“If you fall off the horse, get back on.” As equestrians, we have all heard how important immediately getting back in the saddle is. Over the years, I have taken numerous falls – some quite impressive – and most of the time I was able to get back on immediately while the adrenaline was still flowing and before I had time to overthink what had happened.
But what happens when you are seriously injured and cannot immediately get back on the horse? This is when fear sets in, and this fear can be crippling. The mental recovery from these types of falls can take longer than the physical healing. These are the steps I took to regain my confidence and get my head back in a positive space after a serious fall.
In May 2006, I got into a spectacular – and very serious – wreck with one of my 4H kid’s horses. Just as a put my foot in the stirrup the horse bolted. I could not pull myself on and I was not in a good position to let go and fall off. The horse went around a corner and I went head-first into the steel arena fencing.
A trip to the emergency room and many months of chiropractor visits determined that I had permanent damage to my back. I was riding without a helmet, and if I had been wearing one the angle of impact would have snapped my neck and I would not be here today. I was lucky to have avoided traumatic brain injury.
Both the emergency room doctor and my chiropractor had kids in 4H, and both asked me when I planned on getting back in the saddle. I had the “all-clear” to start gently riding after about a week. I was still quite sore but well-prepared for the physical trials of riding again, but no one prepared me for the mental hurdles.
My own mare was pregnant at the time, so I had to ride a loaner horse. Even though I borrowed the gentlest gelding I knew, I was overwhelmed by fear and could not put my foot in the stirrup and pull myself into the saddle. I stood next to the horse crying for almost an hour because I just could not make myself do it.
That day was a fail, but I eventually got back in the saddle again. These are the steps I took to fix my mindset and regain my love of riding.
Ride Something Different
If you do not have the confidence to get back on the horse that threw you, ride something different. Because I was unable to ride my own mare, and I did not have the confidence to ride another horse that I did not know well, I started with a mule. I was still scared, but the mule was different enough that my mind did not associate it with the offending horse. I also rode in a different saddle. The wreck happened with my Western saddle, so I used my English saddle for my first ride. That helped as well.
Go Back to Basics
I had to go WAY back to basics. I had to have someone lead me on my first ride. This was embarrassing for someone who had been jumping four-foot fences just a few weeks earlier, but my mind was in such a bad place that I needed the extra security of someone else being in control.
Go back as far as you need to. Maybe your first ride is just at a walk in the round pen. Maybe it is a gentle trail ride through familiar territory. Walk/trot or hop over a few crossrails if you feel up to it. Only you know where your comfort level is. On the first ride, stick where you are comfortable. You can push your boundaries later.
Admit What Scares You
Naming my fears gives me confidence to face them. I had to say, “I am afraid of putting my foot in the stirrup and mounting from the ground.” Once my fear had a title it was not so scary. My mind could focus on what I needed to do to overcome it. Be specific when you name your fear.
Because I was afraid to mount from the ground, I mounted from the fence. I admit, I still have a little fear about mounting from the ground. Most of the time I choose the fence or mounting block, but because I started slow and worked up to it, I can mount from the ground when needed now.
Take the time to meditate before your first ride to get yourself in a positive mindset. If you have never meditated before, this is the method I use.
Choose a quiet area where you will be undisturbed for at least 15 minutes. You can play quiet music in the background or meditate in silence. The choice is yours. Meditation headphones keep you centered even with a bit of background noise.
Sit cross-legged on the floor with your hands resting on your knees. Keep your spine in its natural curve (no slouching). Use a meditation cushion for comfort.
Gently close your eyes. Breathe deeply in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Focus your mind on your breaths.
Imagine your first ride going perfectly. See the place where you will ride, smell the horses, feel the reins in your hand.
Use a meditation alarm to gently end your session. Move your limbs slowly and gently open your eyes. Remember the way you felt during your meditation and carry that positive energy with you to the barn.
Meditation is a good practice before any ride, and especially before competition. Meditating before your first few rides after a fall will keep your mind in the right place. If you get scared, you can even stop your ride and do a short meditation on your horse to re-center yourself.
Remember Why You Ride
I was a horse-crazy little girl who would rather be in the saddle than anywhere else. I had to remember who she was. I dug out old pictures of myself riding as a kid, and some more recent ones as well. I watched every horse movie I could get my hands on. Some of these movies have horse wrecks as part of the storyline, but I found that watching someone else get back on gave me the idea that I could, too.
