Rider Down: Honestly Answering the USEA’s Fallen Rider Survey

Rider down! (Creative Commons photo) Rider down! (Creative Commons photo)

Many (but hopefully not too many) readers can relate to my afternoon yesterday: I was nonchalantly checking my email when I read the following message:

“Dear Eventing Competitor,

Our records indicate that someone at this email address had a rider/horse fall on cross-country at a USEA recognized event in 2014.”

I squinted at my monitor. No, surely there must be a mistake, I thought. I didn’t fall on cross-country last year … Oh wait, yes I did.

The weather was beautiful at Roebke’s Run Summer Horse Trials in Hector, Minnesota, and the July sunshine dazzled over Capt. Mark Phillips’ gorgeous cross-country course. Onyx and I were rarin’ to go in the warm-up with Ralph Hill. We popped over a few practice jumps and, with words of encouragement from Ralph, we ambled our way over to the start box to get ready to rumble.

I was feeling slightly anxious, as it was my first recognized horse trials of the year … Onyx, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared less. I was a good boy, he seemed to be thinking. This is a nice stroll over to this weird white fenced-in area. I wonder if I’ll get to nap in there.

Alas, for my lazy little pony, it was not to be.

“3… 2… 1… Have a great ride!”

I legged Onyx into what could best be described as a leisurely western pleasure lope. The first obstacle was an inviting line of flower boxes, from Starter to Intermediate. The line to the Beginner Novice fence was straight and easy, and I kept my eyes on the prize, legs on, willing Onyx to put every iota of his energy into forward momentum.

Obviously, we weren’t on the same page. Onyx tried dodging left, then right, then slammed on the brakes. After I let him know that stopping was not an option, Onyx mustered up everything he had, launched himself straight up and over the jump, and calmly slowed down to a halt as I continued my merry trajectory, arcing down off of his right shoulder and landing on the lush turf with a well-cushioned thud.

Rider down. I popped to my feet and, unhurt but quite embarrassed, I gathered up my reins and my dignity and shuffled off of the course. It was an abrupt, disappointing, but educational end to my first horse trials of the year; after that, I kept Onyx’s warm-ups short and sweet, and made haste to the start box during the last seconds of the countdown in order to keep both of us peppy and enthusiastic.

Aside from a couple of mild bruises, I was able to walk away unscathed. I call myself lucky. Not all riders can say the same, as cross-country falls can run the gamut from silly “oopses” like mine to traumatic injuries and sometimes, much worse. This was why I, and many other riders, were recipients of the USEA’s friendly reminders of our unexpected dismounts in 2014.

My walk down memory lane complete, I continued to read the email: “In a continuing effort to keep our sport safe we try to follow up on all falls in cross-country competition in order to pinpoint the root cause. This information allows us to identify any areas where there might be issues with events, courses, qualifications or any other area of competition that might be causing repeat incidents.”

I followed the email’s link to the USEA’s Fallen Rider Survey, and proceeded to answer the questions about my experience. The survey is a straightforward multiple-choice format with spaces for comments, and I decided to answer candidly, honestly, and (as I find humor to be therapeutic), amusingly. Here is a short collection of some of my answers to the survey:

Question 5

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The question: “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?

My answer: “My horse was thinking, ‘But I was such a good boy during the warm-up. I am DONE for the day.'”

Question 6

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The question: “Did you question or have any concerns about the design of the jumps on your course when you walked it? Did you present these questions or concerns to the Rider Representative?”

My answer: “The course was well-designed and inviting; my horse and I were in disagreements over how to RSVP to the invite.”

Question 8

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The question: “Do you have experience competing at this level?”

My answer: “I can’t wait to come back in 2015 and tackle the rest of the course!”

If you experienced a fall on cross-country during the 2014 season, be sure to check your email for the USEA’s survey. Whether your fall was a lighthearted learning experience or a more serious story, completing the survey helps the USEA Safety Committee examine all of the factors that influence cross-country falls, ultimately helping to increase the safety of the sport for horses and riders alike.

Go USEA Safety Committee. Go Eventing.

[USEA Fallen Rider Survey]