Jumping and falling fears

Ever since I was injured in a fall around 15 years ago, I’ve dealt with a fear of falling (and of being injured again, which I really have to watch due to my job now) ever since. Upon my return to hunters after a decade-long break, I unfortunately developed a new fear, which is falling into a jump. Knock on wood, it has never happened yet, but the few times I’ve seen it happen or someone has showed me a video of it, it looks extremely painful and like an easy way to get injured.

So, to those of you who HAVE fallen into a jump, is it something to stress over? I’m sure it isn’t pleasant, but is it the catastrophic and horribly pain inducing event my panicky brain has built it up to be?

Also, for anyone who has also dealt with a fear of falling and fear of jumping, what helped you to move past it? I am becoming incredibly frustrated at the fact that it has been so many years and my fear has only yo-yo’d and even gotten worse in ways, between getting older and realizing I’m not invincible and that serious accidents can just as easily happen to me as they can to anyone else, simply not being the rider I used to be and not being able to use my body as well or pick up on things as quickly (and so things I used to be able to sit with ease can now catch me off guard more easily, and I simply just don’t have the seat I had before), and also now having responsibilities I worry about not being able to fulfill if I do get injured. I enjoyed hunters so much when I was younger and really miss that, but haven’t been able to completely move past this fear, even with excellent trainers that have helped me a lot, as well as the best and most steady school horses.

Thanks!

Yes, I’ve fallen into and onto jumps. It hurts. I’ve been injured, but no more so than the falls I’ve had not on jumps.

I’d suggest wearing a protective vest. I have after my worst fall, and it gave me more confidence and I sense of safety. Indeed, falling off with my Airowear vest on was a much better outcome- just some body soreness.

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About 3-4 years ago, I took three falls in the hunt field after not having fallen in 15 years. I was hurt on the last one --cracked ribs. AND I was wearing a safety vest! Of course would have been worse had I not.

My solution, at 70, was to move to second field and ride my more sedate hunt horse. My young fellow is ridden out by a young woman in first flight. It is possible, that in 5 years when my old fellow is 30, that my young horse will BE the sedate hunter --if not, that may be the logical end to my fox hunting career of what will be 60 seasons of chasing hounds.

Last year at this time, I was working with a remote instructor with my young horse and did indeed eventually take a 2’ 6" course of fences successfully. But I did not feel the soar of joy I once did. Instead, it was more relief that I didn’t have to do it a second time!

As I kid, I envied those who had jumping horses and lusted to do as they did as I watched from the side-lines. Ok. I did. And I did so successfully eventually showing at a high level (ok, once), and becoming MFH (for two years). I rode in the master’s pocket for many seasons as he sometimes needed my horse to give him a lead over fences.

But that was then. This is now (gee, I am so profound!)

These days I am joyful when I ride my horses —walk, trot, canter --and I do Mounted Archery --no jumping but lots of fast action and the thrill of competition --I love the practice on my farm, my bow and the Zen of archery. (Hard to explain).

My long-winded point is --the horse world is vast --find what gives you joy --do it --but don’t hesitate to try other activities with your horse --I think my old fellow appreciates archery (90 meter canter is well within his scope) and I think my young fellow likes the excitement of going places and seeing other horses --ok I do and he doesn’t get a choice.

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Yes, I’ve fallen into a jump. It’s no worse that falling on the ground IMO. I got up and walked away (granted I was 20 at the time, so…).

Have you ever considered dressage? It seems to be a great, common solution for aging ammies who no longer feel great about jumping. Riding is never going to be a 100% safe activity, but dressage on a schoolmaster is relatively low-risk.

My Big Scary Accident was on the ground, so I understand the lingering fear. It stays with me. I guess that’s what trauma does. But it has gotten a LOT better since I started regularly riding and working with a horse I trust. Maybe that’s one more important point: are you switching horses a lot? You said you are riding schoolies, so maybe you are. That could be anxiety-inducing in and of itself. Maybe you could request sticking to one horse you trust?

