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My wonderful calm horse startled today and as I pulled back on the reins to stop him, he turned sideways and basically pulled me off. I spent 3 months in a wheel chair 20 years ago for this type of unplanned dismount. My current horse is much calmer, and smaller than the previous one, but still, I'm concerned that I have trouble keeping one leg from flying out of the stirrup when a horse quickly turns sideways, and then I go off. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

P. H.


I'm at a bit of a disadvantage, since I haven't actually seen you ride -- let alone having seen the actual accident. With that in mind, let me take my best guess at the cause -- and the cure.

I'll guess that you don't keep your heels lower than your toes; and that you tend to grip the horse with your legs, rather than keeping a little outward pressure on the stirrups. (I'm also tempted to guess that you may have been riding an English saddle.)

If your heels are too high, it's hard to keep your feet from slipping out of the stirrups and you'll have little or no support from the stirrups in preventing a fall. Holding your legs a bit wide makes it easier to quickly brace your leg against the stirrup in the direction of the threatened fall.

In addition, you pulled back (probably hard) on the reins in a futile effort to stop your horse. You stop a horse by pushing your feet forward and leaning back slightly. If that isn't enough, a quick twitch back on the reins should reinforce the message. Instead, you used the bit and headstall to inflict pain on an already frightened horse. The tension of your arm and the tight reins meant that any movement of your horse's head would instantly pull you in the same direction. If the reins had been loose, the horse wouldn't have pulled you off.

I'm also going to hazard a guess that you were riding with both hands on the reins -- so you didn't have one free to grab the saddle or a fistful of mane. (That's also part of the reason I suspect you were riding English style.)

Finally, a suggestion: wear gloves. When your horse jerked his head and pulled hard on the reins, you also have the option of just letting the reins slip through your hands. Unfortunately, that can leave you with a very nasty rope burn on your palm (yep, I've seen it happen to a rider) -- unless you are wearing gloves.

Let me know if this makes any sense -- or if I'm totally off base. If I'm way off, perhaps a CANDID photo of you in your normal riding position will set me straight.

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