Monday, January 21, 2008

Fear of Falling

This past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about falling. It is my greatest concern when I ride, even though I won’t let it stop me from getting on a horse. Have you ever noticed that sometimes a subject suddenly comes up over and over again as you go through your day, inviting you to explore it further?

Thursday, I read a very good post about falling off your horse written by my friend, Arlene, at Then, reconnecting Saturday with an old friend of mine, Alan Questel, I remembered that at one time, years ago, he gave me lessons in how to fall. He is a Feldenkrais practitioner. In the horse world, Linda Tellington-Jones bases her T-Touch techniques on this Method.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Feldenkrais is a non-invasive, gentle practice of body movement and exercise that uses principles of physics. Through sequences of movement, you bring attention to the parts of the self that are out of awareness. By realizing your habits of moving and your rigidity, you can expand your options and find more comfortable, efficient and graceful ways to live your life.

My friend, Alan, reminded me that when we are young, falling is no big deal. It’s part of the joy and learning that all children experience. I recall that as a child, I fell off horses many times without hurting myself. Yesterday, I mentioned my fear of falling to someone who works with dancers. She pointed out that walking is actually a controlled fall forward. We fall forward and then catch our balance by putting a foot down. Then, coming into balance, we continue the controlled fall with the other foot. Ah, yes, balance is the other side of the coin to falling.

Somewhere along the way, falling loses its association with discovery and becomes anxiety producing. Crashing down four or five feet off a horse’s back onto the hard ground can do significant damage to my older and more brittle bones. I believe though that unless I can let go of my fear of falling, I am inevitably going to bring it upon myself.

When Alan taught me to fall, he helped me to roll safely without tension. Increasing my range of motion and my flexibility made my anxieties about breaking my neck disappear. To fall without getting hurt gives one the exhilarating sense of defying gravity.

It’s a lot like creativity. I have a sign hanging over my desk that says,“Leap and the net will find you”. Once again, my horses are offering me a lesson if I’m willing to be open to it. I wonder if I am brave enough to bring the sense of discovery back into falling.

If I can let go of my fear, my movements will become less braced and tense. I will be able to blend my motion and my intentions better with my horse. Now, that sounds like something that Mark Rashid would say, doesn’t it? It will naturally extend to other activities in my life, including my creative efforts.

Alan wrote an explanation of what led Moshe Feldenkrais to develop his practice. He understood that we are always thinking, feeling, sensing and moving. To change any one of those things can bring about change in the whole person. Movement is the most immediate and concrete of those four aspects. We can instantly change how we move, easily checking out our options. What Alan Questel and Moshe Feldenkrais believe is that changing how we move will often cause dramatic shifts in the other three areas and in how we perceive ourselves.

So, I’m going to go back to those exercises I did to learn to fall over fifteen years ago and see what happens. As Feldenkrais said, “If you know what you are doing, you can do what you want.”

Here are some links to explore this further:
Alan Questel:
Linda Tellington-Jones:
Mary DeBono:


billie said...

This fear of falling when we come back to the saddle after many years out of it seems to be very common. In my case it translates more as an extreme sense of caution I take to the saddle now that can get in the way of balanced riding. I do a lot of visual imaging to overcome it.

If you don't already have it, Sally Swift's book Centered Riding is wonderful and quite useful.

The other thing I've discovered is that much of my balance and seat come back to me in moments when I need them - spooks, etc. Out of those few experiences I've realized I can trust my body to do what it learned years ago, as long as I stay relaxed and centered.

Still - it's a daily issue. It would be so much more inconvenient if I got injured NOW than it would ever have been when I was young.

For me, that's the worst part of the fear and the thing that brings on the extreme caution.

I used to love going fast and jumping - now I prefer the collected gaits and flat work. :)

Victoria Cummings said...

Yes, Centered Riding is very helpful. That "muscle memory" which comes back to you in those moment is really fascinating. I think that we also have emotional "muscles" and that same "muscle memory" can remind us that we will get through whatever we are facing just as we have gotten through worse situations before.

