USEF Eventing Technical Committee: The One Fall Rule Again

The beautiful Broadmoor lake

Let me start this post with a few details that I won’t mention nearly enough this weekend.  First and foremost, I want to thank our wonderful USEA hosts.  Eventing in the United States is led by a team of amazing people who work incredibly hard and deserve all of the recognition and thanks that we can give them.  This year the USEA has brought us to the beautiful and palatial Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  The bathroom floors are heated, so you know it’s an awesome place.  I also want to thank Area IX for hosting the convention.  We don’t make it out to Area IX nearly enough, but just a few hours in Colorado convinces me that I want to come back as soon and as often as possible.  I can’t imagine a more beautiful setting for eventing and my only regret is that we will spend most of the next three days indoors.

My reports from the convention are most often written from within the meeting themselves.  Please forgive the typos, downright confusion on my part at times, and terrible pictures that are sure to head your way all weekend.  Major thanks to Visionaire and the entire EN Team for holding down the fort back at headquarters.  For a preview of the convention, be sure to check out Jenni’s post from Wednesday.

I suppose I can’t delay writing about rules any longer, so here we go…

Chaired by Malcolm Hook, the Technical Committee is a USEF committee responsible for recommending the rule changes that govern our sport to the USEF Board for approval.  They don’t put rules into law, so to speak, but they make the recommendations that shape what rules become laws.  I won’t pretend to understand half of the nuances that the committee debates, but I am, as always, left with a tremendous respect for the committee members who volunteer their time to help our sport sort out the complicated details that make our competitions possible.

Committee Chair Malcolm Hook was kind enough to open the meeting by expressing my sentiments exactly “Thank you everyone for attending the open part of this meeting.  By the time we get to the fourth rule change you will wonder as much as we do why we are still in this meeting.”  If you make it through the sixth paragraph of this post then you deserve an official EN medal.

I was thrilled to see committee member Karen O’Connor in attendance and contributing to the meeting.  Samantha has done an amazing job reporting on Karen’s fall and recovery, and Karen is one of the toughest riders I have ever known, so it was no surprise to see that she made the trip to Colorado.  Karen is one of eventing’s true rider-leaders and we are very fortunate to have her here this weekend.

The meeting started with a run-through of a discussion of various smaller rule changes including, for example, a new parameter for which judges are allowed to judge which level.  Then the excitement started.


Reversing the one fall rule for beginner novice and novice:

Malcolm Hook mentioned that whatever happens this weekend with the one fall rule, we need to avoid the controversy and mess of last year caused by disunion within the Technical Committee and disapproval by the USEF Safety Committee.

The proposed rule change is posted on the USEF website, with a noted change below:
EV141 Cross Country Scoring [CHAPTER EV-3 Rules for Horse Trials] change to read:
1. b) Falls –
(1) First fall of competitor Elimination (RF) (Beginner Novice, Novice and Training) 65 Penalties
(2) First fall of horse Mandatory retirement. Second fall of competitor (Beginner Novice, Novice and Training) Elimination (RF)
(3) First fall of competitor (Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced) Elimination (RF)
(4) First fall of horse Mandatory Retirement
*to facilitate accurate administration of EV105.3 (Loss of Establishment) Competitor Falls
will be denoted as “RF” on official score sheets and results.

NOTE: The rule change introduced before the Technical Committee open session today had already been revised in the committee to stipulate that the beginner novice or novice rider has to land on his or her feet to be allowed to continue.

As a bit of history, at the USEA Convention last year, the USEF’s Eventing Technical Committee decided to postpone their vote on modifying the one fall and out until their January 2012 meeting at the USEF convention.  During their meeting at the USEF convention, the Technical Committee narrowly voted to move the rule change forward but with a significant modification to the rule discussed at the USEA Convention–the rule change allowed riders at any level to continue after one rider fall under certain circumstances rather than just riders at beginner novice, novice, and training level as was discussed at the USEA convention.  The revised rule narrowly passed the Technical Committee but was voted down by the USEF Safety Committee.  The rule went on to the USEF Board (without the ability to be re-worded).  Ultimately the USEF Board Members, particularly non-eventers were uncomfortable making the change considering that we eventers apparently couldn’t even make up our minds.  The eventers pushed to have the USEF Board vote up and down, so the USEF Board voted it down.

Malcolm asked that if the Technical Committee reaches an impasse this year, like last year, that he would have the power to withdraw the rule change before it goes to USEF Board.  A clear consensus, and perhaps the only consensus of the meeting was that eventing needs to present a unified front to the USEF Board for the rule change to have any chance.  I’ll present points made by committee members during the debate as best I can.

Mr. Hook stated that he is opposed to repealing the one fall and out rule because, with emerging research on traumatic brain injury, he doesn’t believe there is any such thing as an inconsequential fall.  He said that all of the experts who have been consulted said that everyone who falls off needs to be evaluated.  Of course this is a challenging thing to do in eventing while the cross-country is in action.

Former US coach Mark Phillips said that his understanding is that allowing riders to get back on is about training the horse and that if we aren’t going to allow it for the upper levels we shouldn’t allow it for the lower levels.

Robert Kellerhouse said that having a separation of rules between levels creates confusion and doesn’t always make sense to competitors.  He mentioned a personal case of his wife falling off in the warmup and having a delayed onset concussion.