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I have fallen into jumps and to echo others, those falls were no worse than any others. On the contrary: the worst fall I have ever had was when a horse tripped 2 or three strides after an 18 inch jump. I am scared of any jumps under 2.6 as a result. My most recent fall was the result of a horse tripping as well, just cantering around the ring, no jumps. I would say in general, the falls I have had in jumping have been no worse or less worse than those on the flat. I have an air vest and am purchasing now a body protector to wear under the air vest. The vests have given me more confidence, along with a horse that is generally careful with his feet. As we all know, though no horse is fool-proof, even if they are steady-eddies, they can still trip, spook, etc. Getting stirrups and leathers I feel secure in has also helped me: I have the free jump stirrups and leathers. At shows, I use sticky spray (helps psychologically). I also have a saddle with a deeper seat and squishy knee rolls: these things have helped! I wish you the best!!

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I once fell into a rolltop at a show - horrifyingly embarrassing since it wasn’t very well made and I broke a hole in it. I was a very lightweight teen at the time and no ill effects aside from the mortification of the jump truck having to come in and build a new fence.

My two worst falls were both done on flat work. YMMV.

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My worse fall was from a spook. Out in cross country field, so harder ground, horse spooked when he hears horses canter through water, took off in a bucking feast that landed me in the ER and a concussion. My other fall that was scary, but I wasn’t hurt, was from horse tripping (face planting with dirt in his ears, nose, mouth!), i flew between his ears like a superman, i thought for sure i would break my wrist, but luckily i was fine other than dirt all over myself. Neither one of this was jumping.

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Falling off, and falling off and getting hurt are apples and oranges. It takes a bit to get over a fall when you are injured and yeah there are flashbacks. But you are doing it! Yay you! You are super brave!

I have had this issue and a couple of things have helped me.

First, I think “what is the ultimate solution? To quit riding.” And I don’t want to.

Second, yoga. I started doing yoga because I was 50 something and a bit stiff. The mindfulness practice, and it is a practice, comes in so handy riding. What is happening right this minute? Nothing. All you have is the present. Also yoga teaches some great muscle control and muscle relaxing techniques. Make yourself drop those shoulders and feel the stress go away.

Third, I think of this story that the people in my office swear is true. In a small town in N. Ala. in the 1950s there was an Agoraphobic couple. In that day, like Covid!, you could order groceries and meds and have it delivered so they never left their house. And one day the porch roof collapsed on them and killed them both. And they had wasted all that fun they might have had, sitting on the damn porch.

I think you’re doing great. The more you practice and have success the better you will be. Also there’s nothing wrong with getting help from a sports psych if you need to.

Regards,
Huntin’Fool

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I’ve fallen onto/into fences probably 20-30 times in my life. My most recent was a solid XC fence last year when I was 55 years old.

It happens.

My suggestion is to look beyond the fences and examine what your REAL fear is. Your 10 year break did nothing to help you. It enabled your brain to solidify your fear.

My best advice is to work with a sports psychologist. I have had several crashes where I thought I was about to be killed. It takes a lot of work to get back and there is no simple process. 729F3FCB-6ADD-430D-A808-8610812C49B7_4_5005_c

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My experience is that falling into/on a fence is no more or less painful or likely to lead to injury than any other fall. My advice for dealing with the fear is:
1 - Wear an air vest or body protector or both. I wear my air vest alone when riding faster than a trot on uneven ground (any horse can trip!) and I have literally bounced off the ground when I otherwise would have landed with an uncomfortable thud (I no longer naturally bounce like I did when I was younger!). I usually wear both an air vest and a body protector when jumping both in the ring and cross country, although I have occasionally worn only my air vest when jumping in the ring.
2 - Talk to a sport psychologist (preferably one who specializes in helping equestrians). This has made by far the most difference in how I deal with fear. There are a wide variety of techniques that can help and you need to experiment to figure out which one works best for you. Personally, learning how to ride “in the moment” and turn off the “what ifs” that pop into our minds when we are afraid has massively improved my riding in general. I now focus on what is happening at any given moment - can I handle it? Is it dangerous? Is there something I can, or should, do to change the situation? More generically - so I still want to ride? What are the alternatives and how does considering them make me feel?

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It’s not worth any more stress than falling off in general. The worst injuries I’ve seen, and received, happened when the person fell straight onto the ground, or into an immovable object like a building wall or fence post. Arena jumps move. The people I’ve seen fall into jumps, it almost seemed like the jump actually cushioned the fall a bit.