Anonymous said...

A point to consider about "fear of falling", which I have worked hard to overcome after several injuries, is that the fear is a symptom of NOT living in the moment. Back to the lesson that Siete taught you the other day. Stop the worrying about what MIGHT happen and just stay in the present moment.

Easier said than done, but it has helped enormously with my confidence issues.

BTW, I discovered your blog back around the holidays and have really enjoyed reading it. You might be inspiring me to start my own blog. :-)


Trée said...

Victoria, another wonderful and thought provoking post. :-)

I don't own a horse and ride only on vacation, but I do cycle (as in bike not motor). About four years ago I had a rather nasty crash on a steep downhill run, which required an operation and more stitches that I care to remember. Where before the crash there was no fear, afterwards, I felt as two on the bike, not one. That is, I could feel fear riding with me post crash in a way that was not there before. And I saw with different eyes. Hills were no longer a childlike opportunity to see how fast I could go, they were demons waiting to consume my Lycra clad flesh with twists and turns and micro-infested gravel. In time, my fear of falling faded, but not completely gone. Maybe for the best, since I no longer take the chances I once did.

Victoria, thanks for sharing. I love the quote you have on your desk: Leap, the net will find you. :-)

Liz Cox said...

first off, i've been reading a handful of your entries lately and really beginning to enjoy them, i may just get my blog back up and running.

It is nice to read about someone relearning about horses. I remeber the many lessons of having to canter around then dismount tuck and roll off the reliable lesson horse, who with out fail stopped dead as soon as you got both feet out of the stirrups.

But i think part of fall is just that falling. I've never been able to remember to fall properly when i do, but that may to just be me. And once i really have started falling off more and more, you just get over it and expect it to happen almost. After a few years one one horse i think you can sense when it is about to go wrong.

Callie said...

I have a serious fear since my bucking bronch ride almost two years ago....I take it slow and know that my girls were not the culprit and work on building confidence in baby steps. Ground work first and then little steps to just saddle a few times and after that hop on for just a few minutes and so forth, building my time up on their back. I will do that again this spring as well...It helps...a lot!

Rising Rainbow said...

At my age since I start young horses I need to be concerned about falling. I try to use that energy to make sure that I have done my ground work effectively and thoroughly.

And then, of course, I must leave that concern on the ground. Taking it with me into the saddle will only cause problems with these untrained horses.

Knowing how to fall and wearing a helmet help keep me on track.

Random Chick said...

Its not the falling that hurts, but but the hitting the ground.

Bill Evertson said...

Thank you for exposing your fears so that others may learn, and thanks for the Feldenkrais address. Any of us who have experienced trauma are reluctant to get back in the saddle. I indicated in a previous post (yes -I have returned) that when I was young I was thrown by a spooked horse into an electric fence. I was lucky that my youth put me back on that horse. Alas, as we age, it is harder to return to the saddle when we age. This is why I love your blog; the post relates to so many aspects of our lives. I will check in for more of your insight.

Robbi said...

Very thought provoking post, but for me, it is hard to understand falling, I guess competing in a helmet and dismounting off of running horses since the tender age of 9 has given me a sense of invulnerability, however; a recent accident of a fellow competitor has kept me grounded and reminds me to wear my knee brace.
Your posts are thought provoking, and I was wondering, how is Siete bred??

Victoria Cummings said...

What great comments you all are leaving for me! So many good suggestions and such honesty - Thank you. It's interesting to think about how we use "falling" in our language -another thought from my wise friend Alan- "falling apart", "falling in love", "falling asleep", "falling out of favor".

July said...

You have some beautiful pics. of horses. You would probably like my poem on a palamino horse, Oscar. The name of my blog is, June. Maybe you would like to visit it and read the poem. Again, lovely pics. of beautiful horses.

Grey Horse Matters said...

