That’s the question 276 riders were asked in an email survey sent by the U.S. Eventing Association’s Safety and Equine Welfare Committee between mid-August and the end of November. And co-chair Carol Kozlowski shared the answers to that question today, Dec. 10, at the USEA Annual Convention and Meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“[Eventing] got a rough start this spring with some fairly high-profile riders coming off on cross-country and getting injured at some events,” Kozlowski said in today’s safety forum. “We’ve been getting pretty good information [about falls] coming in from the officials’ required documentation after events, but what we really weren’t getting was the riders' information and what they thought happened.”
So this spring and summer, Danny Warrington spearheaded the survey project for the committee. He carefully crafted the wording to assure that when riders received the email the Monday after the competition at which they’d fallen, they wouldn’t be offended or feel targeted.
“We started out thinking we’d do an interview of the rider immediately following the fall,” Kozlowski explained. “But then we realized that the heat of the moment might not be the best time—we can get a little grumpy when we’ve just fallen off! But we didn’t want to wait too long and let the rider’s fantasy go wild about what actually happened. Mostly we wanted to assure riders that there was no recrimination, and their answers were totally anonymous.”
The committee sent out 276 email surveys, and they got 124 replies. The 44.9 percent response rate was much higher than they'd expected, according to Kozlowski.
“I think riders really appreciated the opportunity to vent,” she said. “There was a lot of venting going on about things like footing, falling off not related to fence, etcetera. But we were pleased to see that many riders really took responsibility for their falls. And the good news is that for the most part, our riders have a really good sense of humor!”
Here’s a smattering of those questions and riders’ responses:
1) If you could ride the fence you fell at again, would you have done something differently?
No, fall not related to jump (slipping, spooking, etc.): 5%
Seven riders referred to a green/naughty horse, while 70 referred to specific “pilot errors” (speed, line, position, etc.). Nine described their falls as unrelated to a jump. Seven riders felt that course conditions contributed to their falls: four due to uneven footing/hole in the water jump; two due to slippery/hard ground; one due to sun glare/riding light into dark. Two riders said they had problems with their tack or equipment, and one rider swore her fall was, quite simply, a fluke.
“My horse stopped; I kept going.”
“I did not plan on my horse deciding to land and leap left.”
“He was a green horse and looking at everything.”
“I would not have panicked and pulled his teeth out three strides before the jump, poor creature.”
“I would have sat further back, kept my leg on tighter, used my bat at the first hesitation and not gone into two-point until I was in the air.”
“I would have given a much BIGGER half-halt!”
“I did not fall at the fence, my horse spooked at the bag after the fence!”
“My horse bucked me off. It was totally unrelated to a fence… thus… he is SOLD!”
“I would have taken his bell boots off. That was the problem to begin with!”
“I would have taken the time to unbraid my horse so I could have grabbed a chunk of mane as she leapt into the water jump.”
2) Did you feel your approach had the proper impulsion and balance and that your horse was on the line needed to successfully answer the question posed by the jump?
3) Did you walk your course with a coach/trainer who rides (rode) at or above this level? If so, is this person your regular coach?
Yes, I walked with a coach/trainer: 75%
But the coach was not my usual trainer: 6%
No, I did not walk with a coach/trainer: 15%
No, I walked alone. I have upper-level experience: 8%
4) Did you have any concerns about the design of any of the jumps on your course when you walked it? Did you present these questions or concerns to the Rider Representative?
Yes, I had concerns: 8%
And I presented them to the Rider Representative: 1 rider
But I did not present them to the Rider Representative: 9 riders
No, I had no concerns: 92%
Two riders detailed their “issues” with the organizers with the following:
“We assumed that your organizers would make the course safe. They did not take the time to rake between the prelim and training divisions. Horses who jumped in big fell victim to this jump because they all hit the same spot.”
“The water jump at which my horse fell was flagged incorrectly. We didn’t know we were supposed to go down the drop until we overheard workers at the water say they were going to remove the log on the prelim drop for training.”
