Just for Kicks: USEA Proposed Rule Changes

It has been announced that changes are being proposed at the USEA to the lower levels, in order to bring it up to other country’s standards. Click here for the article on EventingNation. Here’s the recap for those who are unaware:

Cross Country Beginner Novice Novice Training
Speeds @ optimum time 300 350 mpm 350 400-430 mpm 420-470 *450–480 mpm
Speed faults 420 520 mpm 450 520 mpm 520 mpm

* When multiple divisions of Training level are offered, Open Training speed is 480 mpm.

Show Jumping Beginner Novice Novice Training Preliminary
Heights 0.79m (2’7”) 0.90m (2’11”) 1.0m (3’3”) 1.10m (3’7”)
Height Option* 0.85m (2’10”) 0.95m (3’1”) 1.05m (3’5”) 1.15m (3’9”)
Spreads of oxers 1.00m (3’3”) 1.10m (3’7”) 1.20m (3’9”) 1.30m (4’3”)
Spreads w/ height option 1.05m (3’5”) 1.15m (3’9”) 1.25m (4’1”) 1.35 (4’5”)
Spreads of triple bar 1.20m (3’11”) 1.30m (4’3”) 1.40m (4’7”) 1.50m (4’11”)
Spreads w/ height option 1.25m (4’1”) 1.35m (4’5”) 1.45m (4’9”) 1.55m (5’1”)

* One vertical and one oxer permitted at these heights

Being that I have, do, and will be competing at these levels, I’d like to weigh in with my opinion, which is two-fold. If you want to skip the discussion- scroll to the end.

The current argument for upping the speeds required is that some horses have to do circles at the end of their course before crossing the finish flags in order to avoid speed penalties (for non-eventers, you can actually incur points against you if you go too fast, a time is given as incurring speed faults along with the optimum time). The purpose of the speed faults is to dissuade riders from reckless riding on course.

Beginner Novice XC Oct. 2012

Beginner Novice XC Oct. 2012

From my standpoint, I can understand why increasing the speed @ optimum time could be a good idea. Even if my sometimes pokey horse might struggle with this, I will admit that encouraging a more forward ride might be a good thing. I completely disagree, however, with increasing the speed fault speed to 520. In the current USEA guidelines, 520 meters per minute is a standard speed for a Prelim course. Let me tell you, you are seriously cruising at 520 mpm. Here is a video comprised of Prelim riders at Morven Park in 2011, for example:

Why would anyone jump Beginner Novice (2’7″) or Novice (2’11”) need to get anywhere near Prelim (3’7″) speed in order to safely get around a course? In my opinion, there is no training program that should ever include galloping 2’7″ fences as part of their regimen. If I see someone  taking these smaller fences at almost-Prelim speed (because of course actual Prelim speed incurs speed faults), I think it is safe to assume that either A) the ride is lacking control of the horse, and therefore dangerous OR B) the rider is lacking discipline, and is therefore dangerous.


Erm, yes, I may have trotted a couple steps after the up-bank

Let’s talk about how these new speeds might affect other competitors. When Beginner Novice (the most affected level here) allows horses on course that could be traveling at anything between 350 and 515 meters per minute, it is likely that passing on course is more apt to happen. Think about your average cross country course, which is a mixture of water elements, fields, and wooded trails. Will the horse traveling at the higher speed wait until you are conveniently in a big field to pass you? My experience tells me probably not. Now think about your average horse or rider at the Beginner Novice levels. Beginner Novice is a division created for either green horses, or inexperienced riders. How is a pair like this, presumably new to the sport, going to handle the likelihood of being passed on course? Some horses get understandably upset when another horse gallops up behind them blindly. Novice or young riders may not know how to handle the situation of being approached so quickly on course.

To me, this is the greatest danger of allowing faster speeds on these lower level courses. I think the only solution to this dangerous passing scenario would be to increase the time between riders allowed on course, to allow slower pairs a ‘head start’. However, knowing that most shows operate on tight time schedules, I see this an unlikely predicament.

I can think of (and have heard from on the interwebs) more than a few lower-level riders who are crapping themselves thinking about the new height allowances in showjumping. Many of these riders (of course, not all) ride at the lower levels because they lack confidence to move up. Increasing the heights of some fences is crippling to the anxiety of this crowd, and I truly feel for them. While 2″ is not a whole lot (the increase for Novice and Training), 3″ added to Beginner Novice course practically turns them into Novice fences, exactly what that same crowd is looking to avoid. While I don’t see this increase in height to be as dangerous as the speed fault scenario, I do wonder how these changes will adversely affect current riders at the lower levels.


That being said, I do think that these height rules could find merit at the annual Championship Competition (AEC). These riders have to qualify in order to attend, and are therefore presumably better prepared to tackle a slightly harder course. Similarly, if the championship heights are clearly communicated before the event, it would ease the tension between traditional schooling venues as to what facilities implement 2014 heights versus the new proposed heights.

In Summary
In my mind, having a more forward optimum time is fine. Still safe, and rewarding a forward ride. I get that. Increasing the speed fault speed allowed- big, big red flags for me, and I hope they will be heavily weighed in the proposal discussions. For height, I don’t understand how increasing the height of a couple fences at the lower levels brings us up to international standards, and even more so, I don’t understand why making these lowest levels consistent with other countries matters. Is there going to be a Beginner Novice Olympics any time soon? Traveling to competitions in other countries for Training level? I seriously doubt it. Perhaps implementing new heights for Championship courses is the way to go. Overall, I would like to see better reasons for implementing changes that will affect the greater population of eventers, and that is those competing at the Beginner Novice through Training levels.

Weigh in! What do you think about the new changes? How will they affect you and your decisions about what level to ride at?