The best way to deal with a fear of falling and a fear of jumping is to ride steady-eddies with no stop and no spook. Not “she’s green but she’s super quiet!,” nor “he might stop if you’re looking down but otherwise he’s good!” Something with a track record that has proven time and time again they can be trusted.
Also, the services of a good therapist, perhaps even consider anxiety meds.

Sometimes making a discipline change to something like dressage can help. Many people feel safer keeping all four hooves on the group, and in a year or two of building up your confidence with horses in general, you might find you start to actually miss jumping.

I also agree with the poster that said improving your strength can help. Personally I’m not a yoga fan, and my anatomy prevents me from comfortably doing much of it. I like weight lifting, and definitely feel much less anxious about falling off when I’m feeling strong compared to when I’ve neglected riding and/or weight lifting and am feeling weaker.

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I haven’t done it, but do you think a land safe clinic, where they teach you how to fall, might help? It might help give some peace of mind/ confidence? I event and have crashed into solid xc fences, banks, water, stadium jumps, pinned on the ground, tramped by a studded (luckily only road studs) horse but my most painful fall came from straight lawn darting into the ground from a spook on the flat. Remind yourself why you enjoy jumping and that excitement tends to squelch my fear or nerves. If you don’t find any joy in jumping any longer, you’re.not.alone. How else do you think dressage attracts any riders??? I kid, I kid. But seriously, it can be just as exciting as jumping and 1000x more rewarding.

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I fell onto a jump, and because it was a hard obstacle (roll top) I have a permanent large dent in my thigh. I also had a large jump standard fall on me - someone needed to come and get it off me. That also was painful as it was quite heavy.

My worst injury was when I landed flat on the ground and fractured several ribs and my sternum. Now that was awful. I wear a Helite safety vest these days because you just never know when you’ll have an unscheduled dismount, and you don’t always get to control your landing.

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I’ve fallen onto a jump and also onto a log in the woods that was next to the trail. Both of these resulted in large bruises, but didn’t really hurt more or cause any more injury than your typical fall onto the ground. The jump was a gate with vertical slats and the bruise was actually very interesting. It was on my upper arm and had little unbruised dots within it where each slat had hit.

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I have unfortunately fallen into a few jumps in my 3 years of riding (always my fault- my poor horse is a saint and looks down at me like umm Mom why did you do that) I even broke a rail with the force of one of the falls. If anything, I feel like hitting the jump slows you down some, and breaking the rail absorbed most of the impact. Either way, it’s not fun, but I haven’t found it to be any more awful that falling off straight to the ground. My worst fall had nothing to do with jumping though, so I guess everything else in comparison seems not as bad compared to that.

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I had a freak fall when I first started riding and ended up with a broken arm.

once I healed I got a safe little pony who suits me perfectly.

Do what you need to do to feel safe. There are days when Im nervous and days when Im ready to do a lot more. Wear a vest, get a different horse, do other things until you feel like jumping again. And if you dont want to jump again thats ok too. I just trot over tiny x rails. I enjoy it thats all that matters.

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Yes, I have fallen off into jumps, both show jumps and cross country. No serious injuries. The only significant injury I got jumping was a separated shoulder, when “horse stopped, rider didn’t” and I landed badly (on the ground).

The most serious injuries I have had from riding were at a walk, one a stumble crossing a stream (6 cracked ribs), and the other when the horse darted sideways as I was leaning over avoiding a low branch (probably another cracked rib. It felt the same, but I did not go to the doctor).

But time off from riding definitely saps my confidence in jumping. After 3 years of not doing much jumping (the cracked ribs, then brain surgery, then Lyme disease), I am definitely only comfortable with lower jumps. I wouldn’t say I am afraid (at least, not of being hurt, maybe a little bit afraid of making a mistake). but definitely more comfortable with the lower (2’ - 2’6") jumps. I am just working at it slowly, once I feel confident at one level, I raise a couple of jumps one hole. Or ride more technical lines.

If you are dealing with actual fear, I would endorse the suggestions to see a sports therapist (or a hypnosis therapist) to deal with the fear.

