Sunday, Mar. 3, 2024

Eventing Rules Aren’t Encouraging Good Horsemanship

The author believes a new USEF rule aimed at promoting safety has had the opposite effect.

I’ve ridden at the Rolex Kentucky CCI, my hometown event, many, many times throughout my career. But this year my horse Radio Flyer and I were unfortunately not able to use my “new” eyes (thanks to Lasix surgery!) to compete. We were, like so many others, caught off guard by the ambiguous wording of the new U.S. Equestrian Federation safety rule concerning falls and eliminations.

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The author believes a new USEF rule aimed at promoting safety has had the opposite effect.

I’ve ridden at the Rolex Kentucky CCI, my hometown event, many, many times throughout my career. But this year my horse Radio Flyer and I were unfortunately not able to use my “new” eyes (thanks to Lasix surgery!) to compete. We were, like so many others, caught off guard by the ambiguous wording of the new U.S. Equestrian Federation safety rule concerning falls and eliminations.

For those unfamiliar with Rule EV105, I suggest you check it out (see sidebar). Even amongst the people who knew about this rule after it passed last year, I’d be surprised to find anyone who thought the rule would use results from 2008.  To me, and to the other riders who were unlucky enough to be caught out by it right before Rolex Kentucky, it clearly reads “12/1/08 onward,” with no notification of retroactivity.

Dorothy Crowell and Radio Flyer

While I had fallen twice in the past 12 months, which is one of the disqualifying stipulations in EV105, I had no idea the rule was retroactive when I sent in my Rolex Kentucky entry. After I received “The Call” from poor Shealagh Costello, the national director of eventing at the USEF (luckily no one killed the messenger), I had multiple days of adrenaline-charged, extremely clear thought to process the ramifications of EV105.3.c. Of all the ways to miss a four-star!  Well, then again, if you do it long enough…

In order to keep my sanity, something positive has to come out of this mess. I’m an advocate of safety in our sport, and I’m sure there are ways to make this rule work for us.

Closing The Loopholes

As it’s currently written, EV105.3 has some serious loopholes, and my own experience has been a perfect example of one of them.

Last September, Radio Flyer was caught in a fence at the Poplar Place Farm CIC*** (Ga.). According to FEI rules, my horse should have been flagged with a fall of horse instead of a fall of rider the moment he was caught in the jump. I immediately saw the first shortcoming when I saw that EV105.3 addresses two falls of rider or two falls of horse. There is no mention of a combination of the two. That is a serious loophole!

This spring, I fell at The Fork CIC*** (N.C.). The mistake was completely my fault, and I was willing to take the punishment, which essentially meant no ride around Rolex Kentucky for me this year. Instead, I hoped this would be the perfect opportunity to let Karen O’Connor ride “Red,” which is something I have always thought should happen anyway, as I’ve been distracted for the past eight years being a mom.

However, as I investigated this possibility, the rule’s next shortcoming came to light: Why is it that only the horse loses its qualification? If you were unlucky enough to watch 100 falls, how many do you think would be the horse’s fault? Why would we revoke qualification from the animal if the rider is to blame for the mistake?

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I’ve been told the rule was worded so that riders could still compete their other horses, which is fine. But we should certainly specify that re-qualification must be achieved as a horse-and-rider combination. Then the rider would still be free to compete on his or her other horses, and the horse in question could still compete with another rider (Karen O’Connor, in my case). But under the current rule, it’s much too easy for an amateur to give his horse to a professional to be re-qualified and then take the ride back without having learned a thing.

In addition, as it stands today, a horse that has lost its qualification could still be competed by a foreign rider, since his or her national governing body is not bound by the USEF rule. There are only a handful of riders in the world who are capable of “catch riding” at the four-star level, so again, we could have an unsafe situation on our hands as a result of this rule in its current form. 

U.S. Equestrian Federation Rule EV105—Qualifications

For certain levels of competition, horses and riders must meet qualifying requirements.
Those requirements are detailed in Appendix 3 [of the USEF Rulebook].

1. ESTABLISHMENT OF QUALIFICATION.
When a rider obtains a qualifying result (QR) at a level, then he and his horse are “established” (qualified to compete) at this level. This “establishment” lasts for the remainder of the calendar year in which it was achieved and the succeeding calendar year. Note: Requalification is required when the time period has expired.

2. EXTENSION OF ESTABLISHMENT (maintaining qualification).
a. The “establishment” may be extended by obtaining QRs at other events of the same level within the time period stated above, each extension remaining effective for the remainder of the calendar year and the succeeding calendar year.
b. If no such extension is achieved, the “establishment” at that level expires.
c. Establishment may be re-acquired by achieving 2 QRs at the next lower level of competition within a 12 month period following loss of qualification.

