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The severity of your fall might mean that you'll need physical rehabilitation

Regaining confidence after a fall

The nature of the sport means that accidents are bound to happen at some point
The nature of the sport means that accidents are bound to happen at some point

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s commonly said among riders that you aren’t a true horse rider until you have had a couple of falls. Falling off a horse is not a matter of ‘if’, but rather a matter of ‘when’. Many riders have an innate fear of falling. However, after riding for an extended period of time without a fall, we grow in confidence and the belief that we know our horse well, and we trust him not to dump us at the last minute. When accidents do occur, we doubt ourselves and our riding.

Sometimes, the severity of a fall surpasses that of just getting a bit of sand in your face. The reality of the equestrian sport is that accidents can result in very serious injuries, and sometimes even death. Regaining confidence after a fall can be a tough mental process, lasting long after the injuries have healed.

Making peace

After a fall, your confidence takes a dive, and you doubt in the trust you have placed in your horse. It’s important to make peace with the fall and to grasp what went wrong and how it can possibly be avoided in the future.

There are varying reactions that riders normally have after a fall. Many riders tend to steer clear of getting back in the saddle. A second reaction that riders have is that of ‘freezing’. This is particularly evident when it comes to the discipline of showjumping. The mental block many riders have when approaching a fence is to hold against their horse. This can result in a bad approach to the jump or even a stop, and then you’re left feeling less confident than when you began. A third reaction is becoming somewhat hyper observant and paranoid about anything you or your horse does. A final common reaction to having a fall is in the form of unwarranted anxiety – anxiety that may not have been present prior to the fall.
Regardless of the reaction you experience, it is vital to analyse what went wrong and where it went wrong. Examining the reasons can have a calming effect on you as a rider, as you will be conscious of the mistake and try to avoid it in future situations. It changes the thought process in your mind to a more logical state rather than an emotional one. No matter the cause, make peace with the fall and remind yourself that accidents are bound to happen in the sport.

Physical rehab for the horse and rider

Physical rehabilitation broadly encompasses evaluation, diagnosis and treatment as well as the steps that can be taken to prevent a bad experience. It’s important for you to take it slowly and at your own pace after a fall, even if it means taking things down a notch and going back to basics. Consider physical therapy if you’ve suffered extensive injury. When it comes to your horse, it’s vital to understand how and the speed at which horses heal, as this will assist in determining the way to a full recovery along with building strength and improving function of the injured area. If he needs physiotherapy, it is crucial that he receives it.

The severity of your fall might mean that you'll need physical rehabilitation
The severity of your fall might mean that you’ll need physical rehabilitation

Sport psychology

Lack of control and unpredictability can result in many challenges as well as rewards. Sport psychology can make a significant difference in this regard. Common emotions felt among riders are those of fear and anxiety. Performance anxiety is debilitating in the sense that it inhibits your ability to concentrate. Effective communication is key when it comes to your relationship with your equine partner. A good instructor will take note of when your horse is sore, stressed, depressed or just fresh and naughty. Horses are labour-intensive animals and require close attention in all spheres. It’s important to take note of not only the rider’s state of mind, but also the horse’s. Consulting a sport psychologist can truly help with mental recovery and confidence.

Get someone else to ride your horse

Your horse also takes a knock when a bad fall or injury occurs. Getting a different rider who does not hold the same reserves as you do after the fall will help him get his confidence back up. It’s not a bad idea to ask a confident and kind rider to sit on your horse a few times to help ease him back into his work routine. It’s just as important to get his confidence up as well, because a nervous horse and rider are a recipe for disaster. Thereafter, it’s important to re-establish the relationship the horse has with his rider.

Get onto someone else’s horse

Schoolmaster horses have knowledge as well as experience, which make them ideal confidence boosters. Riding any other safe horse in general isn’t a bad idea, because it almost makes your mind a clean sheet. The key is to be aware of your fear and to consciously work through it with the schoolmaster in order to gain your confidence back. A schoolmaster can help you work through any previous concerns you had. Schoolmasters are often so well trained that you can almost ignore them and focus on yourself. Furthermore, a schoolmaster can help you achieve relaxation in your riding.

Text: Jessi Louw