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The Unintentional Dismount


Sometimes forced dismounts are met with laughter and other times tears and ambulances.

I think it’s fair to say that 99.9% of the time we’re jettisoned from the saddle it’s either straight over the head or down one of the two shoulders.

Once in a blue moon, we’ll hear of someone who managed to roll off the back end, but I’ve no idea what we call that, or how it even happens. Happy to hear your thoughts on the matter.

In the meantime, I have amassed a small list of all the different ways to express the ever-humbling experience of unintentionally coming off our horse.

Took a spill/Came off

When you tell someone you “took a spill” what you’re saying is that you have no idea what happened. One minute you’re in the saddle and the next you’re standing on the ground, no fuss no muss.

There was no spook, buck or bolt, you just somehow parted company. And sometimes we do just come off due to loss of balance or whatever.

It’s a polite and understated way to let someone know what happened and the incident is easy to brush off as no big deal.

Bucked off

This is a pretty common turn of phrase because it’s a pretty common way to get ejected.

One of the several definitions of the word buck is “a violent effort of a horse to throw off a rider.” And while sometimes I agree a horse’s intentions are malicious, I’d argue that sometimes they’re just really happy and we were unprepared for that level of happiness.


This is a generic term I often used when I fell off a horse.

It’s nondescript as there are no identifying terms used as to how I ended up on the ground. I could have been bucked off or power launched due to a bounding leap. I may have slipped off due to an awkward jump or stumble or perhaps flung off when my horse did an impromptu 180° spin.

What we do know is that I came off and I’m sure, once prompted, I will explained what happened in detail.  

The word header has been around since the 1800s and means a “head-first dive or plunge,” which is fairly accurate and fairly common way one can be dislodged from the saddle.


This is another one of my favorite ways to tell someone I came off my horse. Apart from meaning the obvious grassy ground, it also means “forced to leave,” which is precisely what our horses were doing—forcing us to leave the saddle and placing us, if we’re lucky, onto the grassy ground.

It’s a double turf whammy.

Come a cropper

I used this phrase a short time ago when I wrote “Napoleon & Marengo, A Questionable History.”

I was writing about Napoleon’s atrocious riding style and how well his horses had to be trained. “The steadier the horse the safer the rider and no one wanted Napoleon to come a cropper during the first cannon shot or cries of ‘Let the battle commence!’”

To come a cropper means to “fall heavily or to suffer a defeat or disaster.” That entire meaning is just three different ways to admit we fell off.

“Yes, I was defeated, it was a bit of a disaster and it hurt like hell.”


I have written about this word in “A Horse by Any Other Name.” It’s a strange term and largely goes unused today though you will find it in your dictionary.

The word unhorse dates back to the 14th century and is the opposite of horse, which seems odd but we do use horse as a verb (eg, “Quit that horsing around…”)

The meaning is “drag or cause to fall from a horse.”


There is nothing quite as glamorous or as painful as this type of fall. Honestly, one minute things are going well and the next minute you’re gasping for air because you just had the wind knocked out of you and you have a mouth full of arena footing.

There are three definitions for the word piledrive: 1) A forceful hit or kick, 2) A wrestling move in which one is dropped on one’s head by their opponent, and 3) A post-pounding juggernaut, which drives piles and other “pole” like things into the ground.

Obviously, whoever created that list was unfamiliar with horses as there should be a fourth definition that might read: “An athletic and unexpected high-speed fall from a (spooky, cranky, happy…) horse in which the rider is driven (in)to the ground headfirst.”

Lawn dart

Some of you won’t know what a lawn dart is and for that, you should be thankful. How any of us survived a fun-filled summer playing with lawn darts will forever remain a mystery.

Imagine, if you will, a dart that you throw at a dartboard. Now enlarge said dart to 20X its original size and then take it out to your lawn and throw it at your friends. That’s a lawn dart. A large “metal-pointed missile weapon thrown by hand.”

If you come off your horse like a lawn dart, I can promise you that your horse came to an abrupt halt, and you my friend did not. It’s similar to being piledriven only with more flight time.


There are many meanings to the word ditch and they all stem from the word the Old English word dic, which I feel might be the very word you exclaim when you’re sat on the ground while your horse gallops away.

Of all the meanings I suspect the one we are looking for is the informal use of the word: “to get rid of or give up.” Our horses have given up on us and therefore have gotten rid of us.


This word has been around since the 14th century, but unlike unhorse, it’s still used today with the same meaning of “throw down or fall with force, drop suddenly.”

In fact, any of the meanings of this word in verb form works in our realm: 1) To unload en masse. When one of us comes off in the ring it’s fairly common for others in the ring to suffer the same fate. It’s the domino effect. 2) To discard, abandoned. Our horses love to leave us once they have discarded us.

Rolled off

If you have a stutty horse there is a good chance you might just roll off.

The phrase stutty horse is what inspired this two-post series about dismounting. I love coming across such things. In the days of Middle English, a stutty horse was a horse that tended to stumble. Stutty is related to stutter, no surprise there.

When a horse trips and that one shoulder disappears from under you there is a good chance you will just roll off softly (hopefully) onto the ground. This is also a great way to break your collarbone.  

There are more

I have left out several terms/words such as tipped off, popped off, thrown and tossed as I was running out of space. And though this is a long and varied list I have a sneaking suspicion there are plenty of terms/words I have forgotten or yet to hear.


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