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Learn to Dismount Safely in an Emergency
No one needs to tell a trail rider that the unexpected it must be expected, or that the exception to the rule is the rule. We’ve seen it all, from crazy backcountry terrain to a horse’s wild reactions. The trail can throw us a lot of curveballs! I guess that’s why we love it so much. To help us stay safe, I will discuss several situations that may the maybe not require controlled, quick dismounting from the saddle.
Commit to the route
Most of the time you are safer in the saddle. When I start foals, I commit to the ride and don’t look for a place to land or cloud my thoughts with “what ifs.” I sit confidently and ride the horse. When jumps, sideways steps and bucks happen, I stay focused and teach the horse that everything is okay and I’m not going anywhere. This is no time for bail. My horse gains confidence and I stay safe by staying balanced and ridden.
To continue building your personal confidence in addition to a better riding seat, stay with horses that match your ability and ride in areas that are easy to negotiate. With experience-time in the saddle-you can then recognize true danger. I was going with my boss’s brother. He was not an experienced horseman. At the first sign of ‘trouble’ he wrung his hands and dived from the saddle to the ground below. It actually became a bit of a joke for the rest of us. In my opinion it would be better if he devoted himself to the ride.
To learn how to climb down your horse fast, focus moving forward better. In my training program I spend a lot of time doing “up and down”. This is a confidence-building exercise for the horse, where I stay energetically next to him and progressively mount the horse until both of my feet are in the stirrups. This really does a lot for the rider as it teaches our body to mount and dismount smoothly and quickly without pulling on the saddle. If you can move on gracefully, you can probably “break up” with some, too.
When traveling on the trail I usually have a full wetsuit, pullover and vest all rolled up and tied behind the wax in addition to saddle bags. These items can prevent your leg from swinging. Practice upside-down mounting and dismounting at home and make sure you are confident and ready to react correctly when needed.
Helping the Horse
Sometimes you need to get off your horse to help him. A good example would be a horse that has become mired in mud. Apparently, it was not a planned event. But now that you feel like your horse can’t get up off that sloppy halter, you can swing your leg smoothly over the post and stand next to him. This takes all that extra weight off him and allows him to regain his balance quickly. In this case you wouldn’t let go of your reins if you can help it. Once he’s back on solid ground, take a moment and check on him, let him calm down before climbing back up and moving away.
Another example is when a horse stumbles. This is not always an “easy call” as many horses stumble from time to time and in almost all of these cases, staying is the right answer. But every now and then, like last week for me, a horse stumbles on both knees. In this situation, you can quickly take him down and let him recover his feet from under him. This has happened to me in the snow, on rocks and with young horses taking their first walks. When a horse stumbles, it is not always helpful to counterbalance your weight by trying to dismount. Sometimes you can make it worse. Experience will help you decide.
For the sake of the riders
Getting off the saddle quickly is not always in the horse’s best interest. Sometimes it’s better for yours security. An example might be a rearing horse that can turn backwards. No one wants this to happen to them, but even good horses stumble upon wasps from time to time. Again, experience will tell you whether you should stay or quit, but if you decide to get off, decide quickly. Lean forward and grab the mane as you lift your leg up and down. And, if there is is ground wasps, run for water!
Another instance where you can walk away for your own safety is when a horse starts jumping on unsafe ground such as rocks or near a cliff. I once mounted a young horse with a large board strapped to my back. It reached at least a foot above my head and was quite heavy. I guess he didn’t like it, because before he could get my weight on the saddle, he went crazy. Now, I was very proud of our string that we weren’t spoiled and green, but in front of several others, the snapping wouldn’t stop. I wasn’t in the saddle and I wasn’t out of it. I was in a high alpine camp with a large boulder and fallen tree next to me. It was not a safe landing. I held on until I got my hiking boot off the left stirrup and finally got off. I was pretty young so I went back up and it was fine. Actually, I probably missed the “signs” and got a little lucky.
Some horses like to roll. If your horse sees you sand the water and he likes to fall and roll, be ready to leave. This is not a safe-albeit funny-type reaction. I once rode a horse called Samson that would fall into a little puddle if he was hot. I only got one run over it and then watched as others found its quirk over the years.
The “Roll Off”
Several years ago I was training a very demanding horse at John Lyons’ ranch in Colorado. The group of students I was a part of took a lesson on how to “reel” their horses in an emergency. All eyes were on me as I had a real crazy colt. This was to prepare us for a walk on the path outside the large arena. My horse had turned out not to be so reliable in in the arena, so it was safe to assume it might not be open. (Note: At home he would have been crammed slightly or placed between two good horses in a narrow lane to limit the options.)
As soon as he took the walk, sure enough, he stepped on a pop can and it wedged in his leg. I know, what are the odds! After a few steps it began to tremble and then took off. He was officially a fugitive. There are no fences to contain him as he became “unattached”. Everyone called me to get down. With my ego in check, I did as I had been instructed not an hour before. I dropped the reins, took both legs out of the stirrups, and rolled back over the horse’s left hip. I landed gracefully on my left elbow. but, i survived! In all my years, this is the only time I’ve had to do this. I learned a good lesson in how to prevent this from happening, but I also learned how to make a quick decision, be safe with my hands and feet, and bring down a runaway horse. We picked him up a quarter of a mile away in the woods, tangled in the kettle.
On steep-severe climbs I never had a situation that warranted an emergency dismount. I always felt safer staying in the center and with the horse. whereas, in steep falls I have Sometimes a long downhill can really shift your saddle into the horse’s neck. It’s usually sudden, otherwise you’d already be on foot. In this case, stay very focused until you’re ready, then quickly go down the high side of the path. If you fall forward, it could be very dangerous. Remember, the long downhill trails must be done with the horse in hand. When you’re on a sloped trail where one side is up and the other is down, remember to step on the high side.
If you want to see a quick “step” in action, watch a calf. Those boys swing from the saddle and hit the ground running. It takes a lot of landings to be this fast and smooth, but practice will prepare you for when you need it most. Stay aware and careful of your balance, your horse and your footing on the trail and remember that swan diving is never the answer. Have fun and safe driving!
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