USEF Proposes Performance Horse Collapse Rule

Over the past 18 months, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) has seen a spike in the number of equine fatalities and collapses at its events. While federation rules require owners to report fatalities within 24 hours, there are currently no regulations regarding collapse—defined as "a fall for no apparent cause."

At a USEF Town Hall meeting about performance horse welfare, held June 3 in Lexington, Ky., a panel of federation officials and veterinarians discussed the need for a "collapse rule" and how to best define it.

"Over the last 12 months we started getting unofficial phone calls making inquiries about collapses witnessed at shows," said USEF senior vice president and general counsel Sonja Keating. "We realized we need to know what's going on in the field and at least have a system in place to look at these, see if there's any common thread, and try to reduce the number of collapses occurring at these competitions."

In response, the USEF veterinary committee proposed a rule to the executive committee in April requiring riders, trainers, or owners to report when a horse collapses. The committee is also meeting with organizations such as the Fédération Equestre Internationale, the National Football League, and the American Kennel Club to discuss best practices (such as tip lines) in reporting similar incidents.

"When this rule was drafted and proposed, the purpose was threefold," explained USEF vice president of national affiliates Bill Moroney. "One, for reporting to come directly to the federation; two, so we can act appropriately and have a veterinarian collect samples from the horse; and three, to have investigative powers."

Points still up for discussion include:

  • Should collapse be reported to the event's technical delegate/steward or directly to the USEF?
  • How much time should an individual have to report a collapse? The USEF has tossed around various timeframes, including one hour, three hours, and ASAP. But some members voiced concern about enforcing strict time requirements in the wake of a potential emergency situation involving their horse's health.
  • Should the USEF have the opportunity to appoint a veterinarian to examine the horse? The panel discussed challenges with streamlining veterinary examination protocol, as some shows do not have a veterinarian on the grounds (although all events must have a vet on call) or official veterinarians are busy treating other horses.

Upon report of a collapse, Kent Allen, DVM, chair of the USEF's drugs and medications committee and vet committee, explained that the ensuing investigation process includes looking into the cause to determine whether patterns are developing (for instance, due to medication reactions) and to ensure the horse's best welfare.

To encourage people to report these events, Moroney added that a horse's collapse doesn't necessarily mean the owner has done something wrong. "Horses collapse for all sorts of reasons," he said. "Don’t see it (if you report your horse's collapse) as all of a sudden you're going to be faced with a penalty."

Keating explained that charges are more likely to be handed out if the federation discovers a collapse that was not reported. The case would then be investigated through the regulations department and sent on to a hearing committee if charges are warranted.

Ultimately, the panelists hope to not only gather accurate data on why horses collapse, but also to try to reduce the number of incidents occurring. They also would like to see guidelines of best practices stem from this rule—if they can encourage owners to be more proactive about their horses' health, such as taking temperatures daily, some collapses might be prevented from happening in the first place.

The USEF executive committee is scheduled to review the collapse rule proposal this month.

About the Author

Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

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