Movies I Suggest:
I have a thing for old movies, and classic horse movies are my very favorites. Most of these are Disney movies, very family-friendly and have a positive message.
If you are in the mood to binge watch a television series, this is the time to watch Heartland.
Slowly my desire to ride came back. I was still afraid, but I was ready to overcome it.
Ask for Help
I am extremely independent, so this was hard for me. I had to ask a good friend to help me get back in the saddle and work through my fears, but I am glad that I did.
Fear is real, and so is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Seek help from a professional counselor if you need extra help working through your fear issues.
Just Do It
No matter how much preparation you make, the first ride will still be a bit scary. This is okay. This is normal. Some steps will be forward, others backward, but ultimately, you have to pull yourself into the saddle and take those first shaky steps. I promise, you can do this. I love to ride. Working through my fear was well worth it because I can’t imagine my life without horses. Take your time, but put your foot in the stirrup. You will be happy you did.
9/11/2018 08:20:45 pm
I too had a very serious accident about 5 years ago when i was getting on a horse i was considering buying. My accident also happened when mounting. I was using a mounting block and i had put my left foot in the stirrup and was swinging my right leg over when he took off galloping and bucking. I stayed, " on" long enough to try using the reins to get control but he bucked me off and i went flying
9/13/2018 03:52:54 pm
What a scary accident! I'm happy to hear you are okay. An equestrian coach is a GREAT idea! When my accident happened I was living in a very rural area, so I had to rely on friends to help me, but understanding professionals are a great resource.
9/12/2018 02:37:24 pm
I got thrown off a spooked horse in a full run back to barn. I was trying to slow him down and he decided he needed to dump me he went into a bronc and I went flying. I landed on my head (wearing a helmet) but smacked my chin to my chest, pulled a muscle in the front of my neck and sustained some bruising and landed on my lower back. I laid on the ground unable to feel my legs and waited for some pain to kick in so I knew I was ok but hurt. I was ok! A very bruised tailbone, lower back pain and bruising for weeks and unable to comfortably walk, bend over, and move my head for a few days.
9/12/2018 03:55:18 pm
Erin, You expressed how I feel even occasionally today- 6 years later. In general, I have let go of 80% of my fear, but sometimes I still get a fast pulse. Most of the time it's because I allow my mind to picture me being thrown off. I work very hard to keep the images and self talk positive and encouraging. It really does help to have a trainer that you trust and feel comfortable with on the ground to guide you. Rooting for you in Missouri!
9/13/2018 03:58:44 pm
Anne -- Picturing a positive ride is huge for me, and I'm happy to hear it works for you too! Every ride is a small step in the right direction for me.
9/13/2018 03:56:52 pm
Equestrian PTSD is real, and it is so rarely talked about. Your accident sounds incredibly scary, but I'm happy that I'm not alone in my fear! Even 12 years later I still have moments where I find my heart racing and the fear kicking in. I don't know that the fear ever really leaves you, but it can get a little better every day. That's awesome that you found a good trainer to work with. That is definitely a step in the right direction,and you are right -- move at your own pace. Only you know when you are ready to ride again.
11/28/2018 11:15:29 am
I was getting in my horse last year at a posse training session. When I started to mount I had a stroke. I fell backwards and got my foot caught in the stirrup. I was told that the horse bolted and I don't remember anything for 5 days. I had 7 broken ribs, 3 broken vertebrae and a cracked C3. When I woke up I couldn't walk, swallow,eat, or anything, I was in rehadpb for 6 weeks, if I hadn't had my helmet on I wouldn't be here now.
1/9/2019 05:44:08 pm
How scary! There's NO shame in using a mounting block. We all have different journeys to getting back to "okay" in the saddle. The point is that we get back in the saddle =) Hiring a trainer is a great idea.
7/2/2019 09:10:37 pm
I was just thrown from my horse and I am terrified, this will really help me out. First broken bone for me!
7/3/2019 07:32:56 am
While it's very easy to say "when you fall off, get back on," actually doing so can be very difficult. A fall -- especially when you are injured -- can really alter your mindset. Take baby steps at your own pace. It takes time to overcome the fear, but it is so worth it.
