Not Again. Another rotational fall. Another life lost.

Phillipa Humphries
Phillipa Humphreys is the third rider to die from injuries sustained from a rotational fall in three months.

This weekend there was a rotational fall at Jersey Fresh on the CCI3* course and 33 year old Philippa Humphreys died. She experienced at that level and she was riding an experienced horse. Inexplicably, her horse caught a hoof on the table and flipped. Philippa leaves behind a husband and a baby. It shouldn’t have happened.

#rideforolivia swept across social media with thousands of people showing their support. This is the collage that was made from those images and presented to her family at her memorial service.

Sadly, this is not the first fatality this year from a rotational fall. On March 5th, 17-year old Olivia Inglis was killed by a rotational fall in Australia. Her horse, Coriolanus, an 11-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, was euthanized when it was discovered he had fractured his neck.

After Olivia’s death the global equestrian community rallied behind Olivia’s memory, using the #rideforolivia hashtag to share images in her honor. The outpouring of support was amazing . . . the sadness was palpable and all too real. We all know young women (and men) competing. We know how much riders love their sport. And yet . . .

“The jump judge, who is very experienced, said the horse approached well — not going too fast or out of control — and that the rider was riding quite well,” Judy Fasher, Equestrian Australia Chair, told EN. “Unfortunately, the horse left a leg at the oxer, and unfortunately (the horse) fell on Olivia.”

Reported by Eventing Nation

Caitlyn Fischer
Caitlyn Fisher was an accomplished equestrian who had posted an image to honor Olivia Inglis.

On April 30, another young rider lost her life to a rotational fall. This time it was 19-year old Caitlyn Fischer, on CCI* course at the Sydney International Horse Trials. Another tragedy. Another young rider who was not riding above her level, not riding poorly, not unprepared.

This much heartbreak is too much for the equestrian community. No families should have to suffer the loss of a loved one because a sport that is already dangerous has, in many people’s opinions, become even more so because of the types of cross country questions asked of horses and riders today.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Rider and horse fatalities
This is a partial list of the riders and horses who have died at horse trials. Click on the image to see the whole list at
Problems in Eventing
This article, written by Leslie Stevenson, focuses on why there have been so many falls and fatalities during a period when eventing is supposedly working to make the sport safer. Click on the photo to read the article.

So what’s gone so wrong with eventing?

For several years now, the top riders and course designers have been talking about making cross country safer — the use of frangible pins is a very positive step forward.

Yet at the same time, courses have changed and not always for the better. Gone are the long galloping courses of yesteryear. Today, the fences are technical, are often bunched closely together with long galloping stretches in between them. And not enough has been done to make fences safer to jump.

I read a very interesting article in Eventing Nation today, written by Lesley Stevenson, where she talks about some of the elements she sees as being potential contributors. These include:

  • Fences with vertical profiles. Vertical fences are the most likely type of fence to cause a rotational fall, whereas fences with a ramping front (which is an older design for a cross country fence) are easier for the horse to “read” and are more forgiving if a horse makes a mistake.
  • Course design. Skinny fences were introduced as a technical challenge with the thought that riders would more likely have a run out than a fall, but they have become ubiquitous on courses today, turning them into show jumping challenges. These technical questions require slower approaches, which then mean that horses must gallop all out to make the time (even Michael Jung had time penalties at Badminton). She also believes that the constant use of similar fences on a course is also a potential problem.

    Asking those same questions over and over after the horse has passed the first test is punishing, and leads to mental fatigue in the horse, which of course means slower reflexes. One only needs to sit and watch one of these complexes late on the course, to see the glazed look many horses have in their eyes at that point. Courses should be designed with the “heart” of the horse in mind. This means that the courses should mentally build horses up, rather than tear them down. This is especially true at the middle levels of the sport, where the courses are supposed to be as much about “teaching” as they are about “testing.”

  • The predominance of warmbloods (and warmblood crosses) in eventing. Since dressage performance has become such a critical element, there are fewer thoroughbreds in the sport — but warmbloods are more difficult to get fit enough to show the endurance necessary to safely complete today’s courses.
  • Over competing. With the introduction of the short format, horses generally are competing more often than they did in the past, which may contribute to a mental fatigue.

The video below shows a rotational fall where both the rider and the horse walked away without injury, but it gives a clear depiction of what one looks like.

I think that, on balance, at the lower levels, eventing is still pretty safe. The fences are small enough and the speed required to complete the course within the allotted time is manageable. But I no longer want to see the big events in real time. And although I’ve always wanted to go to Rolex, my desire is waning. It’s turning into a sport where I’d rather wait and make sure that everyone got back to the barn safely and watch their rounds on instant replay.

