After the Fall — ESPN’s Critique of Eventing Dials Down on the Dangers of the Sport

The safety issues that plague the sport of eventing are still getting a lot of press. ESPN recently aired a segment (now published on their Web site) that was pretty shocking. I originally had mentioned it in a post a few days ago, but since watching it today, I feel it deserves its own post. I also decided that the since the content is graphic and upsetting, I would post a link to the video rather than embed it.

ESPN has footage of some of the worst eventing falls, including the recent rotational falls of Darren Chiacchia riding Baron Verde and Laine Ashker’s fall on Frodo Baggins. They are both horrifying to watch. I hadn’t seen Darren’s fall before and  you can understand why bystanders thought he had been killed: the stillness is ominous. The fact that he survived, and the horse walked away uninjured is amazing. You certainly get a clear understanding of what a rotational fall looks like, and the piece emphasizes that it is the rotational falls that have been the cause of so many rider deaths.

Much of the rest of video is culled from years of competition, which is slightly unfair since they are making the point that so many accidents have happened in the past two years (16 riders and 12 horses have died, if you count the death of a British rider last weekend). It paints eventing in the worst possible light and maybe that’s what is needed to stimulate change. Maybe this will encourage the use of collapsible fences, better course designs and a re-evaluation of the short format (ESPN’s commentator points out that by shortening the courses significantly, but keeping the same number of jumping challenges, the courses have become more technically challenging).

But veteran eventer Bruce Davidson also points out the need for rider responsibility, the time it takes to develop the appropriate skills, and the need to resist accelerating up the levels even if you can afford to buy a horse that’s capable of jumping the bigger fences. 

It’s really a shame that the sport has developed such a terrible reputation because at the lower levels, it is truly fun, and probably still is pretty safe. I evented only through the Novice level of competition, where the fences are only 2’11” and no real technical questions are asked of horse and rider. My memories of it are the sheer exhilaration of galloping cross country, challenged but not terrified of the fences; the camaraderie and friendliness of the other competitors; and the sense that this was a sport where the riders cared about riding, rather than just looking pretty over fences in a ring.

I hope that videos like the one produced by ESPN help to bring the sport back to a place where more people can enjoy it, rather than kill it off.

2 thoughts on “After the Fall — ESPN’s Critique of Eventing Dials Down on the Dangers of the Sport

  1. (excuse my use of no caps)
    out having dinner and watching espn 2, i watched a segment called after the fall. just to let u know there was no sound, just the picture. i must say i almost lost my appetite. what i cannot believe is the designs of the jumps the horses have to jump, the leave no room for era if the horse misses a step or slips leading to uncalled danger for both rider and horse. now i do not own a horse, i have ridden them, i am not an animal rights activist, and i appreciate the bueaty of a horse and to watch them run and jump brings alot of enjoyment. as i think of what i saw , make the courses challenging, but make them forgiving also, its not the bueaty of the jump, its the rider and horse becoming one to make the jump, that the bueaty from my perspective.
    just to let u know my sport and danger is kart racing as in gokarts, the type of kart racing we compete in is very fast speeds in excess of a hundred mph. we race on dirt, so track safety is very important and experienced officals to oversee the events. we have death also and it a great loss when we lose a competitor, and we learn from mistakes and move on, i hope your organizers can do the same.
    keep your sport alive by reducing the danger
    Tommy Wilson

  2. I think the people controlling the jumps in these events need to swallow their pride. They should be thinking of human life FIRST, and also the EQUINE life which is at risk. Shame on them for not conforming the sport into something safe. It is already a very beautiful sport, now just make it safe! People didn’t like the idea of seat belts at first, but once it became mandatory, look how many lives have been saved. This is pretty much a no brainer—–just swallow the pride and let the mind take over. There is no difficult decision here……..just do the RIGHT thing. By the way, I do own a horse, it is strictly for pleasure, we do not do eventing, and I am 52 years old. Yes I do wear a safety helmet. And I ALWAYS consider my horse’s safety in anything we do—My horse is a magnificent, beautiful creature, and my best friend!

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