Caroline Powell – More thrills, less spills

Badminton is fast-approaching and all eyes will be glued on both the Grassroots Championships as well as the four-star competition. It’s not something anyone likes to witness or experience, but sometimes falls are par for the course, to borrow a golfing term. Here, eventer Caroline Powell, who has contested Badminton 15 times and is an ambassador for Royal Rider Stirrups, shares her tips for preventing falls…

Riding horses is definitely not a soft sport; and the more horses you ride, and the more hours you gain in the saddle, the higher the risks for falls. We all have tales of our most impressive dives and dismounts, and sometimes even the scars to prove them! Whether you’re a happy hacker or an international 5* eventer, hitting the deck at some point is pretty inevitable. But to help reduce the risk of falling, we can take certain precautions. 

Protective wear
First of all, we can make sure our protective wear is actually going to protect us, if the worst comes to the worst. You should always replace your helmet after landing on your head or being concussed; and it’s also wise to always wear a body protector when jumping solid fences, even just when training. And we can also make sure we are not taking excessive risks when competing – e.g, not going too fast cross country if we know we’re in the lead after dressage; (riders in a more competitive position may have a tendency to take more risks, or ride in a faster or more intense manner, report equitation science researchers.) Also, it’s imperative to use an inappropriate speed of approach to the fence (eg not too fast or too slow) – these are two risk factors for falls are very influential.

Core stability
A great tip for preventing falls is to improve stability in the saddle. Taking your stirrups away in the school every so often will really improve your core strength, and help deepen your seat, for example. Perhaps ask a friend or your trainer to lunge you and your horse, so you can focus purely on your position and balance. Activities like Pilates can definitely help boost core strength – check out Pilates Exercises for Horseback Riders for free info and specific exercises with trainer Lee Cotton.

A highly engineered stirrup helps aid rider balance when jumping – Ryan Wood. Photo by Cindy Lawler.

Body position
Also, be aware of your upper body position on approach, take off, through the air and on landing, when jumping. Folding too early or getting ahead of the movement puts you in a very vulnerable position. Not only are you already off balance should your horse put in a stop or dive sideways, but if they leave a leg over the fence or just drag a knee, you’ll be pitched forward even more, and may end up out the side door! By keeping your lower leg forward and your shoulders up, you will be more secure in your seat, and by relaxing through your hips and torso, you can absorb the horse’s movements and stay softer. 

Royal Rider Sport Stirrup, in Blue.

The right stirrups for the job
Also, make sure your stirrups are the correct length for you, so you can keep your weight down in your lower leg. If they’re too long, you will find you have too much weight in your upper body, and this will greatly reduce stability. Think about what stirrups you’re using and why. A highly engineered stirrup like those made by Royal Rider helps aid rider balance; when jumping, it helps the rider keep their stirrup iron on the approach, take off, jump, landing and get-away.

I favour the Sport model – it’s extremely light but highly resistant, thanks to its techno polymer construction. It has a nice, spacious arch for stability and safety. Elsewhere in the Royal Rider range is the RR T3, which allows the rider to maintain the correct position of their foot, and achieve greater balance over a fence. (Also, in the event of a fall, the particular shape of the T3 allows the rider’s foot to free itself quickly.) Remember, your stirrups need to be short enough so that you can comfortably get your seat out of the saddle, allowing your horse to bascule (create an arc) through your legs.

The point of no return – a fall is imminent

A rider almost falls at a cross country jump. She did not fall and is safe.

If all else fails and when riding, you are at the point of ‘no return’, while there’s no such thing as a safe fall, there are ways you can limit the risk of injury.  If you’re about to land on your head, instead of putting your arms out, try wrapping one arm around you and tucking your chin in, making an attempt to roll. This will help absorb the momentum and take the impact on the more robust shoulder blade, instead of the more fragile wrists or neck.

Reducing risk factors
Studies tell us that the risk of horse and rider injury at eventing competitions can be reduced by three simple measures; course designers maintaining good to firm take‐off surfaces at fences, maintaining the base ‘spread’ of the fences to a fair width; and reducing the use of fences at which horses are required to jump into or out of water. Combined with the aforementioned rider measures, these aspects can definitely all reduce the risk factors for falls, to make out sport safer!

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