Why Novice Riders Get Hurt, and What We Can Do About It
“While motorcycle riders experience a serious injury approximately every 7,000 hours of riding, horseback riders experience one nearly every 650 hours, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is estimated that one in five equestrians will be seriously injured during their riding careers. Novice riders, especially children and young adults, are eight times more likely to suffer a serious injury than professional equestrians.”
When I saw this excerpt from an article in last month’s ARIA news, I was flabbergasted. I knew that riding injuries in the main are higher than necessary, (which is why our insurance rates are higher as well) but I had no idea that these statistics are the norm. I doubt if there are many of you who enjoy either seeing a rider fall off, or paying those high insurance rates. So let’s start thinking constructively about the problem.
First of all, why does anyone fall—not just off a horse, but in any situation? Put simply, she loses her balance and is unable to regain it before gravity takes over and makes recovery impossible. As in, for example, stepping onto an unexpected patch of glare ice in the middle of the road, wearing high heels, with no one and nothing around to grab onto. (Tuck that ‘grab onto’ phrase into your head, because it is a major part of the secret of avoiding a dangerous fall off a horse!)
Next question, what do we mean by ‘loses her balance?’ Again, the cause is very simple. In order to maintain balance, she must keep her center* over her base, both laterally and longitudinally. Her base is her seat bones if she is sitting, and her ‘bubbling spring point’** if she is standing up. So if her center gets too far to the left of her base she will fall off to the left; too far to the right and she falls to the right; too far ahead of her base she will fall forward; and if too far behind, backward (rare in riding, but it happens).
So preventing falls is something we practice every day in our daily life, whether moving or still, standing or sitting. It’s a built-in skill, therefore it should be easy to apply to riding a horse, just as we apply it to riding a bicycle or skiing (sports which bear some similarity to riding.)
If this is the case, then why are beginning riders, in theory learning basic and therefore safe skills, so much more likely to get hurt than more advanced riders (or people who ride motorcycles?) Two reasons—overfacing and/or overmounting. Or, to put it another way, placing the student in situations where she is likely to lose her balance and therefore her safety, because her centering skills are not ready for those situations.
In Part 2, we will talk about the best ways to approach these problems. That is, we want to keep our students safe while still giving them challenges that will keep them interested and enjoying their lessons.
*Note: The center of the body is located by placing one hand, palm down, on the abdomen, with the thumb on the navel. The center is lined up vertically with the navel, behind the middle finger knuckle and about midway between the navel and the spine. However, it varies with different conformations.
**Note: The bubbling spring point is located on the sole of the foot, in the hollow at the back of the ball of the foot, approximately behind the second toe. If you rock backward and forward over your feet (Centered Riding’s™ ‘Teeter-totter) you will lose your balance and have to take a step when the bubbling spring loses connection with the ground.