7/23/2019 04:36:48 am
I was thrown three years ago on labor day weekend. The horse I was riding was my sister's and we were riding in line trying to get her more use to her new horse. It was turning to dusk, but still had some light to see. On the outside of the paddock was my horse acting like a fool. He came running around the back side of the paddock and spooked the horse I was on. He went to the left, I went to the right. I did have a helmet on, but that's not what hit the ground first, it was my right hip. I didn't get right up, I couldn't. It took me about a half hour to get up from the ground, I was nauseous and in pain in my hip. My sister kept encouraging me to get back on, but I couldn't.
7/24/2019 07:50:03 pm
Overcoming your fear is never easy, but baby steps in the right direction can make a huge difference. I'm happy to hear this article gives you a starting point.
9/28/2019 09:19:57 pm
The only way ill canter after my accident is if i jump. my horse started to gallop off on me yesterday. I did not realize till like five seconds later. Thank you for writing this. it has really helped me!
12/12/2019 01:18:09 pm
Even though we are cattle ranchers, & have often ridden new horses out to gather cattle on the first ride, (as we have no round pen or arena), I recently made a big, potentially dangerous mistake! My 20 yr. old daughter is a nervous rider, but she has a great, “babysitter”, a very protective Paint mare. I’m riding a Morgan gelding who’d been pulled over backwards in the street, a harsh bit, when a car blew past the flagmen, as they crossed steers over a busy road. The rider pulled him back-hard, to avoid being hit, causing him to rear up & over backwards in the street, on top of his rider! He then he quit riding for good, & put the horse up in mountain pastures for 7 years!
10/9/2020 08:17:56 pm
Reading all your experiences has made me realize I gave PTSD, I have a 3 yr old colt/gelding quarter horse. I’ve fell off him twice this year one in June which I didn’t have a brake on his bridle. Then in September I had him two days back from a trainer and I was already scared he would bolt and that’s what he did so I decided to fall off on the left and now my left hip has been swollen, my muscle over my heart is tender to where I can’t move my left arm certain ways at times and still some bruising on my hip, leg and pelvis area. I was wearing a helmet this time, but did not in June and suffered a concussion (I don’t remember the ER visit). I was able to get my horse and walk him back. I don’t blame my horse and know they go off your emotions. I don’t think I will get back on because my kids 5 & 7 worry about me now. I don’t want to ruin them not experiencing riding, but I fear them having the same experience as me. I’m broken inside, I did use to ride horses when I was younger but only sat in back of a rider I didn’t really sit in the saddle. I have got bucked off and stayed on my uncles horse that was competitive and he went full stride for about 3-4 miles. I know you have to show the horse you are in control, but I’ve felt how much power and strength they have which I feel I lack. The trainer has offered to teach me how to ride, but I told him I needed to work on myself first which he said was fine and once I’m ready we could start. However I think I might have to pass up the offer because I fear I might get hurt to where I can’t support my family. The main reason we got horses was to help round up our cattle, but I’m coming with terms that I won’t be the one in the saddle:(
2/1/2021 02:18:40 pm
1st time I ever broke a bone, on my horse, she bucked, but I dont believe it was her fault..I broke my ankle.. I couldnt ride again I wa so scared.. I tried that day, even after walking on the broken ankle, stating its not broken its just a sprain. y horse has passed 2 yrs ago she was 40ish, now i have a very gentle gelding, and young, and hes been through trauma him self so i ve had him 2 yrs and havent ridden him yet.. but i have a older mare I do ride just in the round pen. I dont trust my self and I know I scare my gelding.. because im not sure hes not sure.. but this reading of others trauma really makes me feel part of something, and I just cried for all of us.. and the first tie since it happen. all of us are very lucky to be here.. and Im glad i got the opportunity to tell my short story, and read others, that tells me i wasnt crazy after all.. thank you all for all the stories, and thank you for the blog that I found on pintrest!
3/14/2021 10:43:14 am
I am so happy to have run across this BLOG,
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Welcome! I've been a freelance writer since 2002 and have numerous horse-related articles published in print and online publications. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Rocky Mountain College with a major in Equestrian Studies and a minor in Business Management. My current business ventures include High Plains Arena and real estate investing.