Tough Equestrian Mentality

This is a tough topic. I agree with the OP, but on the other hand I could be the poster @jlm0305 - and in that case it was my physical therapist who refused to listen, called me a wimp and pushed me into what is now a permanent injury. Among others.
So what does give us mental toughness then? Or physical?
I have zero tolerance for whiners and “gimmees”. And then I’m reminded of the saying to be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Whether you see it or not.


The last two times I came off I didn’t bother to get back on. 2nd to last was a horse combined training so I got eliminated. No point to get back on. I jammed my finger pretty good. I rode the next day and for the next few weeks. Threw 50 bales of hay twice during that time. Yup I had broken it.
The last time I came off hard enough to crack the helmet. I walked back to the trailer, thankfully not too far. I didn’t realize until I took it off that it was cracked but I figured since I hit it pretty hard I didn’t need to risk a 2nd fall with a potentially compromised helmet. My trainer and I later decided that that horse had gotten to the point that he was too dangerous for anyone to ever ride again.
I am in my early 50s and an ammy rider. I don’t need to get back on to prove anything to anybody including to myself. I know my limits both mentally and physically. I think I made the right call in both these cases especially the last one. There was no point in getting back on.
Other times I have gotten back on and kept going. Different circumstances different decisions. I don’t think that “Hospital or back on” is a good hard fast rule.


I don’t agree with the central premise, I guess - I don’t see a lot of giving up or “it’s too hard, I don’t want to try it” happening around me. Not at work, not at the barn, not with friends and family. Are there cultural and social challenges, sure, but i see most people living their lives according to their values (which might not be the same as mine). I think that the specific and outdated concept of “hospital or back on” is really not a great stand-in for the worlds current level of grit or obesity or whatever. Additionally, I try not to romanticize the past as a general rule. Are people different now than they used to be? Sure. The world is different, standards and priorities change, life goes on.


I have chronic migraines and honestly could be the friend who didn’t show for Zoom. If I am bad off, I can’t stop puking every 5 minutes for hours. I can’t communicate well. On those days my husband has to call in for me.

That said, I am on the thread OP is referring to and FWIW, I broke my elbow last Friday and fed horses for a few days despite having a 1.3 cm gap between the completely broken bone. My ortho, who patched me up surgically Wed, said horse people are the worst at doing too much. I am trying to behave, because he says I will pay for it if the 2 plates and 8 screws don’t hold. there won’t be much left to attach the repair to if I eff this up. I am still not great but trying to stick to things like laundry and curating my excessive book collection. Yes, I am going a little crazy but it is the right decision.


No. As a society we’ve become fat and sedentary because the vast majority of us have sedentary jobs and poor nutrition. And the poor nutrition isn’t even entirely our fault because the government and nutrition experts over the years have given us some supremely bad advice.

I agree with the concept that success in any endeavor requires mental toughness, persistence, and hard work. But everything you have posted here comes across as harsh and judgmental, with no acknowledgement of the nuances, or shades of gray, that color almost every situation.


After I got bucked off my youngster at the start of a lesson, that even though my back and shoulder were killing me, my instructor insisted I get back on (on the lunge line and after he had given her an attitude adjustment). I did and later, after moving her from her present barn to her new barn along with her attending paraphernalia, I went to the hospital and found out I had fractured a vertebrae. I was out of the saddle for about 6 weeks.

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Like most things, I think the answer here is, it depends.There’s a big difference between sliding 2’ off a pony and getting bucked off a larger more explosive horse and have a longer trim down to the ground. In the case of the former, I see no danger in trying to get the kid back on the pony and walk him/her around a lap or two just to finish on a positive note.

In the case of the latter, a lot of adrenaline kicks in when you take a good fall, so the rider is not likely to feel any pain or sense of injury. In the case of a head injury, those symptoms take awhile to show up. If the head hit the ground in the fall, that’s a big no for getting back on. To me, it makes no sense to risk further injury just to prove you’re not a chicken. There’s absolutely no shame in heading to the local ER to make sure you don’t have a concussion or broken back.

I had a fall years ago, where I didn’t feel any pain. I got back on and finished the lesson. Twelve hours later, my leg was so swollen up from internal bleeding, the entire thing shut down and I didn’t have use of it for 6 weeks. Getting back on was not the good choice there. Had I gone to an ER, they would have had me keep it still, elevated and iced. It most likely would not have swollen to the point of shutting down. My two cents it, there’s always time to get back into the saddle, so no need to unnecessarily create more damage that might prevent you from riding in the future.


I think there is a lot of nuance here. Its no secret that horse girls are notoriously tough. Most of us can cite an injury we worked through or a dr’s advice that we (stupidly) ignored. This can be attributed to the relic attitude of “saddle or hospital” and the fact that a living being depends on us. A squat rack at the gym wont care that you fell and tore a muscle, but a horse running hap-hazard around with reins dangerously dangling sure will need you to get back up and catch him to bring him back home. Sometimes we have to push through the pain if no help is available purely out of responsibility to the horse.

