Fear of Falling

By Patty Wilber

When I was a kid, some ol’ cowboy told me that to be considered a “real” horseman, I had to come off at least three times. I started riding a lot at 14 and I am sure I “hit” that mark by 17 or so!  I was fortunate to get on a lot of equines for woman that bred Tennessee Walking Horses and also collected TWHs in need of rescue.  She made us all (I wasn’t the only lucky one) ride bareback.

You must fly three times to redeem your miles for your Horseman's Card! Click to see page.

You must fly three times to redeem your miles for your Horseman’s Card! Click to see page.

I only remember one fall.  I tried to lean backward on my horse while riding–yes, bareback–through a  gate with a cross bar at a school in the summer, and I ended up on my head.

Well, duh.   

My horse bolted!  An ambulance came! I only got stitches, but the kids at the summer camp were pretty sure I’d died. 

My gate was open, at least!

My gate was open, at least!

Helmet?  No helmet! No one wore helmets on horses or bikes or even many motorcycles.  (That was back in the days when seat belts were optional, too. Our old Dodge station wagon didn’t even have any in the back seat.)

Anyone that has ridden much, has probably hit the ground.  Since 17, I surely have, but despite some odd ones (Young horse loses balance and falls on me. We both lay there a bit with her on top.  She gets up without stepping on me and I get up with just a sprained finger.) and riding 3-6 horses per day, I have only needed medical attention once since I fell on my head. Last month.  Grade 3 separated shoulder.*

So falling off three times to earn that Horseman’s Card is all fine and good when we are young and flexible and the ground is not as hard! It is not as nice when we are older.  Our connective tissue is stiffening with age (do more yoga!) and our bones are more brittle (Take your vitamin D and calcium! Do weight bearing exercise! Be male! Male bones maintain strength as one ages better than female bones, as a general rule.).  In any case, as one ages, chances of breaking on impact increase.

Breaking hurts!  And pain induces fear, which is not really a bad thing. Fear of pain helps us protect ourselves from self destruction. (I think MMA -mixed martial arts- fighters must lack normal pain receptors.) But fear can also limit us.

My young horses almost never buck when I start them.  I try really hard to help them be successful and work around their fears. This does make some really nice horses, but it it also sounds a little sickeningly sweet, so before anyone barfs, here’s a secret:

 I have a fear of falling.

So, while it is true that I don’t like fighting with my horses, the real key is I don’t like drama that puts me in danger!

Fear of falling is one reason I don’t like big group rides (especially when I am on a youngster),  and will teach a horse to halt on “whoa” as well as bend to a stop during our earliest lessons.  I want (some) safety valves.

So, I have let fear affect my behavior, but I don’t feel I have let it control me.

Nevertheless, this website had a nice fear-busting exercise that I might employ next time I feel anxious!

Feeling Scared? Try Mother Nature’s Fear Buster


*The shoulder X-ray looked like this. (This not my X-ray.  I did the left shoulder.)

I copied this off a website (click pic if you want to go there), but it looks like mine.

I copied this off a website but it looks like mine.

(Click if you want to go the page).

In a Grade 3 separated shoulder, the ligaments holding the collar bone to the top of the shoulder are completely torn so the collar bone sort of floats around above the shoulder.  Eventually the muscles and other connective tissue will help stabilize the bone.

It should take about 12 weeks to stabilize and  six months to a year to be 100%.  The bone will always poke out weirdly, but functionality should not be impaired.

Stick out weirdly

Sticking out weirdly!

If it does not stabilize, surgery is an option, but in most cases, the outcome in six months is equivalent with or without surgery.  Also, one would be immobilized for four weeks following surgery. Far too long.

I waited two weeks to ride.

I am being “extra” careful, because, you know, I have a fear of falling!

About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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18 Responses to Fear of Falling

  1. Marilyn says:

    I maintain that getting older is not for wimps! I would add to your list of Vitamin D & calcium, suitable magnesium and zinc. I also recommend a daily gelatin drink, using gelatin from pastured animals (Great Lakes is one brand), like, about a tablespoon of the dry gelatin a day. It has now been 16 months since I started that, upon being told I would likely need knee replacement within six months. I have this profound desire to avoid surgery if possible. Knee is doing reasonably well! The gelatin is also said to help connective tissue. Good luck with YOUR healing!

    • Doranna says:

      Gelatin, huh? Hmm.

      • Patty says:

        Gelatin is a new one for me, too!

        • Doranna says:

          You know, I looked into it and actually just ordered it. With the old Lyme bod falling apart around me and the digestive system at the core of it all…well, it seems like a simple, inexpensive, “no way this can hurt me” thing to try…

          • Marilyn says:

            All I can say is — last April, my knee was hurting so bad I could barely walk to the necessary. Now… I still walk with a cane on uneven surfaces, and I can’t keep up with Master Harper when he heads out at a trot, so it isn’t a miracle cure by any means. But my knee isn’t hurting all the time. And that is MORE than worth melting the gelatin into some broth and sipping on it!

