Attendees of inaugural Horse Industry Safety Summit, held April 23 at University of Kentucky’s (UK) Spindletop Hall, in Lexington, had no time to be bored, especially when Danny Warrington, who founded Landsafe Equestrian with his wife Keli, approached the podium.
Throughout the thoroughly engaging presentation, he showed videos and images of riders parting ways with their mounts—both correctly and incorrectly. Warrington slowed down the video to show the audience at what point in the fall rider decisions either helped or hindered their safety.
Warrington believes there is a gap in rider education: teaching riders how to fall safely. Deeply committed to rider safety, the Warringtons created Landsafe with three main goals: save lives, reduce injuries, and increase safety education of parents and riders.
Landsafe uses a simulator to help riders learn how to fall safely. While Safety Summit attendees did not get to try it out, audience members who’d used the simulator in Landsafe clinics shared how the experience helped them learn how to fall correctly, minimizing injury.
Warrington began his talk sharing some statistics. While there’s substantial research into statistics on topics like airplane safety, there is much to learn about the safety of equestrian sports, despite the fact that an estimated 7 million people annually engage in equestrian sports. Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI, the governing body of international horse sport) research shows that the risk of a fall resulting in an injury ranges from 1 in every 250 starts for low-impact falls to 1 in every 520 starts for serious injuries. The Landsafe team estimates the risk of a serious injury is 1 in every 55 falls.
Equestrians and governing bodies have made strides in trying to improve fall outcomes; the implementation of frangible pin technology on cross-country has decidedly impacted the sport positively and minimized rotational falls. Rotational falls can be catastrophic for horse and rider; one in every five rotational falls results in a serious injury.
The key to even more injury-free falls is for every rider to have an exit strategy, every time they get on, Warrington said.
How to Fall Correctly
One of Warrington’s key points was that, no matter what, where the rider’s eyes go, so does the body. He reiterated this by showing videos and images of both successful falls and injurious falls. Pausing the video frame-by-frame allowed him to show what went right, and wrong, in every part of the fall. While many riders have heard they should “tuck and roll,” Warrington is seeking to reprogram rider’s thinking during falls.
The first thing many riders do when they realize they are going to fall is to do everything in their power to stay on the horse. While this might be the first instinct, it’s not always the best decision, Warrington said. He encourages riders to have an exit strategy; when falling, this means riders should put out their arm to absorb the majority of the impact on landing. This doesn’t mean putting out the hands, which would mean all of the concussive forces are placed on the wrist (potentially breaking them), he said; rather, aim for the long part of the arm, from elbow to side of the hand, to take the impact. Next, the rider should roll away from the horse with their hands up (think of a boxer preparing to spar) to decelerate the impact.
It’s also important, Warrington noted, to round the back to save the neck while falling. Tucking the chin to the chest automatically rounds the back, reducing the chance of a neck injury.
So, he explained again, during a fall: Arms out, legs and chin tucked, eyes looking out of the circle of rotation (away from the horse), and roll away.
One thing a rider should never do, said Warrington while showing video evidence, is hold onto the horse while falling.
“Someone will catch your horse!” he said. “Let go!”
He also said he feel passionately that, in any equestrian sport, riders need the right horse and to be riding at an appropriate level. This is even more key to safety than learning how to fall, he said.
When teaching riders how to fall safely in a clinic setting, the Warringtons first teach tumbling on a mat. Keli Warrington, an accomplished gymnast who is also an event rider, teaches body awareness to riders through basic gymnastic skills. From there, the riders move onto the Landsafe simulator, which recreates real-life fall scenarios at speeds that allow the riders to practice fall response techniques. Danny Warrington compared the drills Landsafe offers their riders to those of a fire drill: the correct way to fall is repeated until it’s instinct.
A former steeplechase jockey who became an international advanced three-day event rider, Danny Warrington noted that in nearly all falls, there is time to react to the situation; the only riders that have no time to react are jockeys when horses clip heels, he said.
By teaching riders the correct way to fall, the Warringtons are giving them additional tools to keep them safe and able to enjoy riding for years to come. Learn more at landsafeequestrian.com.
Sarah E. Coleman, director of public and community relations for New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program and co-owner of Topline Communications, served on the planning committee for the Horse Industry Safety Summit.