For those equestrians blessed to have their horses at home, you know you have to feed and care for those animals hell or high water. Days off are not an option. Even though I board, I would still go to my horse daily because he is MY responsibility. If I have a broken leg or had some other injury that prevented me from riding him, I would arrange for his exercise through someone, but would still come out as much as possible to see to his care. I think the “get back in the saddle” mentality comes from putting the horse first, but it can get dangerously misconstrued.

The dangerous side of “saddle or hospital” or “suck it up buttercup” is when its all tied to ego. We know SO MUCH more about brain injuries and concussions now than we did back in the fabled and fictional “good ole days” there really is no excuse to not take any fall seriously. As mentioned upthread, adrenaline can mask injury and people with concussions don’t immediately show signs.

This old-school attitude isn’t relegated only to equestrian sports - I know multiple men who have had opioid addictions (talk about an epidemic!) or have self-medicated old college football injuries where their coach told them to “rub dirt in it” and play through pain. Those few extra downs have cost them a lifetime of pain (and surgeries, and drug addiction) by creating chronic injuries that they played through and never healed right.

My cousin works as an EMT and ski patroller - he says the worst injures always come near the end of the day when someone is tired and is pushing themselves to do just one more run.
Their bodies are telling them they were tired, that their muscles were spent, but ego told them to get one more run in and their knee just couldn’t handle it or that ankle finally gave out. There is a HUGE different between heart & grit and sacrificing your body.

Bringing it back to the horse world, lets also consider mental health and anxiety. When I was younger I gave a hearty eye roll to an older rider who refused to canter in our group lesson. Turns out she had major anxiety about cantering. It wasn’t that she thought it would be too physically hard, she had a fear of it. The hard thing with anxiety is that it is really hard to understand it if you don’t suffer from it. She and the instructor later worked on this more on a 1-1 basis, and she did gradually get comfortable with it, but there is no shame at taking something at your own pace.

Bottom line is listen to your body. There is a big difference between discomfort (my out-of-shape lungs burning doing cardio) and pain (shin splints from said cardio). Everyone’s level of capability is different. Even getting on and riding a walk can be an accomplishment some days. Most of us are not pros, so just do what you want and enjoy your horse. Its not my job to judge anyone if they just want to groom and walk their horse rather than jump a course.


Every time I go skiing, I always pass on that one more run just because of what you say. I think I’ve saved myself a blown knee many times over. Then again, I only skip on the last run so I can still ride my horse. If I’m going to be permanently damaged, I want it to be on my horse. :grin:

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haha exactly! I only have room for one expensive and dangerous time-consuming hobby and horses won over snowboarding hands-down!


I didn’t read past this post because something needs to be addressed here.

Exercise doesn’t hurt. Exercise may be hard work but if exercise actually causes you pain, you are not doing it right in the pursuit of “building muscle.” Later onset soreness can be normal (or can be a problem, depending) but this idea of the “pain is gain,” the “pain cave,” and that you should be passed out the floor or you didn’t work hard enough is why things like CrossFit are infamous for giving people serious, lifelong injuries.

You can train and build muscle without failing every lift, destroying your back and knees, or running ultramarathons. Injury is not required and the fact it happens so much is because people are doing exercise wrong.

A lot of people stop exercising because it does hurt, and it doesn’t have to hurt. Unfortunately we have the attitude you’ve shown here which is that if you don’t work out until you’re dead, you’re a fat whale who isn’t working hard enough and you’re just the same as someone sitting on the couch doing nothing. That’s not the case, and in fact, if people just walked more that would go a long way.


I also think “back on or hospital” is a damn stupid dogma that needs to die. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve almost always been riding high on an adrenaline rush after an inadvertent dismount. I’ve had way too many “next day, oh god, I broke what?” experiences to trust that my body will honestly tell me how hurt it is. Hell, even on day #2 or #3, I’ve sometimes convinced myself it’s not that bad only to find out that, no, it’s much worse than that. Never forget the time I went to an orthopedist to look at ongoing knee pain only to find out I had a fully dislocated knee cap and the doctor was like “how the hell are you walking on that, let alone riding horses & snowboarding on it?”

Now, if I hit dirt and anything twings at all, I’m calling it a day. “Back on or hospital” is for 20 year olds who haven’t finished growing a brain yet.


LOL! This is exactly why I sold my motorcycle.

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@BatCoach & @soloudinhere - thank you so much for your posts. I, personally, need to hear that in my head as I go about my day. I will and have pushed myself beyond the brink so many times, as an equestrienne and as a normal human. As I’m getting older these things have caught up to me both physically and emotionally. But it’s hard to not be that person anymore, so I appreciate your words. Thank you. :heart:


Agree. This thread is conflating so many ideas!

