One Fall Rule

We are riding a wave of change in our sport – and that change has not come easily. I have been doing some thinking about the safety issues that plague us, and will continue to do so for some time. Eventing with a zero chance of risk, is no longer eventing. We will always be able to boil eventing down to a human riding a moving, unpredictable horse with our heads 9 feet above the ground. That’s a given. However, I think that with improved technology and education, we can dramatically reduce the risks we take.

Maybe the hardest thing about a wave of change is to generate a wave in the very first place. Groups of humans have, since the dawn of time, come together for consensus and often action only happens when more than a few people agree upon a subject. An individual person is often unwilling to do something that is against the grain of normalcy. I know this because I have always been one to start raising my hand in class only after I watch someone else give a wrong answer and not get howled at. Once we see that we are safe to present a new and different idea, we may gather support, and then as a group we become much more effective. Group consensus is probably an evolutionary trait that has increased human survivorship at some time in history. However, it has it’s good points and it’s bad points and it definitely has helped with group mortality as well.  It is very bad when a group of people adopt a terrible idea, and it is equally bad when a single person can’t get the wave upwelling for a good idea.

Taking this analogy further, what we have here is the USEA pushing a bad idea and it is being accepted by a lot of people. I am not the proverbial fly on the wall during the committee meetings, and I cannot hear who is proactive and aggressive to install new safety measures and who is unwilling to change. I do know that the powers that be at USEA are proposing to revoke of the One Fall rule at the lower levels, and that fact indicates that there must be more than one person over there who is NOT willing to take aggressive steps to make our sport as safe as possible. I don’t know what their reasoning is, but perhaps some of them think that it would be terrible to deny a rider to get back on their horse if the rider does not have a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Ok, fine then. New Good Rule: those that do not have head injuries can get back on their horse and continue on the course. I certainly hope that means technology has gotten so good that we have hand held MRI machines that can instantly help with that medical evaluation by the jump judge.

What I do know is that we are lacking anybody on the safety committee with real medical training. I mean a doctor or two on the committee. Look at the safety committee for other sports: NFL and NHL are loaded with doctors. I think that when making rules that affect peoples lives, we might want to have someone with a degree or two to help us understand the vast intricacies of the human body and our ability to fix the human body when disaster strikes.

What I cannot understand is how we can revoke the One Fall rule given the increased media attention and medical knowledge about football head injuries. This summer there were two headliner articles about ex-pro footballers who had, in a very public way, donated their brains to science in order to help understand head trauma better. Those men were tortured by the aftereffects of their TBIs and they are, posthumously, helping make the world a better place. We now know that repeated head injuries in a short time period often are catastrophic or fatal, not just a nuisance.  Any single concussion can cause personality disorders, neurologic damage and cause decision making deficits. I, myself, have seen professional riders make riding/training decisions that they would never have done 10 years ago prior to the injury. But when you put two concussions together you get a whole different animal. Known as second impact syndrome, it means that successive separate incidences have an additive effect upon the brain that is often fatal.  One could argue that if you have a single TBI you are not in a position to make informed, solid decisions about much of anything until your brain heals. And to drive home that point, data from medical records of athletes with a concussion show that they are four times as likely to suffer a second concussion. I don’t know if that means you are X likely to suffer second impact syndrome, but I know that X is not zero.

I have had my own scary involvement with a concussion, and Im not wanting to go there again any day soon. So, I am making a promise to my small little group of Polestar riders and students that if I fall off a horse at a competition and have any small chance of jarring my noggin, I will not be getting back on and continue on course.  Nor will I be riding my second or third horses later in the day. I am making my own little One Fall rule that I am going to stick to because I have never been a ribbon chaser and I still have no need to be one now. A rider’s chance of a second fall is incredibly elevated after a first fall – and its not just novice riders. Just this summer alone you can see riders falling off two horses in a single event: Kim Severson fell off two horses this spring at The Fork, Boyd Martin fell off two at Plantation, and so did Nina Lignon at Southern Pines. All were on the same day and I don’t think its dumb luck.

If you think that USEA is looking out for your best interest with the revoking of the One Fall rule, then you might think again. They might want to avoid hearing about how you wasted some gas money, time and effort and are so disappointed to only make it to fence 4.  For the life of me, I cannot see how a medical condition depends upon the level that you ride. My life with Mark, my family and my animals are more important than completing an event. Myself, I am going to have my best interest at heart here.

