The One Fall Rule

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When I started eventing there was no “one fall rule”.

As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure you could fall off twice and still not be eliminated.

Of course we also had pockets in our saddle pads for lead weights and safety vests hadn’t even been invented yet (but that’s a whole ‘nother story!)

True to Bad Eventer style, at my very VERY first event (yes, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth)

I fell off.

I got back on and finished the event.

I do have to wonder now, how the entire experience would have been for me, as a child,
if after the fall at about fence #4 I had been eliminated.

Would I have been as enthusiastic to try it again?

For better or for worse, there wasn’t a one-fall-rule then, and fall or no fall, I was hooked. 

Fast forward <cough, cough> 30 <sputter, cough> years to when I started eventing again.

And the one fall rule was in full force.

At my first recognized event, in over a decade……………
you guessed it.

I fell off.

At the first fence.

I drove 8 hours and paid a few hundred dollars to not jump a single fence.

Not only was I eliminated for falling at the first fence in stadium, I was not allowed to start XC either.

Then I fell off at my second show and the 3rd…………………….

By the time I had been eliminated 3 competitions in a row, I decided that eventing was much harder than I ever remembered it.

Of course, when I was a kid we could also get back on our horses.

I watched the recent discussions and votes about the one fall rule with fascination.

As the unskilled partner of an intelligent horse who didn’t much like this game…..

it only took a matter of weeks for my talented steed to figure out that all she had to do was unload me and the competition was over. After my unfortunate greeting with the ground, she got a nice walk back to her stall where she got to sleep for the remainder of the weekend.

Now that’s reinforcement.

Horses like her are one of the reasons some professionals argued quite passionately to revoke the one fall rule.

I listened in amazement to people arguing safety as the reason to keep the rule.


Let’s go back for a moment. I get the rule as a means to make scoring easier.

You fell off, you’re out of the game.




That makes total sense from a scoring, management view point. It also eliminates a lot of problems that are caused when someone falls off, gets back on, and then gets LAPPED by the horse behind them. Not to mention the scoring questions about, was it a refusal and a fall? Or just the fall?

From a logistics & scoring point of view I get it. It’s simple.

So let’s talk safety for a moment. I hear all this talk about new “concussion” data about your brain bouncing around after a fall.

And I’m not going to minimize that. (Well not completely anyway, I am a Doctor afterall, and the victim of multiple concussions. Yes, I’m one of those people they write the studies about.)


Using “It’s safer because they might have a concussion” to keep this rule is fascinating.

How can you argue that the one fall rule is to keep riders safe, but only while they are on course? The same rider can fall off twice, or three times or four times, in warm up and still go out on cross country. Or fall off two horses in the morning and still compete in the afternoon?

Apparently falls in warm up, or on different horses are magically safe and can have no possible effects on your brain.

So let’s stop pretending this rule is about safety.

It’s easier.

It’s simpler.

It’s almost certainly not safer.

My worst head injury to date was from a horse clocking me in the head with his head.

I did not fall off, well……….not before the head injury.

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5 thoughts on “The One Fall Rule

  1. Lauren

    I completely agree. The one fall rule not only discourages young riders and amateur adults – especially because at those levels let's face it, the chances of a "big fall" are slim, it's most likely just a tumble over the shoulder kind of fall – it also, like you said, is positive reinforcement for said horse to refuse/misbehave and leave mom in the dirt.

  2. Liz

    I completely agree with this! You won't (well, you probably would, actually) believe the number of horses I've met who have this trick up their sleeve. Granted, most of them are not from the eventing world, but the "lesson" they learn sticks with them nonetheless.

    There's a rule like this in the Morgan show world, for certain classes, where if the rider falls they are excused from the class. They are not allowed to mount back up and ride the horse out of the class (something I would like to see), they must hand-walk the horse out of the ring. Not only is it a walk of shame, but you see a little light bulb go off for that horse. "I throw rider in show… I done for day?"

    Annoys the crap out of me.

  3. Marla White

    God bless you for writing this!! I really hope a grass roots campaign grows to have this rule changed. The only things that are 100% going to happen in this world are death, taxes, and gravity taking it's toll on every rider at some point. Get over it. The only thing this rule may accomplish is discouraging adult amateurs who don't have a ton of money to waste to only go to unrecognized shows that may not enforce this rule…or not show at all. How's THAT going to help the sport??

    Think about this in terms of the head injury argument; unless you pack off everyone who falls off to the hospital, there's no guarantee they won't die of their injury back at the barn untacking the horse. Natasha Richardson didn't die until AFTER she left the ski slopes. Not saying this to be scary, just saying there's a huge hole in this "it's for your own good" argument in the first place.

    Granted, there are often riders that are in over their head, but you can't regulate common sense. HOPEFULLY, their trainers or coaches or whoever they ride with will have the guts to stand up to them and say no, you're not ready for that level before they hurt themselves or their horses.

    Eventing (like rugby!) used to teach a great life lesson; you fall off, you get back on and keep trying. What are we saying now?

  4. Amanda

    I just discovered this blog and it is a lot of fun to read. I've never thought about the one fall rule this way before but what you are saying really does make sense.

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