Australian Report on Eventing Safety Points to Rider Error

In the search for answers on how to improve the safety of eventing, a report released by the Australian Government Rural Industries and Research Council offers a good start. Safety for Horses and Riders in Eventing is based on data from 1732 rider falls that occurred from 2002-2006 at 444 Australian events that were affiliated to the Equestrian Federation of Australian (EFA) and the world governing body, the Fédération Equestre International (FEI). Riders who fell were asked to fill out a questionnaire after the event.

The report was prepared by Ms. Denzil O’Brien and Dr. Raymond Cripps, both from Research Centre for Injury Studies at Adelaide’s Flinders University. O’Brien and Cripps said eventing had long been viewed as a sport in which risk of injury to riders is high, but little work had been done on measuring the extent of the risk, nor on establishing rates of injury to riders or horses. Until this report there has been no central database with information on falls and injuries.

The information gathered on falls was entered into a database called SHARE, which stands for Safety for Horses and Riders Eventing. The database enables information on falls to be cross-referenced across a raft of criteria, such as the experience of the rider, the type of jump, the nature of the fall, the weather conditions, the injuries suffered by horse and rider, even the rider’s perception of what caused the mishap. The events covered in the data involved about 12,000 individual starters each year and more than 1,700 falls.

Bottom line? The majority of riders who responded to the survey blamed their own riding for their falls. It also highlights which types of fences cause the most accidents and the most serious accidents (rotational falls).

The link below shows the number of falls that occurred at events between 2002-2006 in Australia.

Horse & Rider Fall Data 2002-2006

The data shows that the accident risk was higher for step-in and step-out water obstacles and for rounded top obstacle (like logs) and post & rail fences (the latter two are the most common obstacles on Australian courses). It also showed the danger of rotational falls.

The report documents 1,732 individual falls; 374 riders reported at least one injury, ranging from abrasions and bruises through dislocations to concussion and fractures. By far the majority of injuries reported were minor, with 90 reports of abrasions, 154 of bruising and 88 of inflammation.

The SHARE database gives a clear indication of the number of times a particular body part was reported as injured, the type of this injury, the treatment received for the injury, the effect on the rider’s daily life, and the duration of pain resulting from the injury.

For example, there were 61 reports of fracture or suspected fracture, 14 of these as a result of a rotational horse fall, and 58 reports of concussion or loss of consciousness, 7 as a result of a rotational horse fall. There were 12 cases in which the rider reported both a fracture and concussion, 2 of these as a result of a rotational horse fall. Interestingly 6 riders who reported concussion and/or loss of consciousness actually continued riding, with none of these 6 attending the Emergency Department for diagnosis or treatment. Twenty-three riders reported being admitted to hospital, and 39 indicated that their injuries had a limiting effect on their daily activities for more than 21 days, with 3 indicating permanent limitations.

The questionnaire asked riders whether their fall had been preventable, and if so, how it could have been prevented. 873 riders answered this question, with 611 riders indicating that the fall could have been prevented. Of those 611 riders, all but 60 of them said their riding caused the fall, and they were specific about their fault, such as riding too fast, getting ahead of their horse, and such. Forty-two riders blamed their fall to outside factors, such as poor course or jump design, inappropriate jumps at a particular level, interference or distraction by spectators, the weather, and equipment failure. Only 18 riders blamed their horses.

The data also highlighted the risks of rotational falls. The researchers found that of 25 rider deaths around the world in the sport between May 1997 and September 2007, 18 were the result of a rotational horse fall. Seventeen of the 18 died as a result of being crushed by the horse. Since the report was written, another seven riders have died, six of them in rotational horse falls.

Horse fatalities were shown to be low during the five-year period: four horses reportedly died during competition out of over 58,000 individual starts during the five years of the project. All four of the horses fell and were euthanized, three as the result of fractures (or suspected fractures) and one for unknown reasons. One of these fatal horse falls was on the flat between jumps and three were rotational falls at jumps.

So what in this data can help future eventers and organizers make the sport safer? The researchers believe that reducing the number of horses falling is the single factor most likely to reduce the number of injuries to riders and horses. They recommend that a horse that falls should be eliminated, even if the fall is not related to a jump. This rule has recently been adopted in Great Britain.

The US and Canada have also recently strengthened their safety rules: in both countries, the first fall by a competitor at a fence now results in elimination. Certainly it’s a step forward, although not nearly so large a step as what has been adopted in the UK.

I think that for this sport to survive – and thrive – the United States Equestrian Federation must take all steps possible to ensure rider and horse safety. Stricter rules, the use of frangible pins, and the ongoing collection and analysis of data needs to be utilized to continue to make the sport safer.

8 thoughts on “Australian Report on Eventing Safety Points to Rider Error

  1. Thank you for your excellent summary of our report! The internet is a wonderful tool for spreading the word, and I appreciate your giving this report such great page space.

