Katie Lindsay: About Level Playing Fields

We’re pleased to welcome back Katie Lindsay with a guest blog concerning the confusion at Plantation Field CIC3* cross-country last weekend where multiple falls happened at the drop into water before it was removed from the course.  As a former event organizer and USEA technical delegate, and current FEI steward, Katie can offer a unique perspective on the matter.  Many thanks to Katie for writing, and thank you for reading.


There has been a great deal of chatter in the last few days about the CIC3* at Plantation and the falls that occurred on Cross Country at Fences 15 A,B and C. Four falls happened at or in relation to 15A, a drop into water, and one happened at C., a skinny, where the horse hung a leg. Additionally, there were two near misses after A. The Ground Jury wisely called for a hold on course and Fences A and B were removed with only C remaining. The time was also readjusted to account for this. It was a wise decision.

There are a zillion theories out there about why the falls occurred especially considering that the same complex had apparently jumped well the day before for the national Advanced division. Additionally, a handful of horses went through the complex with no problem before it was altered. I wasn’t there so I can’t join the chorus. What I do know is that falls happen. Every time a horse takes a step, it’s a crapshoot. Life is a crapshoot! Some horses don’t give a damn and don’t try to save themselves. It is hoped that these hapless souls quickly find another occupation.

Any horse and any rider can fall at some time or other, and the chances increase exponentially the bigger the efforts, the more complex the question, and the faster the speeds. This can even happen twice without too much concern depending on the circumstances. When a horse has a series of falls in a relatively short period of time, however, the warning bells sound. A horse who has had such a series, but whose record doesn’t show it might ostensibly be referred to as a disaster waiting to happen for a buyer who doesn’t know the facts.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Our governing bodies keep records of horse and rider performances, and they have built in conditions aimed at furthering safety in the sport. Citing only the USEF rules for Preliminary and above, any horse who falls twice within a twelve month period loses its qualification to compete at that level and must obtain two qualifying rounds at the next lower level in order to be reestablished. Similarly, a rider who falls from the same horse three times within a twelve month period also must reestablish qualification on that horse. There is a caveat that at the Advanced, Three and Four Star levels, a rider may petition the USEF Eventing Credentials Committee for review and redress.

Rules and restrictions can be really boring. Ask any event official who has to deal with them on an ongoing basis! Most rules in our society are written in response to bad things that have happened – designed in part to “git” the bad guys who do the bad things. Specifically in our sport, however, rules are there for two more important reasons – safety of horse and rider, and the maintenance of a level playing field for all.

There seems to be an accepted though to my knowledge unwritten practice that a Ground Jury can change a Mandatory Retirement (MR for horse fall) and Rider Fall (RF) to R, Retired, if they feel such a move is justified. These horses are out of the competition anyway, but their records do not show either the MR or RF designation, just R which means they voluntarily left the course. Hiding information which can come back to bite someone is just not right. Here comes the diatribe. I feel this practice is wrong on many levels.

First and foremost, it is in effect hiding potentially dangerous events from a horse’s record thus creating a potentially hazardous situation for a buyer. In the case of a rider, perhaps this rider is not capable of riding at this level or is dangerously out of sync with that particular horse. Being made to drop down a level to requalify seems to me to be a pretty damn good idea. Safety first, remember?

The second reason that I feel this practice needs to be addressed is that it is somewhat punishing for the horses who correctly and safely addressed the original problem. Even though it is absolutely right to remove a potential hazard from the course, it in essence is making the problem simpler for the horses who follow. Level playing field? Maybe these horses could be rewarded somehow? Tackling the unevenness is for people much brighter than I am, but I think it is something that should be looked into. Happily, none of the falls at this event incurred serious injury, and assistance was on hand promptly and efficiently.

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