My daughter and I recently went to a LandSafe clinic with Keli and Danny Warrington.  Our hosts were Nicki Carson and David Taylor of Elevation Dressage and Eventing, and on this particular weekend, we took over their indoor arena and covered it in gymnastic mats, tarps and crash pads. There was even a mechanical horse over high impact air bags.

There were seven of us, ranging in age from 12 to 50+.  The clinic was  four hours per day for two days. It was more tumbling than I’ve done in many years, so about half way through the first day, I was feeling a little spinny.

The program is based on some fundamentals of physics, but ones which aren’t often thought of in an equestrian context. The first principle is the idea of dispersing the energy contained in a fall by channeling the energy into making you roll.  A big part of that is pulling your legs in tight, as if you’re a BB. You want to keep rolling!

The second principle is to use the “brace position” to protect your head and neck. Put your hands together so that your thumbs and index fingers form a diamond shape. Then hold you arms up so you can look up and through that window in your hands, remembering to keep your arms strong. Then pull your chin to your chest, to keep your head from hitting the ground.  In this position, your arms form a roll cage to protect your head.

The moves aren’t particularly complex, but they need some muscle memory worked into the rider’s body.  So most of the clinic involved repeatedly rolling, as if you’re rolling away from a fall.  The first repetition was often tough, or downright unsuccessful.  But that was the point.  Do something new and learn how to do it right. Then practice it repeatedly.

We started by talking about what your reaction is when you get into trouble while riding. Keli and Danny called it the “Oh, crap!” moment. The problem we all have is, since those moments and feelings are fleeting, we don’t have a great handle on exactly where the “Oh, crap!” point is, and what is really feels like.  By going slowly, and isolating your body movement on almost a frame-by-frame basis, I really got a chance to find that specific point where I was no longer riding, but was now in trouble and needed to be off the horse.

The other big revelation I had was when Danny said you’re a good rider because you get on.  You aren’t a bad rider because you fall off, because falling off is part of riding. Remember, there are two types of riders:  those who have fallen off, and those who will. The difference is whether you know what to do WHEN you fall.

Initially, we spent about two and a half hours doing gymnastics on the floor mats.  We rolled straight, starting off with a focus on tucking the chin and using the brace position (arms out!) to create that protective barrier around your head. Danny took great pride in pretending to be the ground, and testing the strength of your brace position. It was funny, but the point was not lost in the humorous delivery.  Danny was also good as a reminder of when you didn’t tuck your chin, and smacked the back of your head.

Then we did shoulder rolls, both to the left and to the right.  We did “egg rolls” on both sides.  We bounced off a mini trampoline, landing on a slightly taller block, and rolling off the block.  Then Keli and Danny raised the block. I made it to the lower block on my feet, but not the higher one.

Then we got on the mechanical horse, and worked on feeling the “Oh, crap!” moment when the horse’s head drops down low. The point of no return was much later than I thought it would be.  And I was able to feel a definite difference between “almost” and “nope.”  Having had the chance to get to that specific spot, and then hold it, I now have a much better understanding of exactly where it comes a point that I need to get off. Just to be dextrous (one of Danny’s favorite words), we practiced going off both to the right and to the left.

The second day, remembering how swimmy-headed I had gotten on day one, I took a half dose of Dramamine, which turned out to be a good idea. It helped me get through another four hours of tumbling without any problems.  We started with a warm up on the floor mats.  But today we were all much more confident and able to run at the mats, and maintain our position better.  And this day, I was able to finally make it from the mini trampoline to the higher block on my feet.  I wouldn’t win any awards for grace, but I made it.

Then we got back to the mechanical horse. This time, we learned how to handle bucks and rears, and how to do an emergency dismount (which included having the horse moving forward).  I wasn’t exactly the most graceful thing, but I got the basics down.

When we finished, Danny and Keli walked us through a photo gallery of several 4* eventers, and steeplechase racers taking falls and near falls, looking at their position (arms out), and the end results (everyone walked away).

It’s amazing what it does for your confidence to learn what to do in that unwanted moment of “uh oh!”  And I’m happy to say that my rides since have reflected that new knowledge.

Keli and Danny are taking the LandSafe clinic on the road.  Check out the website at https://landsafeequestrian.com/clinic-tour-dates/ to see when they will be in your area.