No riding instructor wants their student to fall from the horse, but it's naive to think you can teach riding and not see this happen. Even the most gentle horse is capable of shying or stumbling or cutting a corner.
In riding it isn’t if a fall will happen, it’s when.
There are, however, things we can do that may minimize the frequency or severity of falls.
Before you even open your program’s doors:
Heaven forbid that a rider in your program would have a serious injury. Be prepared anyway. Have a plan for emergencies and post it in a clear place in your barn. The plan should include who to call, the facility address (because panic stifles peoples memories) and anything that needs to be done to allow emergency vehicles in.
Have a second plan for minor injuries. The number for and directions to the closest medical facility.
Wise instructors are certified in first aid.
A wise instructor will also explain to parents/students before they sign up for lessons that, although you will take the best precautions, riders fall off horses. Forewarn parents and students, so when a fall occurs they are not shocked.
Before your rider mounts a horse:
Safety must be the number one priority of any riding instructor. From the first day your student enters the barn it is the instructors’s job to make him aware and teach him how to be safe around the horse.
Since we know there is a strong possibility that one day a student may fall, we begin by requiring safety helmets and correct riding clothes, including riding boots. The proper equipment can minimize injury.
Lesson horses should be appropriate for the level of riding you teach. Beginners should ride horses that are as close to "bombproof” as possible and horses should be the correct size for their riders. A tiny rider on a very large horse is a recipe for injury. The same goes for a large rider on a pony.
Tack needs to be checked regularly for safety. Check girths and cinches, billet straps and latigo. Also check your stirrup leathers for wear. A student falling from a horse because a stirrup leather or billet strap on your equipment breaks can be grounds for a lawsuit.
If you teach beginner riders, make sure you have helpers available to grab each horse in the lesson should one rider fall. And make sure your helpers know the protocol of a fall. A loose horse or a panicked rider will set your other students on edge and could make other horses react.
The emergency dismount is something that has gone out of fashion but teach it anyway. The video below teaches a simple emergency dismount. Teaching emergency dismount in lessons is not as much about teaching your riders to get off at speed. It’s more about reducing the fear of falling. If a rider knows that can get off the horse at will and if they experience that it doesn’t hurt, they are more apt to handle a fall well.
Hold an unmounted class
Teach your riders how to fall. Practice it in class or on a dismounted day. Or try a clinic with a company such as Land Safe Equestrian. (Just for your information I have no connection with Land Safe Equestrian)
Or have a gymnastics coach give a tumbling clinic. Teach students how to tuck and roll.
When a fall happens:
The best scenario with a fall is to stop it before it occurs. You’ll need quick reflexes and eyes in the back of your head. If you think a horse is about to get out of control or a rider might fall, stop the lesson and correct the issue immediately. Don’t let something preventible play out into an accident. Don’t question your first reaction.
When the rider falls you need to assist immediately. That means you must assess the severity of the fall; decide whether first aid needs to be administered or if emergency help is needed, or whether encouragement and a dusting off is all the rider requires. Plus you must secure the other riders in your lesson and the riderless horse. I strongly suggest that instructors take a first aid course and that the course trainer knows you teach riding. This will go a long way toward helping you make quick decisions.
The Reaction to a fall:
So let’s say your rider hit the ground with a thud or a tuck and roll (because you wisely taught them how to fall) and requires no medical help. In most cases I agree that it is good to get the rider remounted as quickly as possible because if the time between falling and remounting is lengthy, your rider may lose the nerve to remount. But first take into consideration what caused the fall and make the appropriate corrections before remounting your rider. And try to help your rider understand what happened, if possible, so they may work toward correcting a problem.
Your assessment of the situation and of your student’s reaction is crucial to helping them get past a fall. Some will need to go slower and build confidence before moving on. Other riders are encouraged when they learn all riders fall, especially when they are pushing forward in their riding. They may consider it a step forward or a sign of moving on. Many riders are relieved when they find falling is not as bad as they feared. Be astute and try to give support without making a big deal over a simple fall. Let your riders know it happens to everyone, even you.
What do you do?
How do you handle falls with your students? Do you have a special way to get them past a simple fall? Can you add any ideas to help prevent falls or to make them easier? We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
Barbara Ellin Fox
Please Note: The articles and information written by the Barbara Ellin Fox for The Riding Instructor are based on personal experience and training. Their purpose is to provide information for educational use. No action should be taken solely on the contents of this website. Please consult a qualified professional on all matters regarding training and safety.
Copyright 2021 by Barbara Ellin Fox