The fund-raising team chasers Bridleless not Brainless have fallen foul of new safety rules for the 2012 season, which stipulate that “all horses must be ridden in a bridle with reins directly attached to a bit“.
The change has been brought in as part of a safety review following the death of Jo Rugman.
Mrs Rugman, 37, was killed in a rotational fall at the VWH team chase. Her horse was wearing a bridle.
But members of Bridleless not Brainless – who ride in headcollars and raise money for breast cancer research – say they have been targeted unfairly, because their safety record is “second to none”.
Team captain Mark Smith told H&H that, in four years, Bridleless had completed 27 runs without a horse fall.
Mr Smith said there was nothing unsafe about his method, adding: “Riding in a headcollar sounds like an anomaly, but it is about showing people how to ride with their bodyweight, not grabbing at the bit.
“With support for team chasing on the decline, you’d think they’d want to hang on to something that has generated so much publicity,” he said.
But James Buckle – who chairs the Masters of Foxhounds Association team chasing committee – said the issue had to be addressed.
“I don’t think there is any other discipline that would even let you warm up without a bridle.
Imagine standing in front of a coroner, explaining why you had allowed someone to ride without one,” he said.
The review has resulted in new rules on hats and body protectors .
It is also looking at course and fence design to report back this summer. Mr Buckle stressed that the review would not detract from the sport’s ethos.
“Jo ‘s death was a tragedy and we must take any lessons we can from it,” he said. “Having said that, team chasing is an extreme sport and we don’t want it to lose its essence.”
Bridleless member Belinda Shaw asked: “What kind of buzz am I going to get out of going round with a bridle?”
And Mr Smith – who captained 2007 national winners Bollocks to Blair – said it was doubtful the team would carry on with bridles.
“If we do, perhaps I’ll name it ‘Bollocks to Bits’,” he added.
This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (26 January 2012)