“Only those who never ride, never fall.” I don’t know where that quote came from, but it is sadly pretty darn true. Recently I got an email from a dear friend telling that her horse had spooked (and he wasn’t a spooky horse), turned and ran for the barn. As he did that infamous spin, she fell off. She always wore her helmet, but this time she hurt her neck. Using her cell phone, she got friends to help, went to the hospital and discovered she had broken her neck! C2 to be exact, the same break Christopher Reeves experienced and which left him paralyzed. She was blessed with good fortune that ligaments and blood vessels were still intact, and her spinal cord was not damaged. The doctor eventually sent her home with a brace and restrictions. She decided to end her riding days, which was a difficult decision.

Riding is a dangerous sport, and even when you use all the care you can imagine, things still can happen. There is one thing that I would like to recommend trail riders do: use a “night latch.” It was designed by the cowboys of old to keep them from falling off their horses when they dozed at night while watching the cows. It was a rope or tie of some sort that fastened onto the saddle around the cantle (or somewhere, it was never exactly explained). They hooked their hand around it. I read about the “night latch” in Mules and More magazine several years ago, soon after I began having mules to ride. I had retired from showing pleasure Tennessee Walking horses. Actually, I could have used it during some of my more exciting Victory passes on Praise Hallelujah!

After a rather serious accident, but not as serious as my friend’s, where my mule “coon jumped” (jumped straight up like a deer, not over like a horse) a pole about 6 inches off the ground, and caught me totally by surprise ( I had expected him to walk over it), I fell off……hard! I did some difficult soul searching too. Should I quit riding? It is a very hard personal decision.

You can read all about my fall and my soul searching in my book: Mules, Mules and More Mules in chapters: Twenty-one “On again, Off again” and Twenty-two, “Soul Searching.”

I do still ride, and I love my “night latch” which I have adapted for me. I use a soft leather latigo which is attached on the front of my saddles (different saddles have different places) in the area of the front conchas. It obviously has to be very secure so it won’t unscrew from something. One of my saddles has a slit in the leather I use. Your horse must neck rein well enough that you can ride with one hand while you use the other hand to hold the night latch. This works much better than hanging onto the saddle horn. You are out of balance when you do that. It is hard to explain just how much security that gives one. I was afraid to ride again after that fall. I started on another smaller and gentle mule and a horse I trusted. By securing my hand down where it normally hangs when not holding the reins, my center of gravity was anchored and when a spook occurred, I was given time to stop the horse. It is that first spook, twirl, turn that gets you. If you can overcome that, you can usually stop your animal.

Happy safe riding!!!