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.
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.