If you fall with your horse over a fence, you may take no more hurt than if knocked over in the football-field. Stick to the saddle as long as you can, and when you find the position no longer tenable, roll yourself smartly out of the way. Don't lose your head or lose your hold of the bridle. By holding on to the bridle you turn the horse's head towards yourself, and therefore his body farther away. There are moments when, of course, it is suicidal to cling on to the reins, but I should say more bad accidents happen from letting go than from hanging on. You have also no right to cause your friend to lose his place with hounds by going out of his way to catch your horse, which you ought never to have let go.
When you feel fairly confident that the man whose horse gallops by you riderless would not have let go the reins if he could help it, your duty is clearly to catch the animal at once. You may think it is an infernal nuisance, but like other unpleasant things it must be done, and you should remember the old adage, " Do as you would be done by".
If, however, you are in the front rank and hounds are running fast, the fallen one will forgive you for not stopping, supposing he is not in the same field, as you would then lose the run without benefiting him. It is a good rule always to help a comrade in the hunting-field when you can.
The best men and the best horses must sometimes come to grief if they follow hounds over a stiff country, but it should be your object to avoid falls if possible. The fence is an obstacle between you and the pack which you have to overcome, but if you fall over it the honours are divided between you and the fence. Do not ride for a fall, but ride to get safely over, and your confidence will inspire the same feeling in the horse.
When there is no other place, you may sometimes have to negotiate an obstacle that appears well-nigh impossible for any horse to jump, and a fall appears to be the inevitable result. You must take your chance, ride boldly at it, and hope for the best. Always remember that however bold a horse may be he is naturally a timid animal, and most of his courage is communicated to him by his rider. It is better to get over a fence with a scramble and a tumble than not to get over at all.
Excepting those instances where the horse rolls over you, the worst falls are when you land on your head, and you may be suffering from a slight concussion without those who pick you up being aware of it. Spirits are then the worst thing you can take, and many accidents, which would have otherwise been attended with only trifling results, have been rendered serious by the ever-ready brandy flask. Therefore remember it is a mistaken kindness to offer any one who has had a fall a drink of either wine or spirits, because you cannot tell at the moment whether or not he has hurt his head. In a case of slight concussion the best plan is to go home and take a dose of cooling medicine, a very light meal—bread and milk for choice—without any spirituous liquor, and get into bed. The combined talent of the whole medical profession could not give you better advice than this.
I have not yet ever purchased myself any of the many patent safety-stirrups, but nevertheless I think they are excellent inventions, and no doubt lessen the risk of being hung up. To have a fall and to find your foot fast in the stirrup is a very unpleasant experience. I think perhaps it is the most dangerous position in which you can be placed by riding over fences, and anything that can minimise the risk is worth consideration. Here again the importance of holding on to the reins is manifest, for as long as you clutch them you can stop your horse from going far. When a man gets hung up by the foot and loses his hold of the reins, if the horse is the quicker to rise and moves on, he is left in a very helpless position, for no exertion on his part can set him free. The horse then gets frightened at the dangling human form and gallops away, kicking as he goes.
A horrible situation to contemplate, but one which you need not think about, if you take proper care. The foot will seldom stick fast if you use big, heavy stirrup-irons,1 and spurs with only moderately long necks. I believe, in the majority of cases where people get hung up, the long spur is responsible. Sometimes it gets caught in the stirrup-leather, sometimes under the saddle-flap on the opposite side to which you fall, and occasionally it becomes hooked on to the reins. A loop or becket on the stirrup-leather is an excellent preventative for avoiding the first of these accidents.
1 Through using stirrup-irons too small for me, I was once dragged, after a fall, for upwards of a hundred yards. I had the presence of mind to keep hold of the reins, and this probably saved me from having my brains kicked out.—Ed.
