The informant is a Caucasian female, 50 years old. She is a horse trainer at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center and has been riding horses since she was 5 years old. I’ve been riding under her instruction for 12 years.
I first heard this piece of folk speech on Saturday, January 28, 2012 during my horseback riding lesson. That day, I was riding a different horse and I was not quite sure how it was going to act. I was heading out to the riding arena when the horse spooked at something, reared up, and rolled over. I fell off before the horse landed on me, and I wasn’t seriously hurt. My trainer caught the horse and asked me if I was alright. When I said I was fine, she patted me on the shoulder and proceeded to congratulate me. I was confused until she explained that since this was my fifth fall, I was a real rider now. This seemed like a good piece of folklore so I recorded the conversation on my phone. This is the conversation from the moment of congratulation:
Informant: Ha ha…well finally! You’re a real rider now!
Me: Heh, why now?
Informant: Five falls…haven’t you ever heard that five falls makes you a real rider?
Informant: Well now you can tell everyone you’re a true rider—and it only took you 12 years haha!
Me: Have you fallen off five times?
Informant: Yeah…probably more actually.
Me: When did you become a “real rider” then?
Informant: …uhmmm…I think I was maybe nine or ten—no I was 11 because it happened when I’d just gotten a new pony, which was probably the biggest pain in the ass pony I’ve ever ridden. My mom and I were riding on the trails around our house and this pony decided to just take off, I mean he was really galloping along and I couldn’t stop him. He made a really quick turn but my body kinda kept going straight. It wasn’t too bad a fall, but it was my fifth. My mom caught the pony and came back to me, laughing, telling me I was a real grown up rider now ha ha ha.
Me: So is this like something everyone in the horse world knows?
Informant: Pretty much…there are different numbers that people go by. Sometimes it’s two falls, but most everyone I know says five.
Me: But why five?
Informant: Uh I don’t know really. That’s what my mom always told me and my sisters. She heard it from my grandpa when she was learning to ride.
Me: So the fifth fall is kinda a big deal?
Informant: Sorta…nothing special happens when you fall off the fifth time, like you don’t suddenly become a champion rider. But it’s kinda something to brag about because it’s a way to measure improvement as a rider. The longer you’ve been riding, the more difficult things you’re learning so the chances of falling off get bigger.
For being part of the equestrian world for so long, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of this saying before. It makes sense though, because I had not fallen off five times yet. Personally, I found this bit of folklore really interesting. Finally having fallen off five times, and consequently hearing the saying, I feel more connected to the horse world. I definitely feel like I’m in the know, now. I also agree with much of what my trainer said about it being a way to show others that you are an accomplished rider.