Lexington, KY – Consistent with one of the primary missions of the United States Equestrian Federation, which is to ensure the safety and welfare of both horses and riders, two important rule changes were approved at the annual meeting of the Board of Directors held in Louisville, Kentucky on January 16th . These changes should significantly contribute to safety at recognized USEF competitions. They involve the operation of motorized vehicles on horse show grounds by minors and the standards for safety helmets to be used in jumping competitions.
“This action by the Board was consistent with the entire tone of the annual meeting,” said John Long, Chief Executive Officer of the USEF. “They took a leadership position on these safety issues and did the right thing for our members and the sport.”
The first change was to rule GR301.5.a. The Board voted that beginning April 1st, 2005 minors who do not have a valid driver’s license which allows them to operate a motorized vehicle in the state in which they reside, will not be permitted to operate a motorized vehicle on the grounds of a recognized competition. This includes, but is not limited to, golf carts, motorcycles, scooters and farm utility vehicles. Penalties may include exclusion of the child, parents, guardians, and/or trainers from the competition grounds for the remainder of the competition and charges being filed against any of these individuals in accordance with Chapter VI. (Wheelchairs and other mobility assistance equipment for people with disabilities are exempt.)
“In the recent past there have been some very serious accidents caused by children driving motorized vehicles and the use of them on horse show grounds has increased dramatically the last few years,” said horse show organizer Andrew Ellis, Chairman of the USEF Safety Committee. “The safety of horses, riders and spectators has been compromised by this situation and we had to address it. This is a very good rule change and widely supported by show managers, trainers, parents and riders. ”
The second rule change unanimously passed by the Board was GR318 which pertains to the use of approved safety helmets by everyone, juniors and seniors, competing over fences. Beginning December 1st, 2005 it will be compulsory in all Hunter, Jumper and Hunt Seat Equitation classes, both open and breed restricted including Hunter Hack, where jumping is required and when jumping anywhere on the competition grounds (including warm-up rings) to wear securely fastened protective headgear which meets or exceeds ASTM/SEI standards and carries the SEI tag. Any rider violating this rule at any time must immediately be prohibited from further riding until such headgear is properly in place.
This rule is very similar to an already existing FEI rule, except that a different testing organization establishes the standard used in Europe. ASTM is the American Society for Testing and Materials. SEI is the Safety Equipment Institute.
The Paso Fino Horse Association requested that the Board add to this rule that approved helmets be worn in all Paso Fino classes requiring jumping, and by all sub-juniors (exhibitors under 12 years of age) at all times when riding on the competition grounds of a Paso Fino show. The Board approved this addition.
According to Lexington, Kentucky neurosurgeon Dr. William Brooks, Chief Medical Officer at the Rolex Three-Day Event for the past 20 years; and former Chairman of the Safety Committee for the United States Pony Club, the vast majority of fatalities in horseback riding occur in falls with injuries to the head. In the past ten years Dr. Brooks has treated 187 head injuries which occurred in riding accidents. Of those the most consequential were concussion; fractures, which accounted for 35 injuries with none among riders wearing a helmet with a retention harness; blood clots, accounting for 35 injuries with 24 of those among riders not wearing helmets; and 27 fatalities, with 26 occurring among those not wearing a safety helmet. “The key is the retention harness and the appropriate helmet each time and every time,” said Dr. Brooks.
“The statistics available show that there is a very specific risk to riders not wearing the proper headgear,” observed Mr. Ellis. He cited medical information and statistics that pertain to equestrian sport in the United States:
· A person 2 to 3 feet off the ground traveling at 2 to 3 miles per hour can suffer permanent brain damage
· Riders are elevated 6 to 8 feet and at a hand gallop are traveling at 22 to 24 miles per hour in a forward position, they therefore have a substantially increased risk of a head injury, and that risk increases dramatically if they are not wearing a securely fastened safety helmet.
· According to the American Medical Equine Association/Safe Riders Foundation, 20% of all equestrian injuries are head injuries, and 60% of fatalities are due to head injuries.
· According to National Electronic Scoring System (which provides emergency room information to the Center for Disease Control) the most likely age group for equestrian injuries are adults 25-44 years of age, and the majority are female.
· A rider who has sustained one head injury is 40% more likely to suffer a second and more serious injury.
· The British Equestrian Society’s hospital admission rate for equestrians fell 46% when they adopted a similar standard.
· In 2003 USEF Hunter & Jumper competitors accounted for over 55% of the Federations reported head injuries. Eventing accounted for 25%, and the remainder was distributed among all the other breeds and disciplines.
“An ASTM/SEI approved helmet cannot totally prevent an injury, but it certainly can help manage the risk,” said Mr. Ellis.
Bill Moroney, President of the United States Hunter Jumper Association also applauded the new rule changes, “At our USHJA convention in October we listened to the USEF Safety Committee’s argument and asked them to come back and provide us with compelling information to support passage of these changes. They did that in Louisville, and as a result we confidently support them.”