I’ve been kinda fascinated by the idea of the LandSafe Clinics since I first heard about them in early 2017. I am no stranger to falling off of horses and the subsequent injuries that follow, so I was very excited to learn about how to fall in a way that reduces those injuries. When I got an email saying the LandSafe clinic was coming to Woodside Horse Park, I called immediately to put our names on the wait list. We got in and – spoiler alert – I am so happy we got to do this.
The clinic is 2 days for 4 hours each day and it is intense. They advise you to wear riding tights or loose, flexible pants and give you a pair of trampoline socks for the gymnastics work. You also bring your riding boots for the simulator. They also advise bringing some dramamine if you get motion sick. Now, I get car sick, but I’m totally fine if I am driving, so I figured “I’ll be the one moving my body, I don’t need dramamine.” OMG I was so wrong; I needed dramamine. I ended up taking a pill about 30 minutes into the clinic and going straight for it with my morning tea the next day. Do not be like me; do not skip the dramamine. There were quite a few other people suffering from motion sickness so I was not alone.
You start off with mat work before going to the simulator. We began with some simple stretches and then started practicing our braced position. This is hands out in front of your face braced for impact. Danny, one of the instructors, likes to come and shove his hand in your face (like a big brother) and your goal is to not let him do it because eventually it won’t be his hand, it will be the ground or a horse falling on you. Danny used to be a steeplechase jockey before stepping down to eventing as a safer sport. He will regale you all weekend with stories of horrible falls that he walked away from because he knew how to fall. And the answer is to always protect your head. Chin in, hands out in front of your face, elbows out to the side and everything braced.
Once you can do the brace, you start learning tumbling. The goal is not to land on your hands and break your arms or wrists. You are not trying to stop the fall with your arms. In Danny’s words: “you’re already falling, there’s nothing stopping that.” But you can land better. The goal is to use your arms to defuse energy and carry your body through a roll to keep defusing that energy. This slo-mo video does a good job of showing how you are not diving onto your hands, you’re tumbling over them:
That tumble was later in the program though. You start by tumbling from a stand still and then you learn shoulder rolls in each direction from a stand still. Notice how I come out of the roll with my arms still braced. If I was actually falling from speed I’d have more momentum and keep rolling so I need to have my arms brace for the next roll. Danny will also try to touch your face even when you’re rolling. You learn fast.
I’d like to take a moment here to discuss a really important issue here. I am NOT good at this. So don’t look at anything I do in these gifs and be like, yes, I shall go practice that now. You should take this clinic if you want to learn the proper way to fall. My husband, in typical fashion for everything he does, was naturally good at this. I still wouldn’t recommend imitating him. Take the clinic and lean from the actual professionals. No part of this post is meant to be a how-to. It’s just a re-cap of my experience.
After shoulder rolls we did this horrible exercise where we rolled down the slanted mat so we could practice rolling multiple times. I’d already taken dramamine for the tumbling or I’d have lost it right then and there.
Next we needed to practice jumping off the trampoline. My husband looks like an idiot here because we were supposed to look like idiots. The idea was to practice flailing around falling through the air and still returning to braced position before going into a tumble. One of the big things LandSafe emphasizes is that you do have time to save yourself. You need to know how to save yourself and you need to practice it, but falling l is not instantaneous. The whole “I couldn’t have done anything to save myself because it happened too fast” is a myth.
Next up was jumping on the trampoline, starfishing through the air, landing in brace, and then tumbling. This was a lot to do and I am not really all that coordinated so it was hard for me. But you get a ton of practice so you can get better.
Of course, if you’re my husband and you start off somehow being a natural at this, you’ll get good. I got better, he got good. We ended the mat work with running and doing a diving tumble onto the big, fluffy mat. I got better about keeping my arms up, but wasn’t able to just bounce to me feet afterwards like some people.
After this we moved on to the really exciting part: the simulator. When we first got there we were kinda concerned because it seemed like there was a lot of space between the air mattresses to fall into, but they set up this whole giant bouncy castle around the horse. And then they take the fluffy mat and put that up there too so you’re not even falling the full distance.
The first day we practiced a worst case scenario: a rotational fall. In this case, the horse is going down so you are going down. There’s no trying to stick it or proving you could stay on the fake horse, because you probably could. The point is to know how to handle the fall when you are going to fall. You start by climbing on the horizontal horse and they slowly tilt it until you are just about to fall. Although the point is to fall, Danny and Keli were careful to instruct us to lean back and brace our legs forward and be in the right position to save ourselves. You don’t want to just launch yourself off a horse every time something goes wrong. Sometimes the horse miraculously saves itself and doesn’t fall.
There’s also more no-touchy practice although Keli is much more polite about it 🙂
Once you’re all set to brace, they drop the horse a little bit and you push off from the stirrups, tuck your chin to your chest, brace, and roll.
We each got to do 12 practice falls. 3 in a row on each side and then repeat. At first, they don’t have you use the reins so you can just concentrate on bracing, but then you practice holding the reins to learn how to let them go and still get your hands up into brace position in time. The goal isn’t to land on your hands, to break the fall with your hands, or to break your hands instead of your head. The goal is to protect your head with your arms, defuse energy through your arms, and roll to continue defusing forward energy. My husband does a much better job of demonstrating it than I do. His head doesn’t even touch the mat.
The practice really does help. The first time I tried it, I forgot to actually push off the stirrup and I literally just flopped onto my head. No seriously:
Luckily I was completely fine because I was falling on like a million layers of air and foam. It’s not like this is the sort of thing you just practice at home. I wouldn’t say I ever got good at it, but I was definitely better after 12 tries (see the Instagram above). I was doing even better the next day. I really don’t think I can stress enough just how unique and valuable this clinic is. Where else can you learn how to fall.
Stay tuned for my recap of day 2.