(Just try staying that headline three times fast!)
A friend told me last week about a brief “yikes” moment while watching a student of hers in the show ring recently. The young rider’s chin strap came unsnapped midway through her test. Fortunately, the rider kept her cool. She halted, refastened the strap (not always easy to do when wearing gloves) and then continued her test. The judge did not penalize her.
The rider did the right thing under the circumstances, but many competitors — and their trainers — are unaware of the USEF rule that requires not only that they wear an approved safety helmet but also that the “harness must be secured and properly fitted” (DR120.6). The rule further states: “Any rider violating this rule at any time must be prohibited from further riding until such head gear is properly in place.”
As USEF judges, we’ve been instructed that, if we see a rider with a helmet harness dangling below the chin, rather than being properly snug, we are to tell the rider to dismount until the harness is tightened the way it should be. The young rider in the case above was wise to not continue without securing the harness, because the judge would have had to ask her to dismount, and thus she might have been eliminated.
Of course, each situation can be very different, and the way it is handled can be discussed at length after the fact. But this is a black-and-white rule – no one at a USEF dressage show sits on a horse at any time without a properly secured helmet. If you show up for a test with a harness that has slipped down, or if the buckle has come apart, you will be in trouble.
In the example above, the people involved afterward sorted out why the buckle had separated. They realized that just before her test, when the rider removed the headset she wore during warmup, she must not have seated the buckle properly. This is a useful cautionary tale – make sure whenever you put on or take off a headset that you double check the buckle is secure, whether at a show or during a lesson.
I have made plenty of blunders when trying to get my act together just before a test, including forgetting my stock tie, forgetting my top hat (I was wearing a baseball cap and didn’t notice) and fishing two left white gloves out of my pocket. Fortunately, someone nearby was able to rescue me in each instance, since I’m usually a one-woman band at a show and didn’t have someone who could run back to the barn for me.
I’ve noticed, though, that sometimes having too many helpers at the in-gate can lead to the kind of confusion that can upset a rider’s concentration or even get them eliminated. I hate to have to eliminate someone for entering the ring with leg wraps, for example, but it happens every so often, and there is always a group of friends hanging over the rail now wailing: “OMG, who was supposed to take off the wraps?!” If that’s a possibility, I suggest using bright-colored wraps at a show, because white wraps look too much like they do every day, or like leg markings, and don’t catch the eye in time to save the rider from doom.