If you spend enough hours in the saddle, it’s likely you’ll one day have an unfortunate rendezvous with gravity and sustain an injury that at the very least makes you realize that you don’t “bounce back” as quickly from falls as you did as a child or teenager. At worst, it could rock your confidence enough that you get a little jittery about certain maneuvers on horseback, or you might struggle to get back in the saddle in the first place.

I had the former experience in 2002, a fall that sidelined me from riding for six months and changed my perspective as to risks I’m willing to take in the saddle. I used to be keen to climb atop any young prospect, no matter the horse’s background, and if the animal was prone to fits of levitation or his/her eyes popped out at every little snap of a twig or mysterious sound in the distance, the more stoked I generally was about the challenge.

On a sweltering Monday night in July, after a calm 45-minute hack with my Warmblood mare and another friend at the barn and her horse, I met a side of my horse’s personality that I hadn’t yet noted in our eight months of under saddle work. My family and I had raised this mare from Day 1 and I knew her better than anyone, yet a communication scuffle landed me with two broken vertebrae and a forced recovery time. Folks could argue all day about “whose fault” it was É I wasn’t sensitive enough to her body language to note the tantrum that was brewing slowly, and that last request to break to the trot and pick up the right lead when she’d been cross cantering put her over the edge. Then again, she’d never bucked before, either, other than a spirited little half-buck five or six months before when she first cantered under saddle, and this came seemingly out of nowhere.