December 2019 - Learning To Fall
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Sunday, 01 December 2019 08:36
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Minimizing injury risks is the focus of four Landsafe Equestrian clinics in California this month.

by Kim F. Miller

Nobody doubts that riding is a physically dangerous sport, but there is disagreement over what can be done to reduce risks. Some accept the risks and carry on and some accept the risks and do everything possible to minimize injuries when the inevitable falls or necessary sudden dismounts occur.


The three-year-old program Landsafe Equestrian is firmly in that latter camp. Staging four clinics in California this month, during a larger West Coast tour, the program was created by riders Danny and Keli Warrington. It is steadily growing the ranks of proactive riders intent on improving their odds of walking away from potentially terrible falls without devastating injuries.

The core of the two-day clinics are gymnastic exercises and work on a mechanical horse programmed to dislodge riders in a realistic simulation of the speed and impact of a real fall.

The first day starts with two hours of gymnastics skill building. The emphasis is on rolling safely and with a body shape most able to protect the head and neck and to decelerate the impact. Later that day, these new skills are transferred to the mechanical horse. The second day revisits those skills, then spends more time on the simulator working with various of types of falls and dangerous situations: like the right way to roll off and away from the horse in a rotational fall and developing the instincts for when to eject from the saddle when a horse rears.

In all phases, the goal is building muscle memory, body awareness and control and the rider’s confidence in activating the training in the heat of what Danny calls the “Oh crap!” moment. “It’s a training program designed to teach the best practices of fall prevention and response,” he explains.

Danny is a former steeplechase rider turned FEI level eventer. His first wife, Amanda Warrington, died of injuries sustained during a 4* competition in 1998. He has since been a strong voice for riders taking personal responsibility for “playing the sport safely,” as he wrote in a moving 2008 Chronicle of the Horse article. Keli has an extensive background as a gymnast.

A

s horsemen, both are eventers, and that’s the discipline that first embraced this still-new Landsafe Equestrian program. In 2018, the United States Eventing Association offered members a grant-funded discount on the cost of participating in the clinics. With its cross-country phase in which horses and riders gallop over permanent obstacles, eventing has been in the rider (and horse) safety spotlight for many years so its embrace of Landsafe is not surprising. More recently, the United States Hunter Jumper Association reached out to Landsafe, Danny reports. The training will be incorporated into USHJA educational programs in the fall of 2020, he says.

No need to wait until a governing body formally adopts the program, Danny stresses. Some professionals make Landsafe participation a prerequisite of joining their training program. Danny hopes the safety training will become as ubiquitous in equestrian sports as it is in many mainstream sports.  Gymnasts, he notes, learn to fall safely and avoid their sport’s most common injuries in their earliest phases of participation.

Any riding style has its risks, and Landsafe seeks to reduce those across all disciplines. Rotational falls in which the horse hits a jump between its knees and chest, causing the horse to flip over the jump, are the most dangerous. “The risk of having a serious injury is once every 55 falls,” Landsafe reports. “A rotational fall, however, increases the risk to once every five falls.”

Even as the Landsafe clinics fill to capacity, skepticism persists. The biggest doubts concern any program’s ability to train the mind and body to respond in the split-second moment of a potential or actual fall and how much can be accomplished in a two-day session. In what little time he has for such doubters, Danny begins by stating that any form of training is better than none. Landsafe’s two days of core-building somersaults, vaults and controlled falls off the simulator do build muscle memory, he asserts. Repeating the course annually or with some regularity is ideal. Adopting or continuing an active, play-oriented lifestyle is a big help in maintaining the strength and body control lessons learned in the clinic. Activities that increase hand-eye coordination are also valuable.

Part of the Landsafe education is countering myths, like the idea that it’s best to relax the muscles in a fall. “What we are teaching is body shaping as it applies to decelerating the force of impact when hitting the ground,” he explains. “This is rider education regarding falling safely. It teaches riders not only a better way to navigate a fall, but also using these skills, in many cases, may reduce chances of injury or prevent a fall all together.”

Danny feels the training is perhaps even more needed now than in the past because many young people spend more time in safe, sedentary activities than in rough and tumble outdoor play of earlier times.  Such physical activity contributes to body awareness, balance and strength that are critical to the muscle memory reactions Landsafe emphasizes. Participants of all ages and auditors will benefit from the clinic, Danny asserts. Even though an older rider might not be so swift with the somersaults, they can still learn skills to minimize the risk of severe injury in a fall.

He equates Landsafe to seatbelts and child safety seats when they were first introduced. “Your kids won’t want to do them, but you’ve got to get them into them.” He expects that acceptance will eventually follow the same trajectory as those everyday safety precautions.

February 2020 will mark Landsafe’s third year of giving clinics. “I can’t believe this isn’t mandatory,” is one of the most common participant comments, Danny relays.

For the contact information on each clinic, visit www.landsafeequestrian.com.

 


Landsafe Equestrian Clinics this month in California

 

  • Dec. 7-8 at Kingsview Equestrian Center in the Sacramento area’s Woodland.
  • Dec. 15-16 at Red Fox Farm in the South Bay Area’s Gilroy
  • Dec. 22-23 at Shea Therapeutic Riding Center in San Juan Capistrano
  • Dec. 28-29 in Twin Rivers Ranch in Central California’s Paso Robles. Eventing star Buck Davidson, Jr., is partnering in this clinic with cross-country jumping coaching. He’s a longtime friend of Danny Warrington and was one of the first international riders to instantly understand and promote Landsafe’s benefits, Danny explains.