Happy riding.

Wear a helmet



Thanks to Teresa Loughlin for her information and knowledge.



21 Responses to “One Fall Rule”

  1. Susan Greenwald

    Thanks for writing about TBI Meika. Few people really understand how devastating this injury can be. My brother died two years ago in a nursing home at age 49, 23 years after his accident that left him with a severe TBI. While he lived 23 years post injury, it is not a life most of you would want to lead. The medical examiner’s office changed his death certificate to note that he died due to his TBI as well as respiratory arrest. Not only can TBI have a devastating effect on your personality, memory and physical ability; it will draatically shorten your life. Wear your helmet and don’t ride if there is any chance you sustained a concussion!

  2. joanne

    wonderfully put, meika. i think you should post this in other forums as well.

  3. Heidi

    Very well said, Meika! I take the role of being responsible for 20 kid brains in our Pony Club very seriously and I was glad that USPC has followed the one-fall rule even in non-competition riding. If USEA revokes this rule and USPC follows suit, you better believe they are going to hear from me.


    Eloquent and spot on. Please send this to Emily at USEA to publish on their website.

  5. Megan

    Wonderfully said. I NEVER ride without a helmet!!! I have even gotten to the point of wearing my helmet while lunging.

  6. Jeff Roberts

    Very well said, Meika! First time that I’ve heard of this rule change, and I completely agree with you! Hope you don’t mind if I share this! All the best, Jeff

  7. Holly

    Well said Meika. I was on the fence about the one fall rule but you’ve pushed me the rest of the way to the side of for. You should post this on Eventing Nation, everyone needs to read and take this to heart.

  8. Annie Huberth

    Hey Meika!~ CUDOS to you on this! I can’t believe they are even considering this- I have called the office & e-mailed many people on the subject. As I jump judge quite often, along with competing, I don’t think it’s fair to leave the responsibility of allowing a rider to continue up to the jump judge. Many jump judges are not competitors, and some of them arm chair warriors who need briefing on what a refusal is. Asking them to make the decision about a rider’s ability to continue after a fall is wrong. I also feel that it’s the lower levels who need this rule the most. All levels need it!

  9. JoAnn

    Meika, you are wrong on this one. The USEA board looked carefully at safety data and concluded, EXACTLY AS BRITISH EVENTING DID, that there is no actual safety data that supports keeping hte one fall rule. In fact, USEA is going less far than British Eventing did, in voting to repeal the rule at Training and below.

    Of course, if you personally want to have a one fall rule regardless of whether you land on your feet or just pop off lightly, that’s your decision. You may have the money – or rich owners – who will fund your next outing regardless. But all of us who drop 300$ on a weekend only to have our kids popped out of the tack at the first fence, it makes me pretty unwilling to come back to this sport, when what is best for the kid – and best for the rotten pony – is to hop her back up and let her kick on.

  10. Catie

    I’m with you on this one, Meika. I wasn’t originally, since it’s very frustrating to get popped out of the tack, land on your feet, and know that your day is over. No one’s hurt, everyone can see that, and the best thing for the horse would be to continue but rules are rules and you’ve been eliminated. That’s a long, frustrating, EXPENSIVE walk back to the barn or trailer.

    Then I watched the 1976 Olympics. Those riders barely knew their own names but were clambering back into the saddle to finish riding because the team needed them. Can you imagine getting up from a hard fall, your brain seriously rattled and still rebooting, and someone is holding your horse and asking if you want to get back on? I’ve fallen enough times to know that I’d say ‘yes’ in that situation and would probably come off later when I forgot what I was doing. Those riders are in no position to make a decision that critical, particularly not when there is so much pressure to get back on and compete. If nothing else, the no fall rule takes the pressure off of people. Professionals have to feel immense pressure to get back on and complete when they have a syndicate to answer to.

    We can’t ask the jump judges to make a call on who’s fit to continue. They’re not qualified. The only rule I could think of that would help would be a ‘if any part of the person above the knees contacts the ground it is considered a fall and elimination’, like we do with the horses. That way they could pop out of the tack and land on their feet or knees, but if anything hits the ground in a way that could snap their head around, they’re done. I think most jump judges would be comfortable deciding if their hips or back hit the ground, the same way they see if a horses shoulder or hip hits the ground.

