The rule change proposal to the “one fall and you’re out” rule (EV 142.4d) was definitely the hot topic at the U.S. Equestrian Federation Board of Directors meeting on Jan. 14 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The debate began in earnest at the U.S. Eventing Association meeting, held Dec. 7-11 in Nashville, Tenn. Although the USEA Board of Governors voted to approve the rule change proposal at their August meeting, the vote was so close that only one vote kept it from being a tie, and the plan was to make a final decision at the USEF meeting.
The USEF Eventing Committee was also split on the issue. Malcolm Hook, chairman of the committee, stated plainly: “My personal position is that any fall can be consequential. My preference would be to continue the rule as it is.”
Hook’s view was based on new information coming out about concussions. “This is a new thing they’ve discovered in the testing laboratories, which involves the rotation of the brain in the skull. It could happen when you’re rear ended in your car or when a horse jumps awkwardly and your head snaps backwards. We don’t know enough to change what we’re doing,” he said.
Kevin Baumgardner, former USEA President, offered the opposing view. “It asks us to ignore what we’ve known from our experience over the last half century. Yes, a fall can have unintended results. But we’ve had no evidence of someone getting back on a horse and causing an exacerbation or another problem.”
Karen O’Connor called for consistency. “I’ve had a problem with this rule because you can fall off as many times as you want in the warm-up arena and still go out and compete,” she said. “The helmet rule isn’t a different rule from the warm-up to the competition arena. It’s got to be the same for warm-up as the field of play.”
Her comment led to a decision to actually expand the rule from training level and below to all levels of national competition in the name of consistency.
Hook called for a roll call vote, and the board broke down with nine in favor and seven against. The members who were for the new rule were as follows:
- Kevin Baumgardner
- Bobby Costello
- Phillip Dutton
- Sarah Kelly
- D.C. McBroom
- Gina Miles
- Kerry Millikin
- Karen O’Connor
- Brian Sabo
Those opposed included:
- Wayne Quarles
- Gretchen Butts
- Roger Haller
- Mike Huber
- Robert Kellerhouse
- Tom Angle
- Marjorie Molloy
When the rule change went before the USEF Safety Committee, the vote went the other way. Hook abstained from the vote. A few members such as Devon Maitozo, Jo Whitehouse, Mary Anne Cronan and Sarah Kelly voted for the rule change, while the rest voted against.
If the committees disagree, then rule change proposals get discussed again in front of the Board of Directors. Sabo started the discussion with a passionate and articulate plea for the rule change. He compared U.S. safety numbers to those of British Eventing, since BE still allows riders to remount after a fall and continue on course. According to the statistics available from BE, both countries show that accidents have gone down dramatically regardless of the fall rule.
Sabo also pointed to the health of the sport. “They’re being eliminated and they don’t get to come back,” he said. “The average person who comes and pays a non-member fee will go in three events. They don’t need to win or do well; they just need to get around that cross-country. If they do it three times, they stick. If they go to that first event and pop off, they don’t come back. That’s not how we want to run our culture, our sport.”
Andrew Ellis, chairman of the Safety Committee, explained that they weren’t comfortable with the division in the eventing ranks on the issue, and he brought up a concern over inexperienced jump judges making the call about whether a rider could get back on.
At the final BOD, members received a packet with information for and against the rule change. The packet included the BE statistics and letters from riders.
“I’m sympathetic to the training and the competition aspect that you’re promoting, and I’m sympathetic to the safety issue,” said Armand Leone, vice president of high performance. “This is the first time I’ve gotten any material on this, and I’ve been here all week. I don’t feel I have the information on my end. I don’t feel a consensus from the discipline itself. Legitimate good horse people that I respect don’t have consensus.”
Other non-eventers agreed that they were uncomfortable making this kind of decision when the eventers were so divided.
“There’s not a consensus among our group. Big deal. That’s the nature of discussion,” said Costello. “I don’t think it matters what side you’re on. It’s not going to get any more of a general consensus. We’re going to have the same 51/49 percent situation. I went into the eventing meeting on the 50-yard line. There are good arguments on both sides.”
Show jumper Anne Kursinski brought up a concern over the BE data, which apparently is not strong enough to publish. Others pointed out that while Great Britain and New Zealand allow riders to get back on and ride after a fall, Australia, Germany and France follow the international Fédération Equestre Internationale rules and eliminate them.
Dr. Mike Tomlinson said he liked the rule change better when it was just for the lower levels. “I’m on the Safety Committee, and I had to see a rider who fell off, got up on her own, said she was fine, and she was dead by that evening,” he said referring to Amy Kynaston . “If we lose one eventer because we change this rule back, that’s one too many. There are plenty of eventers, but I like them all.”
Hook didn’t offer his opinion during the BOD, but he did present statistics of people who are eliminated for falls. At the lower levels, it was 2% and at the upper levels, it was just more than 3% of all entries.
Board members tried to defer a decision so they could study the issue more, but the eventers declined.
“The only information that’s there is the tangible fact that BE, with thousands more starters than we had, didn’t instate a rule, and there is no evidence that second falls cause injuries. There is evidence that people get injured in the first fall. This needs to go to a vote,” said Sabo.
In the end, the rule change failed, 26-12 with two abstentions.