Also consider how important jumping is to you. What is it specifically that you enjoyed about the hunters, and now miss? Can you get the same pleasure with some other (non-jumping) aspect of horse sport? It could be Dressage, Mounted Archery, Endurance, Gymkhana, Team Penning. It could be a switch to Western (I know people who have fear jumping, but love barrel racing), or Saddleseat, or one of the breeds that have lots of opportunities to show without jumping (Morgans, Arabs, Paso Fino, etc.) or even a switch to driving.

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I think the best way to get over a fear of falling is to fall and not get hurt. The trouble is that it’s hard to arrange that!

When I get scared, I try to picture myself and everyone around me one hundred years from now. We’re all dead. We all died of something. We’re all just animated corpses milling around on big, four-legged animated corpses. If I fall and die or become grievously injured, it all just seems less upsetting in that context.

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I got pitched pretty hard a few months ago and I had not had a fall that bad in at least 20 years. I had a sore collarbone for days, a dink in my helmet from slamming down on it, and I didn’t even want to go to the barn for a full week. Shook me to the core.
How did I finally get over it? Rational thinking…

  1. In reality, the greatest risk to my safety… the drive to and from the barn.
  2. I’ve been riding for 30+ years, my biggest injuries stemmed from tack that was ill-fitting and slipped (broke my wrist), a small pony mare that didn’t want to do a course for a 3rd time and pitched me into a jump cup and took a chunk out of my cheek, and spraining my ankle stepping out of my trainer’s tack room and rolling my ankle. So, one bad fall within that timeline that was the result of a spook by a typically quiet young horse, was not something that should have me hanging up my spurs. It’s a risk that we take every single time we set foot in the barn. They’re big horses… and we have to respect their size and ability, but also remember that when we show fear or anxiety, we only pass that along to our co-pilot too. So we need to heal before we continue.

It took time and I was very careful about my return… but eventually I got there.

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I’m so sorry to hear that you are having such a rough time. I’ve been there and it is hard. In my many years riding, i have fallen into so many things. I’ve taken out and broken jumps. My biggest piece of advice, is to not hide from your fear, embrace it, take control over it, dont let it control you.

One of my biggest fears, was the one barn i was at used old metal jump cups. I was so scared of falling into it and somehow cutting my face on the cup(never happened, just a weird fear) I brought it up to my coach and she did not care. So i bought new jump cups, and changed them out before and after my ride, then had no issues. And at shows, they must use legal plastic quick release cups so that was not an issue.

When i was 20, in a freak accident, i fell into the rail around the ring. I broke my back and a few ribs. After i was cleared to ride, i became very scared to jump. I was embarrassed by this fact, so i tried to hide it. My fear caused me to tense up before a jump, angering my mare, causing her to stop, and me to jump alone. I shattered my ankle landing wrong (after going over the jump, not into it). I did not want to wear a vest (hunter jumper) because no-one else did, and that would be admitting that i was scared. It got to the point, where it was more embarrassing for me to go out to these shows that i used to win and not be able to finish a course. I could not even watch the jumps being raised. Eventually i had to come to terms with it. I was scared. I either had to get over it, or never jump again.
I worked with a local gymnastics place and practiced jumping off something onto a mat and relaxing and rolling onto my shoulder, i stopped taking lessons, as my trainer was not a good fit for me, and just did everything alone(with ground people around who i trusted), in my own way, in my own time with no pressure. Started with poles, just standards, cavelettis, then small jumps, then bigger jumps. I am no longer embarrassed to tell someone that yes i was terrified of jumping and that’s ok. I am thankful that i got scared to jump, yes it ruined my showing career for a few years, but it made me a better coach.

It’s so frustrating not being the rider you used to be, but to get back to that spot, you need to become okay with who you are now, where you are at. Take a step back, lose the emotions connected to it, lose the frustration. The person you were 15 years ago, is not the person you are now in any way, not just in riding.

Part of riding is falling, and part of falling is getting hurt, whether you land in the sand, the grass, a jump or the fence around the ring. But you can still keep an aspect of control, practice an emergency dismount, practice falling, so you relax in the air and are able to not put your hands out, and to turn onto your shoulder. Change your half halt in front of the jump into a breath out, (like sigh in front of the jump) it works as a half halt for the horse, and it relaxes your body. One thing that also helped me, was taking time to look at the jump when not mounted. Push on a stadium jump, what happens? It falls over, jumps are designed to fall so you do not get hurt.

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