If you fall off your horse, the first thing people tell you is to get back on. Face your fears, fix what just happened, and keep moving forward. After all, everyone falls off their horse — that’s what makes you a real rider. Falling off of your horse, no matter how fast or slow, hard or soft, isn’t something to take lightly. Getting right back on your horse is really bad advice.
After a fall, even if you’re wearing a helmet, the main concern is a possible concussion. I spoke with Dr. Aimee Alexander, a Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist and the Senior Vice President of Clinical Services at Sports Physical Therapy of New York, and fellow equestrian, about these dangers. She said that, yes, even if you don’t hit your head, you can still get a concussion. If someone even just thrusts their head, they’re susceptible to a whiplash-type injury. “Since you cannot determine the presence of a concussion by the presence of symptoms, not radiology, any concussion symptoms following a fall indicates a concussion is present, “ Dr. Alexander says. Headaches, confusion, fatigue, and nausea are just some of the symptoms to be on the lookout for.
It’s not just concussion symptoms you need to worry about after a fall. It’s your balance, too. Your vestibular system, essentially what helps you balance, can be significantly altered, according to Dr. Alexander. As a rider, not only should you be aware of concussion symptoms, but Dr. Alexander also recommends getting baseline testing. This means your doctor would test your “ability to balance on the ground on even and uneven surfaces.” So if you do have a fall and go to your physical therapist for post-concussion screening, your doctor already knows what your actual ability to balance is, versus your ability after your fall.
Getting back on your horse when your ability to balance is compromised is asking for another fall. Another fall means more recovery time: physical therapy, rest, and no riding. It can also mean permanent disability. In rare cases, such as with second impact syndrome, sustaining another fall can even be fatal.
What about the rest of your body? Often, a rider falls on their side with their shoulders and hips taking the brunt of the impact. Fractures and dislocations can occur if your fall is severe enough. In this case, you definitely need to be seen by a medical professional and be given the all-clear before you can get back to riding. But in less severe cases? Dr. Alexander says that “getting back on [after a fall] can increase the inflammatory process and delay onset soreness that often occurs after a fall.” She suggests that, unless you’re 100% sure you’re okay, giving it a day or two before you get back on so you can “assess the extent of the injury and soreness”. Pushing through the pain can only make things worse in the long run.
Getting back on your horse after a fall is a matter of pride. You’re proving to yourself, and to anyone who saw you fall, that you can get back and keep going. That you’re not scared. You’re going to finish this ride no matter what because that’s what real equestrians do. But the “no matter what” can cost you your ability to ride. Taking care of your body, not your pride, needs to be a priority so that you can eventually get back on your horse.