Posted by: shannonc | August 1, 2011

The One Fall Rule

In short, count me among those who aren’t fans of this USEA rule, which states that any rider fall xc at a recognized competition results in elimination for that horse and rider pair (there is a separate rule for a fall of horse, which also ends the day, in mandatory retirement).

This rule has been controversial since its inception and is now on the agenda for review and discussion at a USEA Board of Governors meeting this month.  The Adult Rider Coordinator in Area 1 sent out a request for comment, and (unusually for me) I went ahead and put my opinion out there:

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Thank you for the poll. I’m glad this rule is being reviewed, and I believe that absolutely it should be repealed.

As many others have pointed out, the one fall rule unevenly targets the one-horse amateur over the pro, who can get right back on another three horses, debilitating head injury or no debilitating head injury, and ride the rest of the day. At the very least, this loophole needs to be closed. If there is a one fall rule, it should specify that you’re out for the day/event, and for consistency the fall should be penalized anywhere on the property – warm up, walking down from stabling, etc. The latter cannot reasonably be enforced, though, and as long as that is the case, how much risk are we really reducing by only addressing falls on course? As far as I’m aware, we have totally insufficient data to prove that a fall sustained while wearing a xc vest is more likely to result in serious injury than one sustained while walking down to dressage in a plain coat.

In fact, there seems to be precious little data to show that we have prevented injury with this rule, period, and the same lack of supporting data has been reported in Europe. The rule was inspired, as I understand it, by a number of upper level accidents – none of which would have been prevented with the rule anyway, as they were first falls. So it sounds nice, but what is the rule actually doing for us, especially the lower level competitor, who’s impacted more than anyone?

I would put forth that we’re actually seeing some negative, and thus counterproductive, consequences of the one fall rule.  First, it’s a terrible way to end a day from a horse training and rider psychology standpoint. Most of us were taught that when we fall off, we get right back on. This way, we have a chance to correct the mistake, close the school positively for horse and rider, avoid sending the horse a potentially very bad message about getting out of work, and all can generally move on from the experience. Sending a rider home after a fall without any opportunity to get back on simply ensures they will be more apprehensive the next time they mount and the next time they face a course, or a similar question on course…and while we don’t have good evidence that the one fall rule helps the LL rider avoid injury, we all DO know that riding with fear is dangerous.

Finally as someone who attends many events in many different roles, I will say that there appears to be a trend developing since the rule was instituted of trying to stay on when you should simply just fall. I have seen, much more frequently, riders windmilling off grabbing desperately for the neck, hanging underneath the horse clawing to right themselves, etc – basically, putting themselves in very dangerous situations – anything to try and avoid the mandatory E.

I think the best solution is to just scrap this rule. Second best would be to scrap it for the lower levels, let’s say BN-T.  Have a one fall rule if there has to be one at P and up, and make sure it applies equally to the pros and amateurs.

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You can read more reporting and discussion on the one fall rule here and here.

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