Former USEA President Baumgarnder said that he has concerns about how we are trying to make more and more complicated rules for safety.

Allison Springer, who was auditing the meeting, spoke up and said that we all accept the inherent risk of the sport and that you can’t legislate rider safety.

Malcolm Hook said that more and more sports around the country are changing how they treat traumatic brain injury.  He is worried that we might take a step back in safety by stepping back on the one fall and out rule.

Robert Kellerhouse mentioned that this discussion is for the (roughly) 95% of people who are fine and want to get back on.  Clearly, we all want to stop a concussed rider from getting back on to a horse.  He said we need a better plan to reengage riders who fall off rather than just letting potentially concussed riders back on a horse.  Mr. Kellerhouse seems to be in favor of allowing riders who fall off to be evaluated and then allowed to school the course after they have been confirmed to be uninjured.

USEA President Sabo said that this rule will have to go through the USEF Safety Committee and he said the USEF Board will absolutely NOT pass the rule change unless the Safety Committee approves it.  President Sabo said that there’s no way a full change of the rule will pass the USEF Safety Committee, so from a political standpoint the only hope for this rule change passing the USEF Board is to pass the partial level version.

President Baumgardner said that it’s important that we can discuss safety issues without letting every claim for safety take over and dominate the issue.  He said (and I completely agree with this) that in many ways eventing runs in contrast to cultural norms in this country.

A member from Area IX stood and proposed making the rule change apply to to the lower levels only for falls where the rider lands and remains standing.  Malcolm Hook mentioned this was a very reasonable proposal.

Outgoing USEF President David O’Connor said that it is really rare for the USEF Board to not follow the advice of individual sports.  He said that the USEF Board is a reasonable arbiter for rules because one of the major things it considers is the unity of a sport.

Carol Kozlowski of the USEA Safety Committe said that there’s a big disconnect between the membership of eventing and our governing bodies.  Most of the USEA’s constituency is comprised of lower level riders and Carol said our sport needs to listen to them.  As an editorial note, EN polls last year and earlier this year consistently showed that the membership is in favor of letting riders get back on.

Again, Malcolm Hook asked that the motion include that if the USEF Safety Committee doesn’t approve that Malcolm can withdraw it before going to USEF Board.  Malcolm Hook is also the chair of the USEF Safety Committee.

The formal wording of the motion that was put forth included that the beginner novice and novice riders who fall must land on their feet “and with no apparent injury” to be able to continue on.  All other levels would be immediately eliminated for any fall.  The motion also included giving Malcolm, as Chair, the authorization to withdraw the rule proposal before it goes to the USEF Board if the USEF Safety Committe votes it down, thus avoiding the disunion of January.

The vote on the motion was approved by a large margin.  Malcolm Hook, Jon Holling, and Robert Kellerhouse were the only members of the committee who voted against.


FEI Qualifications:

This rule situation is as complicated as it gets.  It seemed like the goal of the Technical Committee discussion was to help members of the committee understand the new qualifications better.  We are all on a journey together trying to figure out what the heck is going on with the new FEI qualifications and I’ll try to provide as much information as I can get regarding the qualifications throughout the convention.  The Eventing Committee has asked the FEI to delay implementation of the new qualification matrix until 2014.  [Qualification Changes PDF]

I write the below fully understanding that it will probably make things seem more complicated.  I’m just trying to convey some views expressed in the Technical Committee, not give a full description or clarification of the qualification changes.

Derek Di Grazia started by trying to describe the qualifications.  The FEI has chosen to only use FEI competitions as qualifying competitions.  In the past if you had 20 penalties at a CCI, you could still use that as a qualifying result.  Now, for the most part you need to have clear XC rounds.  However, where there are two FEI requirements, one can have a stop and the other needs to be clear.  Robert Kellerhouse clarified that the attempt from the FEI was to make the rule more liberal.  For example, allowing a rider can now have 20 at either their CCI2* or CIC3* before their CCI3*.  Riders who are categorized only need one qualification to move up and that result should be clear.  One nuance is that, categorized riders can jump out into the uncategorized rider list if they have an issue getting qualified.

The FEI qualifications for uncategorized riders have to be done as a combination of horse and rider.  This is a new thing and a big change.  Derek mentioned he and David are opposed to this, for example when an uncategorized rider goes out and buys a 2* horse it might not make sense for them to have to go back and do a 1*.  Mr. Kellerhouse said that the push for licensing riders comes from wanting to divide riders based on skill/experience.

Questions still include what happens when a rider has done one four-star and is uncategorized goes out and buys a top four-star horse?  The FEI rule committee didn’t want the pair to be able to go to a four-star immediately.  Robert Kellerhouse mentioned that this next year, with no major international team competitions, will be a great chance to figure out the nuances of these new FEI rules.  Many committee members, including Jon Holling, were really frustrated at the short time frame the FEI has given on the implementation of the rules.

One committee member excplaimed “we might as well cancel Young Riders right now and save the money.”  Another change is that the new qualifications are good for life, rather than having a time limit.  According to Roger Haller, if you are an uncategorized rider the qualification rules are the same except that you have to qualify horse and rider together…which is a big change.

For more clarity on these rule changes, please open up a quantum physics textbook and begin reading.

Much more on rules throughout the weekend.  Go eventing.



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