Every rider knows that one day, they will fall off of their horse. Some riders will have their first fall minutes after mounting a horse (a too-often occurrence on ill-fated vacation trail rides), while other horseback riders may not have a fall until they’ve been riding for years. In any case, though, anyone who saddles up and mounts a horse regularly knows that a fall is, eventually, certain to happen in the future.
Falling off a horse is often a serious blow to rider confidence, and while there are ways to mitigate the risk of falling off of a horse and there are precautions that all riders should take to reduce injury, and previously I’ve outlined some good advice on self-care after a fall from a horse, sometimes fear of riding last much longer than any bruises to a rider’s body.
In this article, we’ll talk about the unique psychology behind falling off, how to find the confidence to gett back on, and tips for riding without fear after a fall from a horse.
Fear is Normal after a Falling off a Horse
After a fall, it is natural for a rider to be a little (or even a lot!) scared to get on their horse. It is also quite common that the fear will grow bigger if you avoid facing it. For many people, the longer we take to get back on a horse the more anxious we may become about future riding and the less confident we feel about remounting.
Often this fear will cause so much horseback riding anxiety that a rider will become very hesitant to get back in the saddle.
The first thing to remember in these situations is that it is ok to be afraid, it’s normal. If you ask any experienced rider that seems to have no fear, they will likely tell you they either have been afraid in the past or are still battling that fear themselves. So how do they do it? How do they keep horseback riding without giving in to that fear of falling off? Let’s explore.
Fear after a fall is so normal that during the age of horse-powered transportation, “getting back on the horse” became a common phrase used to describe overcoming diverse challenges.
To Deal with a Fear of Falling, Admit The Fear
When fears are shoved down or avoided, they tend to get bigger. You’ll regain confidence in the saddle faster by mounting with trepidation and nervously clinging to the back of a steadfast pony than you will by denying the fear, insisting you’re “just too busy to ride,” or avoiding getting back on.
You cannot overcome your fear and gain confidence in the saddle if you do not admit you have fear. This is a very simple step that can often be one of the hardest to achieve.
Remember why you Ride
Overcoming fear of riding after falling off a horse requires that we remind ourselves why we take the risk. For many of us, that reason includes the freedom, empowerment, positive benefits of riding, and bond with our horse. If climbing in the saddle feels like too much, put yourself in places to remind yourself why you ride- hang out with your horse-loving friends, spend time hand grazing or grooming your horse, or watch videos of riding lessons where you achieved something new or dismounted with a massive smile. These experiences will help alleviate some of the fear by reinforcing the positives of riding.
Identify what Your Needs are
Experiment to find what it is that will help you boost your confidence. For some riders, this might be riding lessons on a lunge line and a small, steadfast horse, for others, hiring an emotionally focused riding coach or sports psychologist may help them rediscover their confidence after a fall.
One rider I worked with recently had a bad fall and lost all of her confidence. A brilliant rider with incredible skill, the idea of mounting her horse now scared her. The way she was able to get her confidence back was to use the support of a close riding friend. She knew her friend would be kind and supportive, but also honest and not ask her to do too much, which helped her overcome her fear of falling again.
Respond, don’t React
Letting fear control your mind and body can create a dangerous situation likely to lead to another fall. Personally, the worst fall of my riding career came after insisting I was fine to mount back up in the same ride (I wasn’t) and falling off again because my brain and body were not able to relax, sit deep, and direct my horse well. When we’re tense, our horses sense our tension and also go into high alert.
One of the best pieces of advice, as simple as it is, is to remember to breathe. This may sound silly, but it is amazing how many people forget to breathe in a stressful situation. There are a couple of reasons not breathing is a problem. The first is obvious, we are human, we require air to live. It also makes out body tense and it becomes harder to respond well. Second, your horse will sense that you have stopped breathing and they will also start to panic. If your horse starts to panic it is very difficult to calm them and the situation can become very dangerous, very quickly.
Though simple, this practice is one I return to with my coaching clients constantly. Breathing is the foundation of confidence in the saddle and good horsemanship. When you feel your horse starting to overthink or get nervous, breathe slowly, deeply, and loudly.
Try Muscle Relaxation
You can also try relaxing all my muscle groups one at a time (while still maintaining constant contact with reins and legs so that you still have), and these simple acts can help calm horse and human.
Being able to calm yourself in a dangerous situation will also allow you to think more clearly and allow you to better assess your situation and react accordingly.
progressive muscle relaxation is a technique you can try in and out of the saddle to help your body and mind relax, here’s a printable guide.
Don’t Rush Yourself
While it is a good idea to get straight back on the horse as soon as you come off, you don’t have to if you’re not able to do that yet.
If you would like to get back on straight away but are not sure you have the confidence, you can also try having someone attach a lead rope and take you on a short walk. They’ll have control of the horse from the ground and you can focus on conquering your fear. Riding with a handler holding a deadline is a small step, but it often works wonders on rider confidence as bodies relearn to relax and enjoy horseback riding.
Tips for Getting Back in the Saddle for your First Ride after a Bad Fall:
- Ride the most trustworthy, slow, and/or small horse you have access to.
- Ask a competent friend, horse trainer, or riding instructor to walk your horse from the ground or lunge your horse in a small circle while you ride.
- While being led or lunged, focus on breathing deeply and letting your spine relax and follow the horse’s movements.
- As you ride with someone else guiding your horse, try relaxing one muscle group at a time.
- Take it slow. Being in the saddle is conquering your fear. Stay on a lunge line until your body is ready to take the reins (literally and metaphorically) Stay at a walk until you get bored, then trot until you feel enthusiastically ready to canter again
Remember, you get to decide at what pace you return to riding. If what you need is a few days off, take them. Even though it is important to get back on the horse, don’t force yourself into anything to quickly, and remounting may not be your first step to getting your confidence back. You can simply go and say hi to your horse. Put on a halter and lead rope and groom, take them on a small walk, or give them some treats. It doesn’t matter what you do with them, but engaging with your horse will help remind you of the bond you have with them and enjoyment you’ve felt in the saddle.
When you are up to it, sit on your horse. Have another person there as well holding the lead rope if you need some extra support. You don’t even need to move on your horse you first time remounting, just sit in the saddle for a few minutes and slowly build up over time.
Anxiety after a fall is natural and it takes time to overcome and rebuild confidence after a fall. Don’t push yourself or make yourself feel bad because you didn’t do it as fast as your friend. This is your hobby, your body, your timeline. Go at your own pace, challenge yourself appropriately, and in time you’ll discover confidence in the saddle again.