The One-Fall Rule Doesn?t Really Promote Rider Safety In Three-Day Eventing

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I was very disappointed that the U.S. Equestrian Federation?s Board of Directors reversed the Three-Day Eventing Technical Committee?s recommendation to repeal the one-fall-and-you're-out rule at last weekend?s USEF convention. This rule, along with several others, were enacted almost four years ago, in an attempt to address a rash of fatal falls and other serious accidents in three-day eventing.

But the one-fall rule addresses the causes of those falls about as well as a Band-Aid addresses a compound fracture. It just makes people fell like they're doing something, and since it's enactment I've seen or been a part of the frustration caused by this rule.

The one-fall rule has never really been about safety. it's really about lawyers.

This rule demonstrates that you can't legislate common sense and rider responsibility. And it also demonstrates that neither the USEF, the U.S. Eventing Association, nor event organizers or officials have the capacity to enforce anything more than a narrow set of very specific rules. In other words, they can't be ?big brother??nor would I, or most people, want them to be.

What do I mean' Well, there is nothing in the current rule that prevents a rider from competing if they've fallen at any time other than on that specific competition?s course. If I fall off in the cross-country or show jumping warm-up ring, nothing prevents me from getting back on and going on course. If I fall off a fractious horse in the barn aisle, nothing stops me from getting back on. If I fall at home, the day before the event?even if it's serious enough that I go (or get taken to) a hospital emergency room?nothing but common sense can keep me from riding in the event the next day.

And if I fall off on course at the event, there is nothing to stop me from driving my four-horse trailer home?potentially further risking my horse (and others) and thousands of people traveling down the highway with me. The current rule doesn't really prevent me from riding another horse at the event either. Yes, a rule requires a medical exam before riding again, but that can only be cursory. In many people, head injuries don't become symptomatic for 30 minutes or more after the accident. And I know one rider who's very good at faking his way through these exams so he can ride again.

Nor do I don't want any rule to have language that attempts to solve these issues. I don't want the USEF/USEA to become my ?big brother.? And I don't want to have to pay the cost of officials to be able to enforce such a thing!

The rule that the Eventing Technical Committee presented changed the one-fall rule at all six levels of competition, which surprised me. I suggested in my Dec. 20 blog that a compromise on this rule would be to allow two falls of rider at the beginner novice, novice and training levels, but to leave it intact at the three higher levels, in conjunction with the Federation Equestre Internationale?s rule, and I still think that's the way to go.

One reason is that the bureaucrats in Switzerland aren?t ever going to change their rule, so tHere's no point in making our rule for these levels different. Another reason is that the speeds are faster and the jumps are bigger at the higher levels, so the potential for injury is certainly greater.

Plus, most falls at the lower levels are the gentle land-on-your-feet variety. The horse props to look at a jump (most often a ditch or the water), and the rider falls off and lands on their feet. We had that happen to two junior riders just this year at water jumps this year, and it would have helped them so much if they could have immediately fixed their error. And at a USEA Young Event Horse competition last July (which, I discovered, is not run under USEF rules), I slipped off a young horse in front of a jump, got back on and continued. When I landed on my feet, I wasn?t sure if the rule applied, but I was so determined that I was going to get this baby over the jump and around the course, that in a split second I decided someone was going to have to come and stand in front of the jump to prevent me from going on.

?And that's how I think it should be. It should be our responsibility as riders, especially as responsible adults, whether to continue or not if We've fallen off. Plus, I don't recall a fatal accident in which the rider had previously fallen on course?yes, some had had refusals, but most hadn?t shown any indication of what was about to occur. The rule is just a Band-Aid.

?let's not pretend the one-fall rule is about safety?it's really about lawyers and the need to protect organizers and officials from our lawsuit-happy society. Many of those who opposed changing the rule were victims of or were otherwise scarred by one fatal fall that resulted in multiple lawsuits. But this rule wouldn?t have prevented that fall because that rider had not previously fallen on that course. She had, though, fallen in her previous event.

?I've written this before, and now I'll write it again: Those of us who ride competitively, and especially those of us who compete in eventing, need to embrace that we are a risk sport. We need to make it clear?to everyone?that you can get hurt, or even killed, riding horses, and that it's our responsibility as riders and trainers to keep the odds as low as possible. But as David O?Connor said years ago, ?We can't make the sport safer than life itself.?