LandSafe aims to reduce number of catastrophic falls in Eventing
Danny Warrington, former steeplechase jockey and international event rider, has been studying horse sports for almost his whole life. He has trained riders and horses alike to the upper levels, and now he is working to make a difference in eventing safety worldwide. Along with his wife Keli, a former gymnast, Danny has launched the program LandSafe, which aims to save lives, reduce injuries, and educate riders and parents about safety in eventing. According to Danny, the basic idea is to “land safely over every fence” and when things go awry, to have the tools to “land safely when you’ve parted company.”
Every rider, if they’ve ridden enough, has been in the moment right before they fall. And most riders wonder: What next? What now? LandSafe uses modern technology to simulate falls so that riders can practice falling. The real-life simulator replicates situations of falls, including rotational ones, so that riders can learn proper techniques and develop life-saving reactions instead of freezing in fear.
According to Danny, instead of going into panic mode, “your body will have a system” to draw on, “more options,” and “less tension” in those crucial moments. His hope is that through the program, riders “won’t go back to instincts, they’ll go to techniques.”
One of LandSafe’s main goals is to dispel the mythology around falling—particularly that riders cannot do anything to improve their situations. Danny argues that “that’s not really true; there’s a lot of self-protection, body awareness, and self-preservation” that can ultimately save lives or prevent injuries. Some riders walk away from falls unharmed, some get the wind knocked out of them, and some do not walk away at all. The idea behind LandSafe is to train responses into riders in dangerous situations. The key is finding their center of balance, and allowing the horse to find his center of balance as well. Here Danny alludes to the famous Bruce Davidson statue at the Kentucky Horse Park, where the legendary rider hails a cab jumping into a water obstacle to give the horse its head and stay in the center of gravity. But, according to Danny, several myths about falling hinder the important responses that prevent falls:
First is the myth of not putting your hands out to break your fall because you will break your wrist or arm. Danny underscores that the arms and hands, when put out the correct way, can protect the head and neck from serious injury.
Second is the myth of holding onto the reins for dear life. This instinct is so ingrained that you see riders being dragged while unconscious because they cling to the reins. According to Danny, “you have to let go of the reins.” Riders can use their hands to reseat themselves. Also, holding onto the reins during a fall can put the horse severely out of balance, which may also cause him to fall. Conversely, allowing him his head and neck gives him the ability “to do what he needs to do.” Human instinct, of course, is to hold on, to pull. That must be “trained out, and talked out,” which is where the educational piece becomes crucial.
Many people know about the idea to tuck and roll, but few know how to execute it, Danny explains. The program breaks down the simplest forward rolls and then increases technicality, all while developing greater body-awareness. A great ancillary effect of the program has been its ability to give riders more confidence. One rider told Danny, “I feel so much better now that I know how to fall.” The exercises are simple and logical, but they can have huge impacts on safety and confidence in the saddle because they eliminate the ‘I have no idea what to do’ moment just before the fall.
The immediate next step for LandSafe is to introduce it to the U.S. under-25 list riders for the USEA. After that, the program will try a top-down effect to get the information out “quickly and effectively,” with the aim of training trainers to teach students the techniques.
Next, LandSafe would like to go global. It already has one partner in Lindsay Nylund from Australia. Danny remarks, “it’s much easier to grab footholds when you have partners around world,” and with a program with “real merit” and “teachable skills,” going global will spread “life-saving information.”
Danny is quick to remark that this program is nothing new; for centuries, from the U.S. cavalry to the Russian Cossacks, people have been taught how to fall with gymnastics training. Now LandSafe is working to use modern technology to create a new system that will save more lives. Of course, nothing is certain in this sport, but giving riders the tools to land safely, in any situation, will decrease the risk of catastrophe: “it’s like a seatbelt,” Danny states, “its not going to save everybody, but it’s going to help.”
In the end, teaching riders how to fall is a clear way to improve rider safety in this sport. As Danny so aptly put it, at some point “you know you’re going to fall, and you also know you’re going to do a shoulder-in out of the corner in the intermediate test.” We practice our shoulder-ins all the time, so why not practice falling?
The LandSafe program in action
To learn more about LandSafe, visit their website.