Katie Lindsay: One Fall and (Sort Of) Out

By now, Katie Lindsay hardly needs an introduction on Eventing Nation.  But, I just wanted to express my gratitude to Katie for, as always, fostering intelligent discussion on controversial issues.  In this particular instance I disagree with Katie for reasons I have already written, but she makes a great case for the other side of the argument, a side which very well could be right.  Take it away Katie…
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One of the “hot button” issues in the eventing world today is the USEF one fall and out rule (EV 141). It seems that everyone has a strong opinion about it, and this has resulted in much spirited and heated debate in many arenas, including but not limited to several threads on the Chronicle Forum. The most recent posting by the ubiquitous and often thought provoking JER once again brought out strong dialogue on both sides of the issue.

Having recently commissioned a rather stylish designer flame retardant suit, I would like to try out its effectiveness and list the main reasons why I passionately believe that the one fall and out rule is a tremendously good one on many levels. I welcome comment, and I’m sure there will be lots, but please don’t drag out the too often used “What about the stupid pop off and land on one’s feet fall. Why is that punished” argument. It’s been used too often. Regrettably, with any ruling, some dolphins will be caught along with the sharks, but that does not make the rule an unfair or ineffective one.

Recently, a recommendation was made to the USEF Eventing Technical Committee that the fall and out rule be rescinded at the lower levels – training, novice and beginner novice – but remain in effect at preliminary and above. The rationale behind this is that statistically, head injuries have been tracked to occur mainly at the levels that run with greater speed and complexity. The more I mull upon this proposal, the weirder it strikes me. What is being said here? Are “lower level” heads less valuable than the “upper level” equivalents?

Moreover, what does rescinding and reshaping this rule say in a broader sense? When the measure was passed several years ago, it was imposed under the guise of being a safety measure. “Carrying on” after a fall and possibly not remembering anything about it can be a pretty dangerous situation. And yes, it has been proven that concussions can and do happen even when one’s head isn’t hit – even when the landing might take place on one’s butt or on one’s feet. Aside from scoring considerations which will be discussed later, elimination after a fall made sense. Now comes the idea of partially taking back a policy which people are just starting to get used to albeit with occasional grumpiness. Are we now saying that safety doesn’t matter as much as soothing the hurt feelings of a person whose day may have ended prematurely with a fall?

Currently, there is a great deal of national attention finally being paid to the long term effects of concussions, especially involving younger people. Being a Chicago native, the tragic suicide of Dave Duerson, a member of the 1985 Super Bowl Bears who lived with the effects of his football related concussions, and whose brain per his own request has been left to science for further study, especially hit home with me as it related to the equestrian sports. If our national federation does in fact rescind, or partially rescind a rule designed to improve safety, what kind of a P.R. message are we sending? “We don’t care about the effects of concussions. We’d rather appease the members of a very vocal group who feel it unfair that they can’t stumble on their merry way following a fall.” W.T.F.?

On the subject of safety, I believe that the one fall and out rule is an important one for the potential well being of the horse. A rider falls. If the fall has occurred in connection with jumping a fence, he has most likely lost whatever placing he might have ended up in along with any potential Qualifying score. Assuming all the parts are functioning, he is thus probably pretty pissed off and also cognizant of the effect his fall has had on his score. Remounting, he scampers off at breakneck speed to make up for lost time. This can be hazardous as can riding in an angry and emotional frame of mind. Sure you’re going to be plenty hacked off if your one fall ends your day on that horse – but at least the horse isn’t going to be possibly placed in harm’s way.

Prior to the passage of one fall and out, the management of a fall on cross country was a cumbersome and imperfect (at best) procedure. Time was to be taken while a medical person evaluated the rider as deemed necessary by the witnessing personnel, usually a jump judge. Now, nobody loves volunteer jump judges more than I do. They are the real heroes of any event. That being said, however, 99% of them would be the first to say that they are not qualified to make such a fitness evaluation. The least qualified person to make that evaluation is in fact the rider. One of the sad symptoms of some individuals who have concussions is their adamant denial that anything is wrong. It’s lumped under the catch all phrase “impaired judgement.” One fall and out is so much clearer and potentially safer and makes the jobs of both officials and organizers so much more manageable.

I could go on, but by now I think you’ve got the gist that I’m a fan. I do welcome comments, but please remember to play nice! We’re all in this sandbox together.

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