“We ride and never worry about the fall. I guess that’s just the cowboy in us all”. ~Tim McGraw

We had an ongoing jest growing up, that one was not a true horseman until he or she had bitten the dust a time or two. I suppose this is something of a common paradigm for equestrian folk everywhere, or perhaps it’s simply a way to make us all feel a little better, in the moments immediately following a rather unceremonious biting of the dust . . .

As young 4-H’ers, my friend Katie and I, both veteran fallers by that point in our young lives – a point that in retrospect, inclines me to wonder whether that meant we were better riders or simply lousy ones to begin with – once told this to another friend who took it so much to heart, that as she lay on the ground in tears following her first fall, proclaimed “I’m a real horsewoman! I have to tell Katie and Sarah!”. I’d love to know what the adults thought about her statement at that particular moment.

Ok, there is nothing fun or particularly fun-ny about a fall from a horse . . . at least, until we’ve brushed ourselves off, ensured all heads and limbs are intact, and re-sewn our frayed nerves. Then, in hindsight, we can often find the bit of comic relief in our unintentional dismounts. We all know that the tumbles we take, most certainly, have a thing or two to teach us. Like it or not, they do have a rightful place in our ongoing quest for equestrian excellence.

I’m fairly certain, I can recall each and every fall of my equestrian career thus far. Some mere tumbles, others akin to being launched completely into the stratosphere, and still others where horse and rider flailed together and it wasn’t immediately clear where horse ended and rider began.

Among the highlights: There was the time I went trail riding bareback, alone (tsk tsk!) when my sweet old mare decided that crossing the creek together was far less in her best interest, than was dumping me head first into said creek.

Like a scene out of a comic, there I sat, befuddled, dripping and glaring at my mare who remained on the bank, toes mere inches from the water blinking at me with the most innocent “what are you doing down there?” face I’d ever seen.

Then, there was the time I decided it was somehow a brilliant idea to hop on my very green three-year-old, bareback, with only a halter and leadrope. A spectacular bronc display ensued, and concluded with me flying headfirst into a solid wall. I distinctly remember sliiiiding down that wall and hitting the dirt in a heap. When I stood up, something didn’t “feel” right. Turns out I’d dislocated and shattered my shoulder in 3 places.

Some time later, same horse is learning to jump and decides too late that he didn’t really want to take that scary oxer, and in an attempt to duck careened into and through the left standards, effectively dismantling the entire fence. In a scramble of horse and rider pieces, we ultimately parted ways and I landed in another heap, facedown in the kind of dirt that sticks to everything and gets into crevices I didn’t even know I had. I was somewhat placated, however, to have apparently entertained a throng of onlookers with my “creature from the black lagoon” appearance as I rose from the rubble.

The most recent event, was even caught on video! In mid takeoff to a quite modest straight bar, my beloved little horse ducked like a sidewinder flinging, yes flinging, me like a slingshot into the standards as he made his exit to stage right. Many thanks to my right butt cheek, for graciously cushioning my landing against a rather unforgiving jump cup. At least I got to redeem the last one with a solid equitation win the following day, bruised butt and all.

I can easily laugh at these now, even after 2 surgeries and a giant screw to repair that left shoulder. I discovered from watching the video of the last one, that the sound a body makes as it takes out a jump is exactly the same sound a bowling ball makes as it strikes a full set of bowling pins. I am still thoroughly entertained by this particular detail.

All facetiousness aside, the moral of this tale is that in the pursuit of excellence in a sport like ours, falls (and yes even injuries) simply happen. They happen to beginners, and they happen to seasoned pros. They happen when we’re un or mal-prepared or simply by a fluke of nature, purely by accident. Sometimes they’re preventable, sometimes they’re not but regardless of their circumstances we can only learn from them and improve ourselves as riders because of them.

I have been humbled by each instance where I’ve parted ways with my mount, though I’ve found valuable lessons therein as well. As I grow older and significantly less able to bounce, I have gained a greater awareness for the undeniable fragility of the human body and the capacity of our equine counterparts to, however inadvertently, cause it harm.

In spite of these truths, I have no fear of the probability for future falls and I believe that this is due, in some capacity, to the fact that I’ve simply experienced them enough times to recognize both their inevitablity and that in learning how, to the best of my ability, to prevent them, I have become a far better equestrian and companion for my horses.

Sarah