There are two issues giving me a sore head these days – social media and concussion policies – and both are fraught with difficulty in a member-based organisation.

In any corporate organisation or small business, policies are set and employees abide by them as part of their contractual agreements. However, the complexities in a member-based organisation are far more wide-reaching. Some of the questions I ask myself are: Where do you draw the line? Who is responsible for implementing policy in a large and geographically spread out sport? How can an organisation with so few resources implement new systems and processes with a huge reliance on volunteers? And how do we explain clearly that we all have some responsibilities in these things?

Oh, for the day when we talked on the phone that was attached to the wall, with the twisty cord stretched at full capacity to the nearest door so our parents couldn’t hear what we were saying. As the world has changed, information is so freely at our fingertips, news travels so fast and people can hide behind their keyboard or even make up pseudonyms to make comments. As a parent of teenagers, I know how hard it is to monitor the maddening life of devices, but we all owe it to ourselves and to our kids to teach them what is appropriate, which discussions should be held face-to-face and what to do if we read or get sent something we don’t like. Sometimes you have to bury the phone in a bucket of feed and go ride your horse – cowardly comments on social media say more about the person making them than anything else.

So, in light of recent events, here is my two cents worth on social media. Facebook is not the place for airing grievances or making reference to people and their riding, their involvement in the sport or their efforts to be a participant in our sport. We urge you to think twice before you post statements or comments on social media that may cause offence. If you have an issue with someone or something, then firstly find out the full story, then either address it in a respectful and professional manner, or suck it up. Sniping does nothing for anyone – it doesn’t make you look good, and it doesn’t make the people on the other end feel great either. Online bullying is a serious issue and everyone needs to learn how to deal with that but check your own behaviour first.

I also want to reiterate that ESNZ is not the social media conscience for every person who happens to be a member. Adult members and parents should know better than to post inappropriate comments and parents need to take responsibility for teaching their children what is appropriate and what is not. It is not my job. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, then you definitely should not be posting it on social media forums.  People should also be very aware that your digital imprint lasts forever and be under no illusion that one of the first things employers or companies look at when hiring staff, consultants and contractors is their social media activity.

ESNZ will not tolerate criticism of its volunteers, officials, or organising committees. We have written to members about their social media activity and we will act if we need to, but we are not here to patrol private social media pages and comments between individuals.

So – on to the other head case!

Increasingly over the past year, concussion and concussion testing has been a topic of conversation at board level, at AGMs and at horse events. Whenever this discussion comes up, people always seem to fall into two specific camps – those who think that no-one can tell them that they can’t ride their horse after they’ve fallen off it, and those who have had some experience with head injuries and know the long-lasting and sometimes life-changing effects that a bang on the head can have.

I’ve heard the stories of the riders (and yes there are lots of them) who fell off, thought they were fine, but for the next four shows, couldn’t see a stride and fell off again and again. Not their fault, they were great riders, but their brain was injured and needed to heal. Only when they actually couldn’t ride any longer, because of other injuries sustained in the falls, did their brain get time to heal and they realised what had happened.

This issue cannot be ignored in equestrian sport any longer. The complicating factor is how can we administer a system that checks people for head injuries at events and stands firm on its commitment to keeping people safe? ESNZ is going to have to take a position on this and spend time and resources in developing a way to ensure that riders with head injuries have time off the sport. This will require a huge amount of education for officials, riders, parents and volunteers, as there will inevitably be a large “self-responsibility” component to this.

Auckland-based Axis Sports Medicine Specialists have written a Concussion Policy specifically for ESNZ.  They run Auckland’s most comprehensive sports concussion service, and it’s free of charge to use it – you can make an appointment at any time if you are worried or want to be assessed.

The policy will be considered by the ESNZ board and will be the subject of discussion with the ESNZ Technical Committee before any rule changes are proposed for the next season.

In the meantime, we haven’t just been sitting on our hands. There are already plans for ESNZ, the NZ Thoroughbred Racing industry and ACC to prepare awareness materials for all equestrian-related sports. ESNZ has changed the General Regulations to now insist that all events must have, at least, a First Aid certificate holder at all times. And we collect fall reports from all events and log them into our system for analysis. We have also developed a dedicated section on our website relating to concussion assessment.

What happens next? Further education of all officials, riders and parents is required to ensure that everyone is aware of the long-lasting effects of concussion. Rules will need to be changed and new systems developed. These all take time and are being worked on at the moment – we will keep you posted.

So, the next time you fall off your horse at an event, think you’re fine, load your horses in the truck and disappear off down SH1 for four hours, consider getting yourself checked out first. We have a very strong culture of “getting back on the horse” and that’s admirable – but maybe it’s not the smartest idea any more.


Dana Kirkpatrick