Friday, Feb. 23, 2024

Participating In Eventing Is Our Choice

The sport of eventing is navigating dark waters at the moment. Eleven riders have died worldwide since January, and Eleanor Brennan, young, passionate and dedicated to the sport, was the latest tragedy at the Ocala CCI** in Florida (p. 8).

Every time a competitor dies, people spend a great deal of time trying to understand why. Was he or she improperly mounted? Too inexperienced or unprepared? Too tired? Was there a problem with that fence or the course in general? Why did it happen?
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The sport of eventing is navigating dark waters at the moment. Eleven riders have died worldwide since January, and Eleanor Brennan, young, passionate and dedicated to the sport, was the latest tragedy at the Ocala CCI** in Florida (p. 8).

Every time a competitor dies, people spend a great deal of time trying to understand why. Was he or she improperly mounted? Too inexperienced or unprepared? Too tired? Was there a problem with that fence or the course in general? Why did it happen?

We all want to believe there’s a reason behind tragedy. The only way to prevent accidents from happening is to investigate them and try to figure out why horses are falling and riders are dying, and then fix the problems.

But we might also have a selfish reason for trying to understand why a fall happened—if I can figure out why someone else had an accident, then I can reassure myself that it won’t happen to me.

Steps are being taken to address the fatalities in the sport. The Fédération Equestre Internationale just announced a new cross-country course design advisory group that will be led by Capt. Mark Phillips. This new group will be an offshoot of the eventing safety sub-committee set up earlier this year.

Officials at the U.S. Equestrian Federation organized a safety task force to review current safety procedures at USEF competitions and to make recommendations to the USEF Safety Committee. Kyra King Stuart, U.S. Eventing Association’s chairman of the board, set up an eventing review task force to review and evaluate the development of the sport in the United States.

Some of the things that should come out of these meetings are more stringent qualifications for moving up, better enforcement of those rules and possibly even new requirements that force riders to move down if they continue to have problems at their current level.

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While there is plenty of bad riding at training level and below, the slower speeds and smaller fences make it less likely that a mistake will cause serious injury. Every year there are more starters in the sport, and while it’s tough to legislate common sense, it’s possible to prevent these riders from moving up until they’ve had adequate preparation. Why can you qualify for a one-star with a refusal on cross-country at every event? If you can’t jump cleanly around four preliminary events, why are you contemplating a one-star?

Many other ideas are being considered by all of these committees, from fence construction to course design to better emergency response. People in official capacities are truly focused on finding solutions to make eventing safer.

But eventing can never be accident-free and still remain the sport we know and love. On some level, eventers have to understand that eventing is dangerous. If you examine the records of our best professionals, it’s not a question of if they get hurt, but when. Eventing is an extreme sport, and what makes it dangerous—jumping big, solid, difficult obstacles at speed—is also what makes it fun and appealing.

It’s not easy to acknowledge that every time you head out on cross-country there’s a chance, remote as it may be, that you might not return. Sure, getting on any horse is risky, as is traveling in an automobile. But eventing will always have more accidents than the other equestrian disciplines, just as football will always be more dangerous than soccer.

So if you want to continue galloping out of that box and feeling the adrenaline rush as you soar over the solid table or negotiate the tricky sunken road, admit that risk. Face up to the dangers, and then do everything in your power to ensure that you’re ready for that challenge.

Sara Lieser

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