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.
Wear a helmet
Thanks to Teresa Loughlin for her information and knowledge.