  2. I am looking at subjects for dissertation for my third year, and wanted to research an area that would make a difference to the welfare of the horse and rider. I thought about treeless v tree framed saddles amongst other things. I thought about injuries and fatalities to horse and rider concerning fixed fences, surfaces and speed involved in rotational falls – especially at 3 day events. My idea for my dissertation is whether the type of saddle has an adverse effect on injuries to the horse or rider in a rotational fall as I read somewhere that someone was saved from having her pelvis crushed as she was riding in a treeless saddle which flexed under the horse when it rolled over her, and it seemed that no-one was really looking at injuries caused by the saddle although the frangible pin had been introduced, speed and surfaces were discussed in relation to improving safety.

    I don’t know whether you have any information that might be of any help, whether this is if safety checks are carried out in the design stage for such falls, data on injuries caused by saddle design or have any leads or ideas that could help me explore this further? I noticed that Solution saddles were going to conduct a specific study on this and have contacted them and am waiting for a reply. Any help would be gratefully received and I would of course credit you with information provided and send you a copy of my dissertation.

    With best regards

    Heather Nowak

    1. Hi Heather,

      You are looking at some interesting topics, for sure.

      However, I don’t think you are going to find much data that compares the relative safety of treed vs. treeless saddles in eventing because so few eventers use treeless saddles. There really aren’t very many treeless designs that are suitable for jumping and the ones that are (Ansur has one) are not
      typically geared toward upper level eventing. They don’t have a forward enough flap to really jump cross country fences or flat enough seats. Take a look at some of the “true” XC saddles for comparison. I may have heard of one or two upper level eventers riding in Ansurs but they are far from the norm. I see that Solutions Saddles is featuring a rider at Blenheim, but I don’t think you’ll find that there are enough riders using treeless saddles who have competed and suffered from a rotational fall to give statistically meaningful information.

      I’ve never heard the reasons discussed why riders don’t go treeless but I would imagine they are based on three things: 1) most treeless saddles do not have the stability required for jumping big fences and for xc persuits. 2) When jumping and galloping xc, riders are in a 2-point position for long periods of time. Many treeless saddles do not adequately distribute a rider’s weight when there’s that much pressure on the stirrups and it could result in soreness around the withers (think about the landing from a jump, there’s a tremendous amount of force that’s carried onto the withers) and 3) they are not fashionable. Saddle brands and types of saddles used tend to be somewhat dictated by trend.

      I love riding treeless but doubt that I would ever give up the security of my xc saddle.

      Please let me know if you find out differently.

  3. Hi Liz

    Interesting points raised. I have never used a treeless saddle but know one or two people who do.

    I was wondering whether to look at it from a different angle – in that how to make an event saddle safer – ie cause less injury by crushing in a rotational fall. (Thinking along the lines of car bumpers crumpling on impact to increase driver safety). It seems very little research is available on saddle impact and lots on everything else – or am I barking up the wrong tree?

    1. Hi Heather, I don’t know if anyone has evaluated whether or not the saddle design causes injuries during rotational falls. I would think that since most saddles used in XC are treed saddles the only difference would be the type of tree used — wood vs. fiberglass vs. resin.

      One thing you might consider as a topic (it’s one I’ve thought about) is whether treed or treeless is kinder to the horse’s back. Certainly there are problems with both in that an ill-fitting treed saddle causes pain and many treeless designs don’t disperse weight well enough. There may be some data on that.

      Good luck!

  4. Hi Liz

    Thanks for your reply – it appears that there is a general lack of direct information and research to base my original idea on, so am rethinking before I go any further.

    I have been in contact with John Lechner and he suggested looking at swiss clip, dutch logs (cant find any info) foam logs and tangible pins (reversible & normal, wooden /metal) in relation to safety/injuries in eventing.

    There appears to be a large amount of info and current reviews and controversy over these and their use – ie that it is becoming a longer showjumping course, that they dont always work etc.

    Any views appreciated


  5. Hi again,

    Following a suggestion leading on from rotational falls, I am looking at safety in eventing particularly: frangible pins, swiss clips and foam logs in preventing rotational falls at event fences, how often they are used, and if they decrease accident and injury rates.

    My questions are:

    1: Has anyone had a fall over one of these fences and felt that they could have suffered an injury if the pin/clip/foam log wasnt used to allow the fence to deconstruct?

    2: Are there any event organisers who use these? Are they cost effective and are the fences rebuilt easily/quickly?

    3: Are there any manufacturers who would like to contact me to explain how they are tested, installed, and the life span?

    4: Do you feel that they have improved the safety of eventing and are beneficially, or are against the use of these fixings?

    Any comments gratefully received for my dissertation.

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