  2. EMoonTX says:

    Sorry about your separated shoulder. A friend of mine here got that plus a serious neck injury while running barrels…horse tripped somehow and pretty much dumped her headfirst into the ground. They fused several of her shattered vertebrae.

    I didn’t fall off until I was 27. This was a big mistake, as I missed all the “bounce right back up” ages. I fell off that time because I did what my instructor told me, to get a reluctant mount to jump the “out” of an in-and-out, and the horse chose to launch just as I “sat back” to kick. Cracked my sacrum. My legs didn’t respond as we landed over the fence and the horse turned…that was #1. #1, about a year later, was my first concussion: got out of synch jumping a triple no-stride and thanks to the helmets of that day sandbagged myself on the ground. A couple of years later, I bought my own first horse, one I’d been leasing for about 8 months–never came off him though he was known to shed riders…did a lot of slow work with him and he never seriously bucked with me.

    After he died, though…I went to try out a horse who proved uncontrollable and was bolting into a mesquite patch at high speed (low hanging mesquite limbs–not a good place for a runaway…I bailed, but landed wrong (my fault) and got my second concussion. I came off a “spinner” I bought (not all 16 yo geldings are the same–this one had been gelded only 6 months before after a lifetime as a breeding stallion) when he changed tactics one day and instead of four spins in the same direction did three and reverse. Bruised, not broken. I came off a “safe kid horse” I had just used for our son and a friend’s kids to ride in a lesson…they wanted to see him go faster than a walk. Nice crisp pretty spring day…he loped easily around until suddenly–first he bolted, then he started serious bucking and when I realized it was going to be that bad, I kicked loose of the stirrups and prepared to land safely…but he swapped ends and kicked me in the butt while I was in the air. The landing was unplanned and involved two broken ribs and a damaged hip. Worse, while I was out of commission he went lame–I knew he had a history of laminitis, but as a kid horse he wouldn’t get hard use. We had to put him down, eventually.

    My confidence was pretty much in the cellar at that point. Started lessons again, and things were going well until a sweet old Morgan mare lesson horse fell down with me at a trot in a level arena. When I realize she really was going down, I bailed over her shoulder, no harm done. Lay there laughing like a loon because I wasn’t hurt. Later I was dumped three times by a horse I took in for a friend after she died–another broken rib and two non-injurious falls, but at that point…I was well up in my fifties and even a simple buck-off was a strain. (On one, I landed on my feet, reins still in hand, to the surprise of the horse.) In the meantime I managed to say on a lot of horses, including some that did “simple” bucks. But I really would rather not hit the ground again. I’d like a horse I can trust (knowing that no horse is 100% trustworthy, but one that decides to buck when you cue for a canter…no.)

    • Patty says:

      Holy cow. Your are far braver than I! You really needed the kick in the butt one on video! I had one where a horse changed direction and bucked sending me flying straight up in the air to land on my feet, too! That was a surprise!

      • EMoonTX says:

        Not really that brave…just loved riding so much. You’ve done a lot of things that I wonder if I could have, if I’d had the chance.

        • Patty says:

          I know what you mean about the love of riding. That feeling of connection with the horse can provide so much joy that it outweighs most other feelings. I am sure you could have done the stuff I do. Anyone that can jump things could!

  3. Doranna says:

    You are indeed sticking out weirdly!

    Re the fear link, meditation has been an important tool to me in the past, and has become even more important this year. And yet I am an egg. Imagine if I could get better at it, the bennies I’d see!

    • Patty says:

      I have used a form of meditation to get me over some jumps at a big show (these were little jumps…). It worked pretty well. I need to get a little more organized though and use this sort of thing for dealing with other kinds of stress!

  4. Jinjer Stanton says:

    It happened to me a year and a half ago. Can now do all the yoga I ever could (maybe a little more) but it was unnerving to be unable to lift my arm for a while.

    • Patty says:

      I am glad to hear your recovery was 100%. I am looking forward to being back at 100%. I need to get on the yoga though….

      • Jinjer Stanton says:

        The hardest part was teaching yoga without being able to demonstrate fully!

  5. Beck Jolin says:

    One of my riding instructors, when I was a kid, had two artificial hips and a wired spine. She still rode and had the best hands I’ve ever seen on a horse.

    • Patty says:

      Wow! I bet she had a great seat too–fear of falling!!!

  6. Lisa Westfall says:

    Yikes! That really does stick out weirdly! You are one tough Mama Jama! Soft tissue injuries are more painful and often take longer to rehab and heal than broken bones. I’m glad it’s not worse, but what the heck happened?

    • Patty says:

      This one is doing really well! Thanks the kind words! “No pain, no fun” is one family motto–but it actually refers to having to get up early to do things…

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