5) Was the course riding well for you up to the fence where the fall occurred, or did you feel you were having problems earlier in the course?
Course was riding well: 74%
Course wasn’t riding well: 19%
9) Prior to the surveyed fall, how many falls have you had this season, at home and at competitions?
None: 34/117 (29%)
One: 33/117 (28%)
Two: 35/117 (30%)
Three or more: 15/117 (13%)
“This is the first time I have ever fallen off my horse in the six years I’ve been eventing.”
“This was my first fall ever. I’ve never gone off him at home.”
“Quite a few! Two competition falls and probably close to five recent falls at home.”
“Approximately seven, mostly because I ride young, green, snarky horses and have some issues with lower leg security and upper-body position.”
“I have not fallen off in 12 years. It was a shock.”
“Once at home, and then this one. I’m a professional and ride multiple horses per day, so my average seems pretty good.”
10) Have you ever discussed with your coach or trainer what to do on course if you are having “a bad day?”
Yes: 81/120 (67.5%)
No: 18/120 (15%)
I’m experienced enough to know how to deal with “a bad day”: 12/120 (10%)
I don’t believe in “bad days”/you make your own luck: 9/120 (7.5%)
“Fence judges should be instructed to immediately run to the fallen rider. Everyone just stared at me, and I actually had to yell for someone to come help me with my air vest.”
“The [medic] was insistent that I hit my head. He thought I was 'fuzzy' because I did not know the date when asked. But it was a weekend, and I’m 15 years old. I just didn’t know the day’s date. He might want to ask a more appropriate question to determine the state of mind.”
“The people who came out to see me [after I’d fallen] weren’t very helpful. They were more concerned with me getting to fill out the paperwork than they were helping me catch my horse, who was noticeably lame. This was pretty upsetting.”
“One of the people in the golf cart [transporting me to the ambulance to be checked out] spent the ride telling me what they felt went wrong and how I need to ride. Regardless of whether she was right or wrong, this woman was out of line. The same woman also told me my dad had my horse. My dad has been deceased for 20 years, so that was not likely. So I spent the rest of the ride worrying about my horse.”
“I FILLED THIS OUT BUT I HAVE SOME DOUBTS ABOUT IF THIS IS GOING TO BE USED AGAINST ME, MY HORSE OR MY TRAINER IN SOME WAY AT A LATER TIME. BIG BROTHER LIVES.”
“I don’t like the no-falls rule. I landed on my feet. My horse and I were in no way injured. It was a bad experience for my horse, in that I couldn’t get back on. I was extremely frustrated because I wanted to continue on course and felt I could have done so safely. Of course, rotational falls are a different story. I’d really like the USEA to go back to the old fall rules.”
“I landed on my feet, laughing. I wish I could have continued. I encourage you to allow fallen riders to continue if they so desire. I was also allowed to ride stadium. The shows are expensive, and missing out on one phase is a bummer.”
“I think the mandatory retirement after a fall is teaching [young] horses that it’s OK and rewarding them with going back to the barn. I think this rule for safety is creating weaker horses and riders.”
“It taught my horse that it was OK to refuse ditches on course, because if he gave a quick runout and dumped me, he got to stop. I hate that a fall of rider is mandatory retirement.”
“It might be good for some upper-level riders to talk about times they’ve simply stopped, saying ‘I’m not up for this today,’ because I’ve heard so many stories of how people have overcome being sick, injured, etc., and went on to be successful. It might be nice to hear the other side of the story so I could have weighed the options better [riding while sick].”
“Thank you for all you’re doing for the sport.”
“Glad you have this research.”
“The crew who worked on me at the show were great.”
“Thank you for caring.”
“Continue your good work with the following up. There’s only so much you can do to help prevent falls during an event.”
“Thank you for being concerned and always supportive. I hope this survey helps to get a better understanding.”