Friday, October 7, 2011

No, You Don’t Have to Get Back On

Everyone knows that saying about getting right back on a horse after you fall off. No matter what! Well, I really take issue with this philosophy.  It depends. Instructors who enforce this rule without thinking through the situation are not being responsible. Sure, it can be a wise move for a kid who isn’t hurt and needs a confidence boost right away, provided that the horse is quiet and not the cause of the fall. But, I’ve seen injured people allow themselves to be persuaded and get back on, unaware that they need medical attention. Myself included: In college, I got back on a horse before I knew I was suffering from a concussion. I do not remember riding for nearly 15 minutes before a smart observer took me to the hospital. To this day, I still don’t remember being at the hospital for hours.

When you are more--shall I say, mature--falling really does hurt. No longer do you “bounce” like kids seem to; you are much more likely to land on the ground with a resounding thud. As a kid, I had my share of landing on jumps, through them, over them horseless, a very scenic route around the sides—all unscathed. As an adult, a fall results in a painful consequence such as an x-ray or multiple visits to my favorite massage therapist (who also rides—that kinda helps with the embarrassment factor).

Fortunately, I have a wonderful trainer who has helped me overcome some real confidence-shaking moments. After one fall that landed me outside of the arena, I waited about a month for the bruising and pain to subside before I felt I could go back to the barn. When I did, she said that if all I wanted to do was sit on the horse in the ring, not even walk, and call that a victory, that was good enough for her. 

So I recommend that is what you do. Find a friend or trainer or instructor who knows when going slow is what you need or will help you find non-scary ways to get your confidence going in the right direction again. Don’t force yourself or ignore the sirens in your head—those sirens are nature’s way of reminding you that you are no longer that infallible teenager. 

This is Belle, a large Pony of the Americas. I don't ride her very often (I feel way too big for her!), but nothing beats a quiet hack on a schoolmaster to boost your confidence after a fall. Ponies like Belle are worth their weight in gold.
I know a lot of women who have returned to riding having once performed amazing and fearless feats of horsemanship in their youth. But something about getting older makes us not want to take the risk anymore. I know I could handle a nervous horse, but some days I don’t always want to. And, maybe because we are a bit older, we find our most satisfying moments while riding are a bit different than when we were young. It’s not about jumping a certain height or riding the newest horse in the barn. It’s something more meaningful—maybe a quiet walk around the field or how your horse drops his head and closes his eyes when you rub behind his ears.