Unscheduled Dismount: How To Fall From A Horse Safely

It doesn’t matter how experienced a rider you are, at some point, you will fall off which is why I’m always surprised that a lot of instructors don’t teach students how to fall. Surely learning how to fall properly and safely is one of the most important lessons to learn?

Of course, nobody likes to think they’re going to fall but as they say ‘You’re not a good rider until you’ve fallen off seven times’ but that doesn’t mean you have to get hurt. Thankfully though there are some techniques that you can use to help prevent injury (or at least reduce the risk) and protect vulnerable areas like the head, neck, and wrists.

How do you fall safely from a horse? To fall safely you need to quickly remove your feet from the stirrups and push yourself away from the horse. You should also bring your arms around you, tuck your head in, bring your chin towards your chest, and aim to hit the ground with the back of your shoulder before rolling away.

When you fall it happens extremely quickly and you have very little time, if any, to think about what you’re doing but if you’ve learned how to fall you’ll be able to do so instinctively which is why I wanted to write this article. I know that learning to fall from a 1000+ pound animal that’s at least 5 feet tall isn’t everybody’s idea of fun but in my opinion, it’s essential. 

Most riders don't get a chance to plan a fall

The table below is a brief summary of what you should, and shouldn’t, do when you fall.

Do’s of falling off a horseDon’ts of falling off a horse
Take your feet out of the stirrupsPut arms out to help break fall
Tuck your arms around your bodyLook at where you’re falling 
Tuck your head in & bring your chin downKeep hold of the reins as
Roll away from the horse
What you should, and shouldn’t, do when you fall off of a horse

Why is it important to know how to fall off of a horse?

There’s no doubt that horseback riding is a dangerous pastime and whether we like it or not, falling off is something that will definitely happen. The problem is that falling off can have very serious implications which is why it’s crucial to learn how to safely fall off.

That doesn’t mean to say if you learn how to fall you won’t get hurt, there’s no guarantee of that, but what it does mean is that you’ll be greatly reducing the risk of serious injury.

You’re not a good rider until you’ve fallen off seven times

Preparing to fall off of a horse

When it comes to falling off a horse I’m sure that very few riders have sat in the saddle, thought about what was happening, and then planned out how they were going to fall. Instead, there’s a split second when you’re brain realizes you’re about to leave the horse, and your instincts (as well as your muscle memory) kick in, and it’s that muscle memory that we can learn.

Disciplines such as judo can help a rider to fall better, as can a mechanical horse, known as the ‘Equichute’, that repeatedly throws the rider off but these aren’t options for everybody so instead we need to ‘practice’ falling. Don’t worry though you can do this at home or at the gym and don’t need to be sitting on a horse.

To start with stand by a thick mat or mattress, bend your knees, and begin to roll forwards. As soon as you start to tip forwards bring your arms in and around your body rather than putting them out in front of you. As you start to roll bring your head down and towards your chest and twist your body so that you land on your shoulder blade. Continue the forward momentum and roll into a ball and away from where you started.

Being able to fall safely is an acquired skill that you’ll need to practice over and over again until you’ve mastered it. Once you’ve done that you won’t need to think about what to do when (and believe me it will happen) you do fall.

How to fall off of a horse safely

As we’ve already talked about falling off of a horse safely is about muscle memory and having the right technique which can easily be summarized as relax, bend, roll, and breathe. While that’s obviously only a very quick synopsis, the full process you should follow is:

Relax

Being able to relax when you’re about to fall is one of the hardest things you can do, after all, if you think you’re going to hurt yourself how can you relax? That said though if you can, you’ll greatly increase your body’s ability to absorb the impact of the fall. Your muscles are extremely strong and can break bones if your body is tense.

You might think this is nonsense but when I was young (around 10) I fell off of a wall, landed on my head, and fractured my wrist. The problem was I was trying to get away from a dog that was going to attack me (turns out it just wanted to play but that’s another story) so was already tense. I climbed up a wall but when the dog jumped up I fell off and landed on my head. Okay so that’s a long-winded way of saying you should relax but you get what I’m saying anyway.

Let go of the reins

Whether or not you let go of your reins when you fall is a contentious issue and I can see both sides of the argument but if you don’t let go you won’t be able to fold your arms around yourself and therefore won’t be able to roll away properly. On top of that, by keeping hold of the reins, you run the risk of them getting caught around your wrist and the horse running off with you trailing behind them. Seriously, this could be fatal!

If your horse does run off you can always find them later or call for help to look for them.

