised, but you’ll avoid riding an out-of-control horse into danger.
2. Swinging Off or Sliding Off
If you think you can’t kick your feet over your horse’s back, then there is a second method. Begin by kicking your feet out of the saddle’s stirrups.
Put your hands on the withers, or the saddle’s pommel, then lean forward and slide down your horse’s left side, while swinging your right leg over your horse’s back, just like a normal dismount.
Be sure to do a leg swing high enough that you can clear the saddle. You’re likely to land facing your horse’s side.
Important: You have to be careful not to twist so much during this dismount that you wind up facing backward. If you end up facing backward, you’ll hit the ground running backward, and are more likely to become injured during the process.
When you fall backward, you’re not able to put your hands in front of you to stop you from falling, and you’ll might end up hitting the back of your head violently.
Safety Practices while Learning an Emergency Discount
Your riding instructor or coach will help make sure you have the equipment and instructions to stay as safe as possible during the process of learning an emergency dismount.
A saddle or bareback pad: When you’re still starting to learn, it’s wise to use a bareback pad so you don’t get caught up on the saddle.
A helmet: wearing a fitted riding helmet is essential for learning this riding skill.
A patient (preferably bombproof) horse: It’s ideal to learn emergency dismounting with a cool-headed horse.
A coach: Let someone hold the horse while you’re practicing your dismount from a standstill, at first. If the horse is agitated by the activity, try another horse.
Be sure to kick your feet free from the stirrups & be careful not to get your shirt caught up on your saddle’s horn. Do your best to land on your feet with your knees bent so you absorb the shock from your landing. Also, you need to prepare yourself to run forward if your horse is moving. Practice not only standing still but also at the walk and trot. Take extra precautions if you do it at the canter because some horses become afraid and buck.
Be sure to let go of the rein opposite your dismounting side so you don’t pull the horse towards you. Make sure to hold the rein in your hand and not let your arm get tangled up in the free rein when you dismount. Release the rein when you need to.
It doesn’t matter how well-trained your horse is, there’s always the possibility of your horse getting startled and bolting. In situations like these, knowing how to do an emergency dismount can be a good strategy to know.
Get down before things get out of hand and have fun out there.
Research sources used for this article:
- DeBenedette, V. (1989). People and horses: the risks of riding. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 17(3), 250-254.