Tuesday, May. 28, 2024

Eventing Needs Solutions, Not Scapegoats

The tragedies at the Red Hills CIC in Tallahassee, Fla., (see p. 57) have fueled the fires of an ongoing debate on the safety of eventing. Over the past few years, serious injuries and fatalities to horses and riders have resulted in more questions than answers, and no one has the magic solution.

Many people hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet are pointing the finger at Capt. Mark Phillips as the course designer of Red Hills and other major events as a large part of the problem, when, in fact, the issue is more complex than any one person, course, or event.
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The tragedies at the Red Hills CIC in Tallahassee, Fla., (see p. 57) have fueled the fires of an ongoing debate on the safety of eventing. Over the past few years, serious injuries and fatalities to horses and riders have resulted in more questions than answers, and no one has the magic solution.

Many people hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet are pointing the finger at Capt. Mark Phillips as the course designer of Red Hills and other major events as a large part of the problem, when, in fact, the issue is more complex than any one person, course, or event.

While it may be time to make some changes to the speeds and types of courses, no course designer sets out to injure horses and riders. Everyone—riders, owners, officials, course designers, organizers—wants to have a safe event.

In the case of Red Hills, the deaths of two horses were not directly related to the course design. Necropsy reports show that they both suffered pulmonary hemorrhages. Medical specialists have yet to develop a means of detecting this, or many equine and human lives would be saved. It isn’t something that always happens at speed—for instance, one horse died from a similar condition during the dressage at the Maui Jim Horse Trials (Ill.) last summer.

While addressing the issues in eventing, it’s important to note that six horse fatalities happened in hunter/jumper competitions last year, as well as eight in breed-specific disciplines and approximately eight in steeplechasing. But these deaths were not as publicized (if at all) as the eventing fatalities. Three of these hunter/jumper accidents occurred while schooling or showing and were believed to be from an internal hemorrhage, just like the ones at Red Hills. Two more hunter/jumpers fractured legs while jumping, and a sixth horse had a carotid artery rupture while in his stall.

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The U.S. Eventing Association keeps its members informed of these incidents, when, where and how they happened, and other affiliate organizations, as well as the U.S. Equestrian Federation, should strive to be as public with such important information. Otherwise, the perception is that the loss of horses is unique to eventing, when that is anything but true.

“We’re so up front about it all because we want to be totally transparent,” said USEA CEO Jo Whitehouse. “We want to get ahead of the game before there is inaccurate information about an incident on the Internet.”
   
The USEA—in conjunction with USEF and Fédération Equestre Internationale committees—is working hard to get to the bottom of these problems, studying all aspects of the incidents. The FEI is working on rule changes, including limiting jumping efforts to one per 100 meters, said Whitehouse. They will also be researching the short format and how it’s affected course design and horses. And the USEA wants to contribute to studies or implement studies on what causes sudden deaths in horses. Although accidents happen in every sport, the USEA has been proactive about acknowledging them and finding answers.

As everyone works hard to make the sport as safe as possible, please keep an open mind on all possible causes for the accidents. If we just look for a quick scapegoat, real solutions won’t be found.

Beth Rasin, Managing Editor

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