At the end of the day, I think the person who perseveres day by day, and makes SMART decisions comes out ahead. I’d rather be in the group that knows when to stop doing something that is going to exacerbate and injury and leave me with chronic problems. However, that doesn’t mean I’m the kind of person who won’t stick to a regular fitness routine or go out and ride in the cold because it’s “hard.” Getting back on while injured (especially if the accident was due to a fractious horse that might lawn-dart you a second time) is taking a stupid risk. Doing the work every day to achieve your goals is hard, but not risky.


1,000%. It’s hard and draining to train for a marathon, but ultimately, if it’s done right, it will make you stronger. On the other hand, training on a knee that should be replaced or on a stress fracture will only exacerbate the injury. It will make you less fit.

I wasn’t athletic as a kid, and very timid. Riding has certainly (along with proper conditioning out of the saddle) made me fitter and mentally tougher. But the idea of “hospital or on,” especially for someone who isn’t a pro is just way too rigid. If the rider is in a great deal of pain to the point that they can’t ride effectively (or are mentally woozy), it’s not going to help either the rider or the horse to get back in the saddle.

Amateur riders also often have to be well enough to drive themselves home and go to work the next day in reasonable condition, to afford said riding. It’s a luxury in and of itself many riders can ill afford to take a serious risk going to the hospital for very little payoff, riding-wise, other than ensuring your instructor doesn’t think you’re a wimp. Of course, with riding, sometimes bad things happen, and sometimes getting back on is the better option, if the fall isn’t serious and the horse needs to be reminded that unseating the rider isn’t a great way to get out of work. But there is no glory in getting back on just for the sake of getting on, taking a dumb risk, or making an injury worse and prolonging recovery.


I actually feel perfectly confident in my ability to work hard and persevere in bad weather, with cranky horses, in mud, etc. I have my eye on the long term, I don’t get worried about short term goals too much.

I’ve always been both a bit cautious but also someone who likes to push themselves in a controlled thoughtful way. I push myself physically (like doing two point on the trails, “going for the burn” in the thighs) and I push myself in terms of courage and confidence, now galloping on trails and trailering out to ride, sometimes alone. And working on the ground with green horses.

But I know my body enough to know when I am just working hard and when I’m getting injured. A couple of years ago I was riding another horse in a saddle that was too small for me, and my lower back was starting to hurt in a new way. Swapped the saddle out and was fine.

I also know that at my age if I come off I am likely going to break things and be sidelined forever. I’ve watched that happen to another woman at my barn who came off several years ago on a green horse, fractured vertebrae, kept doing barn work instead of resting, and had to quit riding.

I am not going to be too judgemental about the choices other ammies and returning riders and adult beginners make to feel safe and healthy. I’m the only person right now who hand gallops on our trails but that’s because I put the work into making sure I could do that safely on my horse without having a wreck. On the other hand I don’t want to ride anything unpredictably explosive!

Riding is a high risk high intensity high skill sport, but paradoxically it attracts a lot of people who are not athletic and even have existing physical limitations, and would never attempt downhill skiing or white water kayaking or rock climbing.

The good pros and top ammies especially jumpers tend to be athletic and often multisport athletes that can ski, sail, kayak, etc. But the lower level ammies very often are not naturally athletic at all, and hit the ground hard.

I don’t think that perseverence and honest effort is necessarily judged entirely by whether you risk your long term health by riding through injuries that need time to heal.

There are certainly riders out there that ride through injury but do not actually have good perseverance, good commitment to the horse, patience, etc. Just getting back on a horse where you have created the problem yourself and getting tossed again at the next fence is not clever problem solving.


I have known many horse people who were wimpy and many who were not. I am one who goes on despite my pain and I really think we do more harm than good when we do that.

I went for weeks on a fractured Tibia( from my daily running) before it got so bad I went to the doctors and of course I got the cast I should have had weeks ago.

I rode the whole time I had a cast and my doctor asked what i was doing to get it so dirty :slightly_smiling_face:

I seems that the people who tend to soldier on despite the pain tend to lead a very active lifestyle in general or simply have no choice but to go on.

Right, this is what I was saying as well. At least it shouldn’t be judged that way. Any gains made by riding injured do not outweigh longevity and consistency in my mind.

I also wonder if this suck it up mentality doesn’t also bleed over into unfair treatment of the horse sometimes as well.


I think we are actually seeing two different cultural ideologies here. 1) "hospital or get back on " older generation which certainly produces a “git er done” attitude but is often a bad idea medically 2) the everyone gets a trophy/go to your safe space generation which is certainly medically safer but doesn’t foster mental perseverance or risk taking