August 22, 2013

On Rotational Falls and Training the XC Horse

The always-i­­nsightful Denny Emerson posted yesterday about rotational falls.  He didn’t mention the fatal accident in England last weekend, but rotational falls are on every eventers’ mind the week after a fatal fall.  

Here's the post:

Here`s the deal, and it comes down to simple physics of speed and motion.
You come galloping down to something like this big, square table at a long ago Ledyard.
If Chestry and I get to an OK takeoff spot, then, as her knees come UP, they get ABOVE the front of the fence BEFORE the push propels her AHEAD, and she clears it.
IF, HOWEVER, either one of us 'misses the distance" so that she doesn`t have time/room to get her knees up higher than the front of the jump, then she will hit the solid jump ABOVE HER KNEES.
This will STOP her forward motion, and she will somersault, and land upside down. This is called a "rotational fall" the most potentially deadly kind for horse or rider. 

As a truly novice jumper, I never would have understood this or been able to apply it to my own situation if it weren’t for the last two months.  Jumping was feeling good, fences felt easy, so that means we’re progressing, right?  The Chris clinic taught us that the truth is, he’s a long pony with a long stride who prefers long spots to fences.  Not Superman-level long spots, just longer spots.  It’s why steps feel so great for both of us, as shown here:

This 18" step up feels comfortable to him because he can stretch out and take a long spot.
But gymnastics designed to compress his stride make us feel like beginner jumpers:

Not pretty, but we're learning here.

The long spot isn’t a problem at Starter height fences, and over fences that fall down, but add height and solid qualities to the fences and long spots are a recipe for rotational falls, as Denny points out.

We, as horses and humans, are programmed to choose the path of least resistance.  If I stuck to that path over fences, thinking that the fences were getting easy for him because they were smooth and in rhythm and made good eq easy for me, we would never actually progress.  We would face tougher and tougher challenges until one day a hole like this became glaringly apparent – and hopefully everything would be okay afterward.

So we keep struggling through the tough lessons we’ve had lately, learning from our mistakes over fences that fall down, in a forgivingly soft arena, knowing that what feels hard mentally and physically now is making for a safer ride when the fences get more dangerous later on.


  1. Very good approach. I really like Denny Emerson.

    1. Me too. I wish I could ride with him! I love how he makes his riders buy everyone doughnuts if they fall off.

    2. You had to buy cookies or alcohol for everyone if you fell off at my old barn.

  2. I would actually take away a somewhat different message -- that the risk factor isn't the distance from the fence so much as the "okayness" of the distance and the quality of the gait on approach (both relative to the type of fence, terrain, scope and quickness of horse, etc.).

    Obviously there are distances that are just plain old-fashioned out-of-bounds.! And absolutely, being able to place the horse is important.

    But you (general "you") can crash into or rotate over a fence by burying the horse to it every bit as easily as you can by taking a flyer. The right combo of balance and impulsion difference between a crap jump and a good jump, whatever the distance. You don't want to ask the horse to be a hero on a regular basis, but much better to be a little wrong with the right canter on approach than to ride the distance instead of the horse.

    (Heh. Sorry to novelize at you. I've scraped pretty close to the limits of my critter's scope and this is how we got away with it, so I guess I have stronger feelings on the subject than I realized!)

    1. No apologies, I love the discussion! You're absolutely right, and I think we're getting at the same thing from different angles. One of the clinicians I have ridden for is constantly asking, "Do you have the right canter FOR THIS FENCE?" because that's every bit as important as the takeoff point.

      This is more of a commentary on me and Connor than eventers in general, and with us, I'm much more likely to get his comfy long spot right now than bury him because the quality of the canter (as far as compression and impulsion go, and being between my leg and hand), needs to improve, and because he finds both an appropriate takeoff distance AND getting buried to be too close for his green tastes.

      I am still fairly new to jumping, especially for my age, so I love hearing things like this from other bloggers, I know I have a lot to learn.

    2. Yes - I agree with this, though I don't have the experience that Hannah does in testing out my horse's scope. Rotational falls are about physics, and don't necessarily require a high fence or a fast horse. They require the right combination of fence + approach to make the equation work. They can happen in showjumping and at elementary eventing levels.

      I don't mean to freak you out! It's just that Denny is simplifying the problem a fair bit. (I jump judged at an event two years ago where one of his top students, who has trained with him daily for years and has her own training business as well, had a horrible rotational fall that left her quite injured. So even his teaching does not render you immune.) Either way the takeaway is exactly what you put your finger on: get the right basics down, work hard on the right approach, and ride as well as you can.

  3. Interesting post.. those big solid CC jumps freak me out!

    1. Oh yes, they freak me out too. Even the 2' stone walls we have freak me out. I don't think you could pay me to do Prelim or higher. Haha.

  4. Haha. I LOVE the long spot in a very unhealthy way. That's one of many reasons why Cuna has been so good for me--He always takes care of Cuna first and he has no time for that "long spot" business. Even when I drive him for a long spot, he's happy to flip me the bird and chip to a safer place.

    It's not always pretty, but it's an attribute I appreciate. It definitely keeps us both safe.

  5. I guess because I started eventing at a younger age, I don't have the fear of solid jumps. Knock on wood, no bad experiences have raised it in me. But I was drilled on striding and pace, so that helped. The England incident certainly makes me more aware though. I do not bounce like I used to.
    Comrade has gotten better about taking a deeper spot rather than the long one.

  6. Super Kif has a bad problem with chipping, hardly ever takes a long one but chips regularly. We are constantly working on this with Dom now and it is helping a ton

  7. Great post. Did your orange jump saddle oil up that dark?! Can't tell if its that or a different saddle.

    Distance, stride, pace, all of it make the difference between going over the jump and landing right side up. I live Denny Emerson. It's great for all of us baby eventers to be aware and educate ourselves because even at the lower levels bad things can and do happen.

    1. It's not something you want to think about, but you're totally right, bad things happen at all levels.

      We so need a Denny Emerson Needs to Come to the Midwest and do a Clinic group!

      Those photos are from July, of my trainer's saddles. Orange saddle is still orange, I've been afraid to oil it so I've just used Lederbalsam so far. Everything I've touched with neatsfoot has come out worse for it after I was finished. I think I'm about ready to oil it, though.