Saddle Departures

Bucked off, fell off, slipped out—however you describe it, do 10 involuntary dismounts make you a “real” rider?

By Kelli Neubert

April 7, 2017

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Besides stunt riders, I don’t think I know of anyone who gets on a horse with the intentions of getting thrown off.

Strangely enough though, it seems to happen to every one of us at some point in our riding career. My “falls” began at a young age—8 years old to be exact. The first time I flew through the air with the greatest of ease was from the back of a Thoroughbred named Phantom. He cranked on his brakes from a long trot right before a small crossrail, and I kept going without my horse beneath me. The wind was knocked out of my lungs when I landed, and as I gasped for oxygen I was a bit shaken up. However, when I had my air back, I wore a big grin and happily said to my riding instructor, “Well, that’s one!”

See, during my second-ever riding lesson, I was told that you’re only a real rider once you’ve fallen off 10 times. This means no fake falls and no cheating. They have to be legitimate, accidental tumbles from the back of the horse in order to count. And I only had nine more to go.

Now that I think about it, it seems like sort of a crazy way to get a kid to feel okay with coming unseated. But at the time, it was the most important countdown of my life. Each time a horse’s feet came up over his back, or he shied one way and my little body went the other, I felt that I was that much closer to being what I had always hoped to be—a “real” rider. I happily ticked off every accident when it happened. Fall No. 2 was Phantom doing what phantoms do best—spook. Falls 3,4 and 5 all occurred in the same day, off of different geldings, in a show ring. (Subsequently, I learned to properly warm up my horses before jabbing them into a flat class situation). Fall 6 was a bareback incident. And the list goes on.

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I suppose it is just as important to fall smartly as it is to ride smartly, although it’s not something we should get in the habit of practicing. Nowadays, I feel that it’s more important to focus on the ride and not the fall. Too often I hear people say “Well, at least I’m riding a short horse so in case I come off, it’s not that far.” Wrong mindset! Don’t plan on falling. Plan on riding! If something starts to go amiss, get those reins short and sit those Wrangler “W” pockets deep in that saddle.

Here’s another thing that’s good to remember. Know the difference between falling off, being bucked off, bailing off, and just flat-out slipping off. It makes the story much more credible and helps you understand what exactly what went wrong.

I’ve come out of the saddle plenty of times. Even now, it doesn’t really scare me, but then again, I do a lot less of it than I used to. I suppose they call that improvement. And to be honest, I don’t know if falling off 10 times really makes a person a “real” rider, or if my trainer was just trying to boost my confidence.

But in case you’re wondering if my young self ever made it to that magic number, the answer is a big, bruised yes. And if you haven’t made it to 10 yourself, never fear. I’ve got plenty of “extras” under my belt and I’d be happy to lend you as many of my falls as you need!

Read more of Kelli Neubert's blog, Neu Perspectives

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