It’s always amazing, when you sit down and really consider just how hard it is to get a horse to a CCI****, that it ever happens at all. A leg gets tweaked, a heel gets clipped, a silly scratch shows up in just the wrong place, and months of hard work—along with a small fortune—go down the drain.
And as if these trials and tribulations weren’t enough, there’s now a new reason why some horses won’t make the trip to Kentucky this year.
The U.S. Equestrian Federation instituted an extraordinary rule change last year that tightened the qualifications for eventing’s upper levels, and it states that after two falls from the same horse within a year, a rider must drop down a level. At the time it was announced, I’m pretty sure most people were just relieved to have anything in place to prove the eventing community was working to improve safety standards.
But now that we’re a few months down the road, we’re seeing our legislation in action, and the disqualification of three Rolex Kentucky riders has put a human face on the issue (see In The Country, pg. 113).
A series of misunderstandings has led these riders practically to the gates of the Kentucky Horse Park, only to be turned away at the last moment. A fourth, Corinne Ashton, was lucky enough to re-establish her qualification at the last minute, but not before she slipped through the cracks earlier this spring and completed a CIC*** that she apparently wasn’t technically qualified to do.
This controversial rule seems to have confused riders and officials alike, and most of our editorial staff spent the better part of an afternoon trying to deconstruct the meaning of this vaguely written mandate without much success.
Who’s responsible for checking the establishments for every competition in the country at preliminary level and above? What’s to be done about those who slip through the cracks? Despite the rule’s “effective 12/1/08” stamp, is retroactivity implied? Do riders have any recourse for appeal?
If you ride around at the advanced level, you’re going to fall off, plain and simple. A year ago at Rolex Kentucky, if you and your horse parted ways you could still get on and finish the course. Now you’re not only eliminated for a pop out of the tack, but you’re also halfway to a demotion. Are two falls as much as 11 months apart really cause to drop a CCI**** pair back to intermediate?
Unfortunately, I don’t have answers to these questions, but I think they’re worth pondering as we enjoy the splendor of Rolex Kentucky and cheer for the riders who’ve made it all the way.
These issues are never easy, and we owe it to our sport to consider both sides. I’m positive that all of the safety changes over the past year were made with the best intentions, and if they save even one life, they’re worth it. But it’s still important to be conscious of the changes we embrace. If neither event organizers nor the USEF staff have the time or resources for enforcement, have we just wasted our time and energy in drafting empty rhetoric? Will knee-jerk reactions do more harm than good? Only time will tell.
Kat Netzler, Editorial Staff