It seems the older we get the more the fear of getting hurt seriously, takes a hold of our brains. When I first got my horse, I dreaded falling off, thinking I would be injured badly, since he was a 17.2 hand powerful Dutch Warmblood. But when it actually happened for the first time, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. In the 15 years I rode him I fell off a total of four times, twice jumping and twice on the flat, the last time was about five years ago onto frozen ground during a spook, and I can honestly say that I was lucky in my falls that I was never really hurt badly. I attribute this to two things, first I let the fear of falling off not interfere with enjoying my ride, and the second, I never had time to prepare for a fall as this horse was the fastest spook in the east and you never knew when it was coming until you were on the ground and it was too late to do anything about it. So while it is a good thing to be cautious,and wear protective gear,my feeling is not to let the actual fear of falling and getting hurt take over the enjoyment of your ride. If you are calm and relaxed the odds are your horse will sense that and respond in kind, ditto for the tense, fearful feelings you relay to your horse. I am going to look into the Feldenkrais method, it sounds good. Thanks for the tip.

Heidi the Hick said...

I'm so glad I stumbled upon this blog- what a great post! And lovely photos of gorgeous mares!

I fell off my ponies so much when I was a kid, you'd think I'd have gotten good at it... good at something anyways...

It's so metaphorical, isn't it? If you're afraid to fall, you'll never get on the horse. It applies to so much in life.

I'll be back!

loveambassador said...

Great post everyone. I love Feldendrais. I found it and Alexander work and the way I use my life energy to be confrontational and full of growth in many ways. I had a school of holistic health and taught massage and hypnotherapy for many years. Here is an exercise for those of you with injuries and past "falls". See in your mind the accident all the way to just before you experienced the impact and change the end result. This retrains your muscle memory, and the way your muscles respond to protect you from reinjury. If you do this about fourteen times consecutively you can retrain your "golgi" tendon organs or your muscle "brain" to react differently. This can dissolve the fear that is held in your cellular memory--and thus allows the fascia and muscles to relax and lengthen rather than be held chronically shortened and armored. I have worked with people as a clinical hypnotherapist for over twenty years and achieved profound results. Love your horses and your posts.

Gypsy said...

This really came home to me last week, when a friend brought an extra horse for me to ride trails for two days...all the other riders, except my friend, were endurance riders, and rode much faster from the beginning than I wanted to.
I must mention that ALL my falls have been on 'borrowed' horses, never my own, probably because I was not as relaxed as I would have been on them.
Luckily, I was on a buckskin Gentleman, who was not only gaited, but seemed to understand that I was nervous as hell, not having ridden much since I lost my horse in 95. And he was 'only' 15h2, compared to my Thunder's 16h3, so it was not such a nosebleed feel, being up on him.
As we rode through the day, letting the faster horses go on ahead, I could appreciate all the skills coming back; being able to adjust my body to his gaits, letting my shoulders and arms relax, while being aware of how he communicated with muscle and mouth, and picking up the little cues he sent, such as 'I can feel you are more relaxed, can we please canter a bit now?'.
What Joy, a beautiful winter's day, dry trails, and a solid, caring horse underneath me.
As my time in the saddle seemed to expand to fill my entire world, I let go of that fear of falling, for one of enjoying the ride!
ps congrats on the blog tags- well deserved!

forskyla said...

Always remember. For every one fall, there are hundreds of successful rides!!!! I've been riding horses for years, training, lessons, trails, you name it. I often think about all the negative falls and things I could have done to prevent it. But I always forget, all the great rides that I stayed on successfully and finished it with a positive way. So out of the thousands of rides how many times have you stayed on?

djbrown said...

I slipped out of the riding world years ago, but my "inner horse" is still my guide. Glad to have fallen onto your great site and reconnect with a beloved world.

Nancy said...

Thank you for linking to my blog, and for your nice compliments on my watercolor and Clifford's video. It's a nice and friendly welcome to the World of Blogging. I like your "fear of falling" post -- quite a metaphor!

Aromamaven said...