And if I had a child who wanted to event? I’d think very hard about letting them compete beyond training level.

What do you think about the future of eventing?




8 thoughts on “Not Again. Another rotational fall. Another life lost.

  1. I have no words. This is beyond horrible. Not again!! I very much agree with you, and the wise words from Lesley Stevenson. I am an amateur eventer myself, and I love this sport beyond belief. There is a difference between grassroots and top level, of course, but work needs to be done everywhere. NOONE should have to lose their lives on the cross country course, and no horse neither. I just came back from working (volunteering) at a big twostar swedish event, and I was happy to see that the safety work really worked. Both from horses and riders, course designers, trainers, ground jury, volunteers, vets, medical team, and so on. Eventing and safety in eventing really is team work and long term thinking, planning, organizing and training. Not just at the specific event, but througout the whole sport, grassroots to top level.

  2. Great post – and very thought provoking. I will add that Rolex this year made me happy for a variety of reasons, none more so than that it really did seem to be a truer test of stamina and endurance rather than just the extreme technicality. And it was still just as exciting to watch – just as influential to the competition. Seemed like that course design was going in the right direction.

    1. I really hope that the eventing community finds a way to make cross country safer. I’ve always loved eventing and although I never competed at high levels myself, loved to watch it. Now I feel a bit shell shocked. And angry. And sad. Philippa Humphreys has a baby who will now grow up without her mother. When competent, experienced rides are dying on a too-regular basis we need to stop talking about “freak” accidents and take action.

  3. I completed my dissertation on this subject a few years ago and spoke to some of the international people involved in the course at Greenwich for the Olympics. The course rode well and was a great course. My study queried the effects of frangible pins on rotational falls and alternative ‘safe ‘ collapsible fences. I also spoke to a few well renowned riders, trainers and course builders about the effect of saddle design, riding style , training/experience, shoes, course terrain and fitness on riders safety in a rotational fall. There are safer fences out there in development but further studies need to be conducted with an open mind, on alternatives as some of the options (even with independent research and test results) at events) are not taken seriously enough I feel, and big investments have been made in the existing technology in use. This is my personal view

    1. I would love to hear more of what you concluded. Certainly we’ve been hearing that eventing is in a “crisis” for many years now but other than frangible pins, I’m not aware of what else has been done.

  4. I may make some people angry with what I am about to say.

    In many videos of rotational falls I’ve seen, the ride approaches the fence desperately giving “half halts” on the approach to the fence. The riders often are shifting their weight forward and back abruptly, and they are severly interfering with the horse. Today’s “half halts” look a LOT like just plain jerking to me. The rider is often jerking HARD, and since the horse’s mouth is tied shut with those horrible flash nosebands, the horse is denied any chance to alter its balance and avoid great pain.

    Not only that, the riders are riding in the so-called “safety seat”, behind the motion of the horse. I also see attempts to give seat aids. So you have jerking the bit HARD, the rider shifting their weight unpredicatably, and the horse and rider are NOT UNITED IN MOTION as they approach the fences where they fall.

    Get rid of the abusive “half halts”. Get rid of the “seat aids” that can interfere with the horse’s back working properly. Get rid of the so-called “safety seat” that just about guarantees that if the horse falls in a certain way the rider has a good chance of falling under the horse.

    Go back to riding the Forward Seat when galloping cross country. Train your horses to come back from speed with relatively gentle hand aids. Keep your upper body, thighs and lower legs stable so that horse KNOWS where you are and is confident that you won’t upset his balance at an awkward moment. Learn to keep gentle contact over the jump (automatic release) so that you won’t be desperately readjusting your reins all the time, and that way you can better regulate the horses speed and impulsion without hurting the horse’s mouth. Caprilli developed the Forward Seat so that cavalrymen could ride cross-country with greater safety for both horse and rider. Get forward, keep forward, throw your heart over the fence, and let the horse do his work without interfereing with and torturing him. If you keep contact with the reins over the jump you can give the turning aids so that the horse is already turning at landing.

    There is NO REASON to continually jerk HARD at the horse’s mouth approaching a jump. By doing so you are setting yourself up for a fall, possibly a lethal fall when the horse hits the fence and rotates over on you.

    And ride Forward Seat (ala Littauer) cross country. You will be much, much safer.

  5. Jackie, I agree with much of what you say. I think that the design of today’s courses has de-emphasized the galloping fence and, instead, you have a number of very technical questions that riders slow way down to ride. Certainly in the posted video it’s clear before the horse jumps that it is unlikely to make it over safely. The horse is too slow and the rider is pulling back. Bad combination.

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