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16 May 2014

Horse Riding

What do you think of when you think of horse riding? Perhaps you think of the legendary John Wayne. Or maybe you think of princes rescuing a damsels in distress. It could be that you think of a loving couple happily riding off into the sunset.

Or rather, you may immediately imagine the darker side of things - Christopher Reeve getting a broken neck, or a movie which has a scene of a person being dragged on the ground behind a horse, perhaps you think of being kicked or bitten.

Here's the truth, all of the above is true and has happened!

Horse riding can be an incredible experience. It can be super romantic, it can give you a feeling of complete freedom. It can make you feel powerful, old fashioned, and like a celebrity. You feel like you can soar with the eagles when you are galloping out in the open. Your heart may burst with pride of yourself and your horse when you win a trophy.

But you would be an idiot to think that there are no risks involved. When you climb onto a horse, you have got on average 500kgs or more of muscle underneath you. A living being, with a mind and character of its own. Something that can get a fright, can get angry, can get excited.
Having such a creature underneath you, and listening to your every instruction and whim can be the most incredible feeling ever.
Often times though, I get clients asking me the dreaded questions "How often do people fall off?", "Have you ever fallen?", "How badly do people get injured when they come off?"

First thing you have to realise is that horses in general are not mean spirited animals (unless they have been abused and now defend themselves), when people say "the horse chucked me off" or "the horse threw me", more often than not it actually was not the horses's fault, but their own. Take for example one of my most recent falls a couple of months ago - I was on a horse that is known to get frights, therefore I should have been paying attention. Instead, I was totally chilled out and half turned around chatting to the people riding behind me. So when my horse got a fright and jumped away from a packet blowing in the wind, I should have seen it coming and been prepared for it instead of just landing 'thud' on my my back in front of a group of clients. True horse riders know its not the horse's fault!

Secondly, everyone falls off eventually. Many horse riding schools say to their pupils that "you're not a real horse rider until you have fallen off at least 7 (sometimes they say 10) times"! You see, even great riders fall off from time to time. I have fallen off too many times to count over the last 20+ years.

Thirdly, only the best riders get up, dust themselves off and get back onto that horse. You see, the longer it takes for you to get back onto that horse, the less likely you will ever actually get back on. Falling off does affect your nerves, you do get a fright. The best way to cure that is to get back up and carry on going.

Fourth, the most common reason for falling off is riders who are trying to show off. When you are trying to show off, you tend to lose common sense (such a rare commodity nowadays) and dont think about the "what if"s. I have so many funny (true) stories of what happens to people who are trying to show off. Some of those time have been my worst falls. The close second of the "common reasons for falling" is not listening to instructions from riders/guides/instructors who have more experience than you.

Fifth, injuries are actually pretty rare. Falling off normally leaves your pride more wounded than your body. Yes, it is embarrassing to fall off. Of the hundreds of times I have fallen off, I can honestly say that the times I have actually been properly injured are only a handful. The one time I fell off, I hit the ground running (best way to hit the ground off of a horse...) and was just fine, until I tripped and broke my ankle. That was 4 years ago. I have fallen off probably 10-15 times since then. No big deal.
For the 20 odd years I've worked with horses, and for the 10 + years I have been guiding trails, the number of actual injuries in comparison to the number of falls is less than 10%. And the number of falls in comparison to the number of clients, well that is about 1 fall for every 30 riders.
So the next time someone asks me if I have ever fallen, or how many falls we have, I will still answer them the way I always answer -
"Yes I have fallen, too many times to count."
"Yes, there is the occasional fall, but I'm really lazy and dont want the added work of picking you up off the ground. So I will do everything humanly possible to prevent you from falling off."
and "Most commonly falls are the result of rider's showing off, so dont try showing off"

Until next time, RIDE ON
Oh, and be scared of me, more scared than you are of the horses....