One of the most unpleasant tricks a horse can have is that of rearing, as the rider can do nothing but hang on to the mane. I have before mentioned that no boy or beginner should be allowed to ride an animal unless it is free from all vices, but some day you may be mounted on a horse that gets up on its hind legs, and it is as well for you to know what to do in such an emergency.
The instinct of self-preservation prompts you to clutch the reins in order to avoid slipping out of the saddle, but instinct in this case would lead you into further trouble. If, when the horse is balancing on its hind feet, you pull on the reins, you must pull him over backwards and very likely on top of you.
You must get it impressed on your mind that if a horse rears, your first action is to drop the reins and hold on by the mane, the saddle, or even put your arms round his neck, but let the reins go at once.
I have known first-rate hunters, afflicted with a little twist in the temper, that would, on occasions of ill-humour or annoyance, rear straight up on end, to the confusion and discomfiture of their riders. If you happen to own one of this description, you will find it a good plan to have a loose strap on the neck, which you can hold on by directly he commences his tricks.
My very kind and patient editor, when he asked me to write this book,1 said it was to be for boys, but made no mention of girls. Nearly all I have written here is, however, quite as applicable to the one as to the other, and though I have written chiefly to a boy, I hope his sister will find the hints I have given are useful to her also.
All girls ought to learn to sit astride of a horse, and it would be better for them if they never rode in a side-saddle until they were over fifteen. The unnatural position in which a side-saddle puts a woman must be bad for the adult, but it must be positively injurious to the health of a growing girl.
There has been a good deal of discussion on this subject, and without any satisfactory result, but I am not going to re-open it now. In all probability, before we get to the end of this century the sidesaddle will become as out of date as a sedan chair. Doctors and fathers may go on talking to the end of the chapter, but unless a costume can be contrived which a woman considers is becoming, she will never adopt a man's method of riding.
However, I am here addressing myself to the young girl, who is too sensible to worry about how she looks. If you have plenty of brothers at home and some friends in the district, you should get your parents to organise a boy and girl polo club. The ponies should not be over thirteen hands; the ball should be rubber-covered, and the sticks light. You might have lots of fun in this way, and it would improve your riding more than anything. The excitement of the game would make you forget about riding, when you would lose fear and gain confidence.
1 I certainly have never been concerned in a book written with more sincerity and knowledge of the subject than these chapters by Mr. J. Otho Paget.—Ed.
There is one advantage in a side-saddle, and that is, when a woman has learnt to ride in it she feels so secure that, unlike a man, she does not want to balance herself by the reins. This is the chief reason why the majority of women have better " hands" than men ; that and perhaps a greater delicacy of touch, combined with a knowledge of their own want of muscular power.
Whilst the fashion still remains for a woman to sit sideways, it is as well not to be different from every one else, and you must try to acquire a good seat. Sit in the middle of the saddle, and let your weight fall directly over the horse's backbone. The slightest bearing to one side or the other will give him a sore back. The saddle should not be higher over the withers than it is anywhere else, or by raising your knee it will give you an ugly seat. Some very good riders ride with the left leg perfectly straight, but I do not quite understand how they can have a firm seat. A woman's grip depends on the pommel and the stirrup. She must press down with her foot on the stirrup and upwards with her leg against the pommel, thereby getting a very strong leverage, which, when properly understood, will hold her safely in the saddle however much the horse may kick.
The left leg from below the knee should hang straight down, and, except when it is necessary to take a strong grip, it should not quite touch the pommel. See that your heel does not touch the horse's ribs and irritate him.
A woman ought always to sit straight in the saddle, and if she is feeling tired she had better go home ; but if she ever allows herself to loll, she will become an eyesore to her friends, and a saddle-sore to her horse. First of all you have to learn to sit plumb in the middle of the saddle, and after that you can get into the way of sitting there easily, without stiffness and without poking your head. You will have to be an extraordinarily bad rider if you cannot find one man to admire your style of riding, and extraordinarily good if you hope to evade the criticism of your own sex. Beyond these few hints, which are alone applicable to girls, my advice to boys holds good for both.