Every time there is a rotational fall where a rider dies, the headlines across the equine media proclaim it’s time to make eventing safer. I think the first time I saw the headline, “Eventing in Crisis” was back in 2008. Unfortunately, over the weekend there was another rotational fall. Another death. This time it cost both the rider, Katharine More, and her horse, Kerry On, their lives.
Overall statistics show that eventing is getting safer.
The percentage of rotational horse falls has decreased from 0.30 horse fall every 100 starters (1 rotational horse fall every 322 starters) in 2008 to 0.12 rotational horse falls every 100 starters (1 rotational horse fall for every 805 starters) in 2019. Rotational falls have decreased constantly since 2013. FEI Eventing Risk Management Program
But it’s not safe enough. And the change isn’t happening fast enough.
There are a lot of theories about why eventing has had so many fatalities when there’s been a concerted effort to make it safer. Some people blame it on the loss of the long format; some call out the fact that courses are more technical, requiring “show jumping” rides over solid fences; some blame the increased importance of dressage, which arguably makes horses less able to think for themselves; and some blame riders moving up to fast through the levels.
But here’s the bottom line. Eventing has always been dangerous. And even top riders have accidents that are life-threatening. It’s time to make the sport safe enough so that making a mistake or misjudging a fence isn’t fatal.
The most significant contribution to eventing safety has been frangible technology — in other words, making solid fences that collapse when hit. The first generation of frangible technology was developed by introduced in 2006 by Transport Research Laboratory. TRL analyzed videos of cross-country accidents, created a mathematical model, built a crash horse to test their theory, and introduced the frangible pin, which is broken by the vertical force that occurs when a horse makes contact with the top of a fence.
In 2009, USEF Rules For Eventing specified that frangible pins were required for: 1. Bounces (both elements), 2. Coffins, 3. Sunken Roads, 4. Open Oxers, 5. Triple Bars, and 6. Open Corners. The frangible pins only work for rails and only if the rail doesn’t exceed 16 feet long, and 15 inches in diameter, and 550 pounds, so jumps with bigger, longer, or heavier rails are exempt. Open oxers are specifically mentioned in the rule. They must be built frangible or converted. The recommendation is that at least the back rail be pinned, both front and back would be better.
In 2013, the MIM Safe New Era Clip as approved by the FEI. The MIM clips allow the pins to break under both vertical and horizontal force, which occurs when a horse hits the front of a fence as well as the top, meaning it can help prevent rotational falls. The MIM Clip is approved for oxers, post-and-rail fences, gates, walls and tables.
The MIM Clip has another advantage. It features a reusable indicator tool that allows fence judges to see if the pin has been weakened by the horse making contact with the jump, and the pin can also be easily repaired by the fence judges. In contrast, replacing frangible pins requires a lengthier repair process from the course-building crew, often leading to a hold on course and delaying the competition.
In 2018, the FEI estimated that frangible technology is found on an estimated 3,500 cross-country fences at international-level horse trials around the world. But that’s not enough. There are so many cross country fences that need this technology to make them safer. And that requires money.
We have calculated that each new table (as most table will not be able to be retrofitted easily)will cost approximately $1000 per jump depending on lumber costs for the location. In the US we have 108 preliminary tracks, 50 Intermediate tracks and 19 Advanced tracks. In addition to this we have various FEI tracks that will also need to be factored into the mix. If we said that that there are a minimum of 2 tables per preliminary track, 3 per intermediate track and 4 per advanced track that would equate to approximately $450,000. This would be the minimum hence the target of $500,000.
A Go Fund me campaign that started earlier today is raising money to build more frangible fences in the U.S. The group behind the initiative includes Emily Holmes and Andy Bowles as co-chairs, Robert Kellerhouse, Jon Holling, Leslie Law, Kyle Carter, and Doug Payne.
It’s time to make eventing safer for everyone. And if that takes putting frangible technology on every cross-country course, we should make it happen.