It was inevitable: I fell off Stu. It was my first fall off of him, and my first fall in about 5 or so years, since I fell off of Berry at a show. It’s been a few days now, and I keep coming back to it. It could have been prevented, it was my fault for letting the situation escalate, but he’s also not blameless, since he launched me. However, I know what I did wrong and I’ll work on it.
I haven’t been able to get the fall out of my head. But not actually because I’m nervous or scared, but because of what happened while I was falling off.
Let me explain.
It was a day like any other day – isn’t that how this kind of story always starts?
But actually, it was a cold, spring day. After several days of warmth, the temperature dropped again, making the horses excited. Last fall, I had dreaded every weather change, as it seemed to make Stu into a fire breathing dragon, but we hadn’t experienced any of that since we moved to the new barn. He was older now, wiser, with a several months of sporadic rides under his girth.
When I took Stu out to the arena, there was already a horse being lunged, bucking and zooming around. In the field next to us, horses were galloping. Stu had his head raised high as he took in everything. I could tell he was not his laid-back self that day.
My riding buddy was with me, but she was doing ground work on the smaller side of the divided arena. I went to the big side, and waited a few minutes for Stu to relax and the lunging horse to calm down. After a few minutes, both happened, and the other horse left. So I got on.
Stu was a bit “up,” but this was actually a nice change as he’s normally slower than a slug and making him move forward is a workout in itself.. As I trotted around, I even thought to myself, “hah, he thinks I don’t know this kind of ride, but I know EXACTL:Y this kind of ride,” since every other horse I have owned has been way more energic than him.
All in all, we were actually having a really good ride. It felt like the first really good schooling since I moved to this barn, although I think this is primarily because the arena wasn’t filled to the brim with jumps. It was nice to have so much open space.
Then we begin the trot-canter transitions.
They started out simple, just asking for a canter. They still need work though, I shouldn’t be going around most of the arena before he starts cantering. I did notice him drifting towards the other arena during my turns, but it didn’t seem terrible. All in all, I was actually having a wonderful time, relishing in that glorious canter. At one point I imagined I was on a jump course, cruising towards the next jump. It felt glorious.
After doing 6 or so canters, I figured I should probably stop, so naturally, I told him, “okay, one more time!” and off we went. I noticed he picked up speed, but instead of half halting (which would have worked) I told myself I was being a baby and I needed to get used to that big stride. I enjoyed it for about the three strides until we got to that turn. He resisted the turn, he wanted to go see his friend. I begin to insist he turn. He begin bucking, and I lost my seat, and lost my leverage to turn him.
I was sitting on his neck as he changed course to barrel towards the other arena, still bucking. I knew I was lost. And that’s when a curious thing happened.
The Matrix Effect
From the time I lost control of him to the time I fell off was probably less than 2 seconds. But it felt like it was going in slow motion. As I was sitting on his neck, I thought to myself, I need to detach, and I felt my feet slide out of the stirrups. A moment later, I was headed for the ground, and I thought, if he runs over me, I’m a goner, and I waved my crop around, trying to shoo him away from me. I remember the impact on my side, and those huge hooves, so close to my face, but he backed away from me.
My brain, sensing danger, had sped up it’s processing time, which had caused it to feel like it was slow motion. A few seconds stretched out into well, a few more seconds, it wasn’t that long, but it was long enough to process exactly what was happening, and how to save myself.
It’s actually not uncommon. You may have have had moments where you experienced something similar, perhaps if you’ve fallen, or been in a car accident, or just had something scary happen. There’s a name for it: Tachypsychia, or “The Matrix Effect,” is a neurological condition that distorts the perception of time. It can feel like time slows down, but it can also make time speed up, making it feel like life is a blur. My understand is that the speeding up is either a brain disorder or drug induced though, not exactly caused by the same thing. See a doctor if your experiencing the speed up.
Tachypsychia can be triggered by a traumatic situation, basically the brain feeling like it might die. The body goes into a “fight or flight” response, which releases a number of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause the change in time perception.
It’s difficult to research tachypsychia, as it’s difficult to replicate the situations that cause it, so there’s only theories about why it happens. Some experts believe it’s the brain trying to protect itself. It can’t be brought on by conscious thought, or wanting it to happen, it can only be triggered by a true fear, and therefore the need to “think fast.”
This is the first time I’ve experienced a fall this way. Every other fall was basically over the moment I noticed I was falling, and I was on the ground before I even realized I fell off. In those instances, I don’t know if I would have been helped at all by having my brain operate faster. Obviously I’m still here for now, so the end result was okay. But it would be fascinating if it was something we could control. Like, what other situations could we slow down, just to give ourselves more time to process and react?
I’m thinking it would be something like Limitless, but maybe that’s just my over eager imagination, since we’d also need an insane memory to replicate that situation.
But even without that, it’s incredible what we, as humans, are capable of, even if it’s just for a moment.
I immediately stood up to get back on. My whole body was shaking, but I tried not to think about it, and tried not to think about what had just happened. The lesson drilled into us is to get right back on the horse, so that’s what I was doing.
Stu, who seemed confused, was standing about 20 feet away. He’d forgotten about trying to get to his friend, and was actually standing right next to a mounting block. I don’t think he realized that by bucking he would send me off, and was completely bewildered by what had just happened.
I quickly got on, ignoring the shaking, and immediately set back to work. I disassociated myself from “the incident” and set to work sending him forward at a trot. I don’t know if other people are like this, but usually after I have some kind of setback like this, I don’t withdraw, it just makes me more determined to work it out. Falling off could be characterized as one of the worst outcomes, and that already happened, so I lost the fear of it happening again. It made me ride more workmanlike, to keep it together.
The rest of the ride went fine. There were zero attempts to resist again. The next day, I rode again, this time, replicating that exact turn where I came off. He turned perfectly with no resistance. I rode again the day after that. No attitude at all. He’s acting like his usual self, sluggish, laid-back, and a lovable puppy on the ground. There seems to be no ill will, and although I’m pretty sure horses don’t think like this, it kind of seems like he realizes he messed up by bucking me off. But I’m pretty sure that’s just me projecting.
I’ve recovered from the fall, both physically as my head and neck were hurting a bit, and mentally, as it seems that our rides are going fine again, but I still can’t get my slow motion fall out of my head. I keep replaying it, remembering how odd it felt to be sitting on his neck, thinking that I need to make sure I’m not caught in the stirrups, and feeling my feet gently slip out. I don’t think I can ever forget that feeling.
Have you ever experienced tachypsychia, either in the saddle or in a different situation? Let me know in the comments.