3. LOSS OF ESTABLISHMENT. (Preliminary Level and up)
a. A horse that is eliminated twice, for non-technical reasons, within any 6 month period loses its qualification to compete at the level at which the second elimination occurs.
b. A horse that falls in competition 2 times in any 6 month period loses its qualification to compete at the level at which the second fall occurs.
c. A rider who falls in competition from the same horse during competition 2 times in any 12 month period will cause the horse to lose its qualification for the level at which the second fall occurs. EC 11/17/08 Effective 12/1/08
d. Having lost qualification, a horse may be re-qualified by achieving 2 QRs at the next lower level within a 6 month period following the loss of qualification. EC 7/21/08 Effective 12/1/08

Aside from the obvious safety issue, there are a very limited number of horses in the world that are capable of competing at the four-star level. Every country that hopes to field a World Equestrian Games or Olympic team would not want to lose one of these special athletes to a foreign rider. The USEF cannot afford to lose equine athletes and have talented riders sitting around without a horse.

There are good intentions behind this rule, but in its current form, it encourages bad horsemanship.

The Unfortunate Possibilities

With that in mind, the following scenario is unlikely, but also conceivable: A coach has a student with an important goal set, but he’s had one incident, such as a rider fall. The coach may be compelled to tell his student to go out after his first incident and immediately and intentionally have his second.

Meaning, for instance, at the next available competition, start cross-country and have three refusals on purpose for an elimination. This would cause the rider to lose his qualification, so he would drop down a level, re-qualify his horse and move back up quickly with a clean slate.

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By intentionally losing his qualification early on, he’d be less likely to lose it at the last minute, right before the big goal, as I did right before Rolex Kentucky. This scheming may help people with scheduling, but it’s certainly not in line with the spirit of the rule.

A possible solution that would encourage good horsemanship would be to allow a rider to voluntarily move down and re-qualify after their first incident, essentially volunteering good horsemanship. If they chose not to and had a second incident, then good horsemanship would be forced upon them.

All four riders who were caught by the rule before Rolex Kentucky had voluntarily bumped their horses down after their first incidents in order to rebuild confidence. Unfortunately, those good personal choices didn’t count for anything, and when they incurred their second falls, they were out.

As for my part, I admit that I rode poorly to the fence where I fell at The Fork. It was a small jump shared with the intermediate course, and I was worried it wouldn’t hold Red. I panicked, stood up and pulled him behind my leg—poor horse! If anything, I was too careful.

A reasonable amount of positive aggression is required as you move up through the levels. Some of the scariest cross-country rides to watch are those where the rider is afraid of making a mistake, and this rule, unfortunately, encourages that kind of riding. If you come out of the box saying, “I can’t fall!” then you probably will fall.
 
I escaped the necessity of putting on my “being a good sport” face at Rolex Kentucky by instead going to Virginia that weekend to begin my requalification process by going intermediate at the Loudoun Hunt Pony Club Horse Trials. Without any doubt, our new safety rule put me in one of the most unsafe situations of my riding career.

The first five fences on the course were very small. Knowing Red was fit and ready for Rolex Kentucky, my plan was to start quietly. Red had a different plan. After 11 years together, including four CCI***s and two CCI****s, he knows how the schedule works. Red was certain it was time to attack a big course. Those first five fences were only speed bumps for him. Not a fun or safe feeling for either of us. Having a CCI**** horse drop all the way to intermediate did not work.

We need a new version of this rule. Unfortunately, we’re coming closer to attempting the impossible job of policing horsemanship. The truly difficult task is to make rules that don’t end up promoting poor horsemanship.

I was told that I could re-qualify for Rolex Kentucky by doing two intermediate horse trials on the two weekends between The Fork and Rolex Kentucky. That would mean four weekends in a row: one at advanced, two at intermediate, then a CCI****. 

You have to be kidding! Is that safe? My old boy would give it a try because a thousand years of breeding have made him that way, but would he have made it? Would he have broken down halfway around Rolex Kentucky? Is that good horsemanship?

Are the answers coming easily for you? They aren’t for me. 

Dorothy Crowell


Dorothy Crowell (née Trapp) won the individual silver medal with Molokai at the 1994 World Equestrian Games (the Netherlands) and placed second at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** in 1998. She is a member of the U.S. Eventing Association’s Board of Governors and lives in Frankfort, Ky.

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