Bend

Tucking your arms around your body bringing your head towards your chest and bending your body will help to reduce broken bones and allow you to turn your body so that you’re more likely to hit the ground with your shoulder blade. 

You should tuck your arms in when you fall off a horse

Land

In an ideal world, you should aim to hit the ground with your shoulder blade but sometimes this isn’t possible. If at all possible you should try to protect your head, neck, and limbs from any impact. You should also try to avoid landing flat on your back because, while this will create a larger surface area, it could cause serious damage to your internal organs.

Roll

Regardless of how you land you should roll away from the horse as quickly as possible. Not only will this reduce the chance of being kicked or trampled on but it will help to take the energy out of your fall. You should roll until you’re either on your feet (or at least your knees so that you can stand) or until you’re away from the horse’s feet.

Breathe

It might sound silly but it’s important to try and regulate your breathing after a fall. You’ll be in a state of shock at first and being conscious of your breathing will help to relax and calm your body down. It’ll also help you to assess yourself (and your horse) for injuries and decide what the best course of action is.

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How to reduce the chances of injury when falling off of a horse

Believe it or not, there are a number of things you can do to help reduce the risk of you falling as well as to minimize your chances of serious injury. 

To start with you should make sure the saddle is done up properly, and securely and that there’s no chance of it coming undone or moving while you’re riding. Once you’re happy with the saddle you should check the length of your stirrups, you can easily do this from the ground by putting your fingertips at the top of the stirrup leather or fender. If you can tuck the base of the stirrup into your armpit then your stirrups are roughly the right length, although they may need a slight adjustment when you get on.

As well as making sure the saddle and stirrups are correct it’s also important that you have the right clothing and protective wear too. 

Helmet

You should wear a riding helmet that fits properly and conforms to the latest safety standards. It might make your head hot or be uncomfortable but it could literally save your life!

You can read more about riding helmets here: Why riding helmets are so important.

Body protector

Wearing a body protector and air vest can help to protect your body and soft tissues if you fall. They will also offer you some protection if the horse kicks you.

Want to know more about body protectors? Do I need a body protector when I ride?

Footwear

Ideally, you should be using proper riding boots but if that’s not possible then make sure they have a small (approximately 1 inch) heel and a smoothish soul. This will help you to get your feet out of the stirrups quickly but will also prevent them from sliding right the way through.

Can you ride in sneakers? A guide to correct horseback riding footwear.

Having the right footwear will help protect you if you fall

Cell phone

Okay so I admit that taking a phone with you won’t do anything to lower the chances of you falling or being injured but it could be a real lifeline if you did phone. Just make sure you’re carrying the phone and not the horse. Also, set it to silent so that it won’t scare your horse if it does ring.

What can you do to avoid falling off of a horse?

The only surefire way of not falling off of a horse is to not get on in the first place but as you’re reading this article I’m guessing that for you (just like me) that isn’t an option so what can you do to reduce the chances of falling off? Surprisingly enough there are a few things you can do to help yourself stay in the saddle.

One of the biggest things you can do is make sure you have a good position in the saddle. This will help you to move with your horse and therefore make it less likely you’ll fall if your horse trips or tries to rear or buck you off. Having a good seat will also help you to keep control of your horse if he does get over-excited or bolts.

Do you really have a good riding position? How to improve and maintain your posture in the saddle.

As well as making sure you have a good seat there are a number of other things you can do to reduce the chances of an unscheduled dismount.

  • Ride a horse that matches your abilities
  • Ride in an environment that’s suitable for your level
  • Pay attention to your surroundings
  • Look for things that could spook your horse
  • Stay in control of the horse
  • Make sure your stirrups are the right length
  • Check the saddle is secure and tight enough

What should you do after you fall off a horse?

When the inevitable does happen and you find yourself sitting on the floor, separated from your horse it can be difficult to know what to do, after all your adrenaline will be high and you could well be in shock. With this in mind, it’s important you don’t rush and take your time.

To start with you should check yourself for injuries, if you’re okay then you should get back on your horse as soon as possible (or find them first if they’ve run off). You might not want to at first but the longer you leave it then the more chance there is of fear setting in. While it’s perfectly natural to be fearful, if you don’t tackle it head on you could end up not riding at all. That said though if you’ve injured yourself (especially if hit your head at all) you shouldn’t get back on until you’ve sought medical advice.


I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

Recommended products 

Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.

  • Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
  • TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
  • Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
  • Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
  • Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.

Shopping lists

I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉

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