I just discovered your blog and so appreciate your thought provoking commentary. I had my first fall a couple of years ago while riding bareback on a gentle mare. Funny, we were only walking but I wasnt paying attention as I was chatting with a friend. In a split second the mare stumbled and I was on the ground! She was very careful not to step on me and looked rather surprised to see me on the ground!. I landed on my left hip and hand and as I am in my 50's I was soooo glad to only have a sore wrist and a dinner plate sized bruise on my hip. Arnica helped with both. I didnt have a thought in my head as to how to fall easily, in fact I dont recall thinking anything at all.

Later on I did think,"Well! Im glad I got my first fall out of the way!" Hasnt stopped me from riding but I am rusty from years away from horses so some training in called for. I hope to have my life long dream of a horse realized within the next couple of years. I cant wait!

Miss Noir said...

I found the idea of walking being a contolled fall to be really rather interesting. As a rider I too often think about falling off but I guess it just comes with the territory. I really enjoyed reading your blog and i think your horses are beautiful.

Alyssa Gottlieb said...

I had a bad accident falling from my horse a few months back. I am 18 years old and I have rode for a while. I started to do riding camps back when I was ten or so and rode english. Then when I moved to Ohio when I was 13 I never found a place to ride until about a year or so ago. I have been working hard on and off the horses to get my skills back. However while doing some simple work on my horse, she spooked and took off. While I stayed on for about 2 laps around the arena I ending sliding off the side of the saddle and landing hard on my butt in the sand. I ended up in the emergency room the next day with a fractured hip bone. While I got right back on after the accident and have been on many times since I have found myself very scared of falling. Topper, my pony, has seemed to take notice and is VERY cautious I am still extremely nervous. I was wondering if anyone can help me or has any advice. I have been searching for ways to conquer my fear. I have just started to move past a walk on her now because everytime I go any faster it make me feel as if I might start to fall again. This post gave me some help I was wondering if you had anything more specific I could try..

Thank you.

marksrn98 said...

Absolutely great blog. My 7 year old daughter has been riding since she was three and always has been an overconfident rider-afraid of nothing and has rode many different horses; however, last year she took a fall off of a 6 year old QH gelding and since has been way more conscious of the horses cues and her equitation has greatly improved-she is still a little fearful at the canter, but she works through it and is becoming a great English rider-I think I have more fear watching her than she does when riding! After the fall, she said she was happy to get that first fall over with-sometimes falling can be a good thing and a learning experience.
Her blog

Katie said...

A few months ago I fell off a horse while jumping with a friend out in the arena at my barn. I had only rode that horse oen other time, but my friend was riding the horse I normally ride. She was the only other one out there with me and when I didn't get up like I normally do when I fall she had to go get help. i ended up being brought to the hopital in an ambulance, straped on a gouney and in a necck brace (not fun) I nearily paralized myself and broke my hip. It wasn't a bad break though and in a few weeks I started riding again, but I haven't been able to really bring myself to jump even bigger x's, andI just realized that I'm afraid of falling again.
i[ve rode that horse since then, he doesn't scare me. The falling part scares me. I've fallen off about 3 times since I've started riding, but that was the only one that actually scared me.

Anonymous said...

This is such a useful blog! I fell off a 16h3 stallion back in March '09, which at first didn't seem too bad. I was a little bruised and achy but I had no idea of the psychological impact it would have on me several months later. Although the fall set me back a bit in terms of my riding, once I began riding in a group my fear increased and my riding ability decreased. There was a member of the group who kept referring to my fall, and empathising as she'd had one too that had traumatized her. I hadn't really given my fall much thought, but that, coupled with my horse tripping a couple of times (and me managing to stay on!) I now have regressed to the point where the first ten minutes on a horse are anxiety-ridden. I'm shaking, extremely nervous and almost don't want the horse to move! Crazy really, because once we get going and I'm in the trot I love it! I really knew what I could do to get over that fear - rather than fear of falling, it's a fear of him tripping/spooking ie, the unpredictable -which to be honest is what horses are all about!I'm not giving up though, and will still push myself, and I'm also reading books to try to get over this slight glitch. Thanks everyone for your posts :-)