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.