  11. SWA

    Well said. In 2009 I suffered a TBI in a near-fatal car accident (ironically while attending an event). I suffered from many classic problems associated TBI: PTSD, depression, impaired cognitive function, and changes to my personality. Nearing the completion of my doctorate, I suddenly found myself relearning basic skills like reading and writing. I cannot begin to describe the profound ways in which this injury changes your life and the lives of the people around you.

    Sadly, given the risks associated with riding, even now that I have recovered, my doctors have advised that I never ride again: the potential risks of second impact syndrome are just too great.

    Your arguments are spot on: following a concussion, riders need to take time to be professionally evaluated, heal, and to make informed decisions regarding the risks and consequences of a second injury.

    Also: a rider’s head does NOT need to hit the ground in order to suffer a concussion/TBI– the impact of a brain being jarred and being slammed into the inside of the skull is often the cause of brain injury.

    A jump judge cannot, and should not, be tasked with making any assessment of this sort. Unfortunately, I think it is going to take an event like Natasha Richardson’s fatal injury to wake this community up to the reality of brain injuries. (after her fall skiing, Richardson was conscious, lucid and insisting she did not require medical attention. 7 hours later, she was dead.)

    In the meantime, we will have helicopter mothers complaining that their kid’s “success” and the money they have paid is of greater priority.

  12. Sue Smithson

    YEAH MEIKA !!! Finally, an upper level rider weighs in with a thorough, well presented argument. Go MeiKa –

  13. Bethy

    Joann – Maybe if you are worried about your child falling off, you should stick to non-recognized shows that do not risk so much money. Perhaps, her learning curve will be gradual, and I hope so. But the learning curve that involves a head injury is a bit steep… dont you think?

  14. Mary

    Not every fall causes a head injury. there are lots of times you pop off and land on your feet. Better for you as a rider, as a student, and for your horse, to get back on and try it again. No one is saying keep riding if you are injured, and officials (officials, not jump judges) will continue to have the right to pull riders if they are dangerous – just as they do now. All this rule change does is allow folks who pop off get back on and fix the issue.

    Meika, under your logic, anytime a rider falls during a show, they should be done for the entire show, on all of their horses. No matter if they fall in warmup, or hacking, or one their first horse 8 hours before their later ride, they should be done. And, if they’ve fallen the day before at home, that too. Where is the line?

  15. meika

    I agree that this is not an easy subject. Im not suggesting I have the answers to anything, but I hope to spur a discussion and suggest people think about the rule prior to the December USEA meeting.

  16. Annie

    Meika, if you want to spur a discussion, please at least look at what the ACTUAL RULE proposal is. No one is suggesting jump judges make the determination about whether a rider is safe to go on. The actual rule proposal goes back to the pre-2008 rule for training level and below. Officials retain the ability to remove riders for dangerous riding.

  17. meika

    What I wrote about the jump judges was tongue in cheek. Nobody would ever expect a jump judge to make that determination.

  18. Leigh

    Here’s the problem I see. Brain injuries such as confusions are not visible to the naked eye like a broken arm or leg are. Therefor, until we put a scarlet letter on those with confusions, no one will be able to stop a rider from competing, let alone going home and riding/training their other horses. Many riders fall off at home and get concussions and don’t tell anyone or go to the hospital. So add that on top of those that happen at horse shows and you get one screwed up rider. Take it from me, I’ve had 5 concussions in 9 years and I know I am not the same person I was 9 years ago. The one fall rule should remain intact and WE as riders MUST self discipline and not get back on any horse for at least two weeks after a fall and hit to the head. There’s always another day if we ride smart, there might not be another day if we don’t . . .

  19. Jennie

    Pre-2008, there wasn’t some epidemic of kids and adults popping off, landing on their feet, and having concussions at BN. People fell off sometimes, they got back on sometimes (and when appropriate) and they often learned a lot, as did their horses, and were safer the next time out. The ONLY reason the rule was put in place at all was because some upper level riders made very poor decisions at big name competitions (Laine and Darren in particular) and there was bad publicity. USEF had a knee jerk reaction and implemented a rule that had no data to support it.

    Now the organization has actually looked at the data and found it to be lacking. Just like the brits did. I support changing the rule back.

  20. meika

    Thanks Jennie – Good comment and our sport has a history of knee-jerk reactions to accidents. Thanks.

  21. Omega Alpha’s Wednesday Links : EVENTING NATION

    […] Meika Decher gives her perspective on the one fall rule […]

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