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Safety article-looking for input

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  • Safety article-looking for input

    We must all be aware of what seems like a very large number of serious eventing accidents to both riders and horses in the past year or so.
    I`m planning to explore the issues in a Between Rounds article, and would appreciate some input.
    Several riders were talking about this the other day, and there seemed to be agreement that the topic could be broken down into various sub-headings:
    1.Bad riding---Riding too fast, riders jumping up the neck, riders too unfit, riding with stirrups so long their legs are swinging---in other words, all the sins we all like to commit!
    2.X-C course construction----Fences too vertical, fences too technical, fences with poor "profiles", like no groundlines, etc., jumps not appropriate for the competition level, jumps placed too awkwardly on the terrain (steep hills, off tight turns, etc.)
    3.Inappropriate horse for the rider----Horse too strong or too hot or too big or too green or a rusher or a quitter----the whole litany of horse problems.
    4.Pure bad luck---horse trips in a hole, horse slips on takeoff, etc, etc
    5."Actuarial Issues"---There are just thousands of horses competing these days, so the odds are simply greater, etc.

    Anyway, many of you watch events all the time. What do YOU think is going on? What can be done to make the sport safer? Is it the responsibility of us as riders and horse selectors, of coaches, of x-c course designers, of technical delegates, of the USEA, who?

  • #2

    I appreciate that you are addressing this issue. I am a Novice Rider, and really have no specific suggestions regarding the potential causes of these accidents, but I am an epidemiologist. As an epidemiologist, I am trained to design studies that examine the associations between exposures and outcomes. So, if you want any advice on how to design a study to examine these issues or how to organize or analyze the data, please feel free to contact me.

    I think that it would be productive to examine the rates of horse and rider accidents (minor, major, and fatal) over time and relate these rates to such "exposures" as weather, speed, etc.

    Feel free to PM me.

    Ilana (Lany)


    • #3
      From a competitor, official and spectator ppoint of view, my opinion is that it is the responsibility of everyone to make the sport safer. It is the responsibility of the rider to be accountable for their training, fitness and understanding of the sport. It is the responsibility of the course designers and builders to truely know the ground, the type of course, and competition so the course is appropriate for the levels. It is the resposibility for the USEF, USEA, FEI to make rules and regulations based on reasoned common sense (HORSESENSE) and not to react in a knee-jerk way to perceived trends or incidents (e.g the false reasoning that the short format is better for horse than long format).

      The biggest way to make the sport safer: COMMUNICATION!!!!! Officials, riders, owners, trainers, etc. must keep open lines of communication. Organizers must be willing to work together across events to help each other (no of this "This is MY kingdom" attitude). Riders must be willing to confront unsafe conditions and the officials must be willing to listen and justify decisons openly. Egotistical and arrogant attitudes must go. Yes, that is a dream but what the heck.

      I agree the sport has to evolve but packaging it as some cool extreme sport, while getting new interest, also dilutes the heart of what it takes to do this discipline well and safely.

      That's my opinion. I could be wrong.



      • #4
        Hi Denny,
        I think #s 1 and 3 get blamed a lot (bad riding, inappropriate horse) for accidents. I think both of these go back to lack of training/instruction or bad training/instruction. I think that if instructors were certified some way (either through existing things like ARIA or through a unique entity), we might see less in the way of accidents.

        Eventing is a bit different than other disciplines in that competitors often go to events without their instructor on hand. I don't want to discourage that--after years in the jumpers and eq, I truly appreciate that I can spit without having to ask permission first. But maybe we're taking it to extremes? Some folks bring along green horses with little-to-no help, perhaps inappropriately. Maybe they NEED more help than they're getting, from QUALIFIED trainers? I'm not sure how you would officiate this, however.

        Or maybe not... most of the high-profile accidents are happening to folks at the upper levels of the sport, where such a small percentage of eventers compete. Some of the incidents are just plain old bad luck, as you mentioned. Others may be because a question is too difficult or inappropriate for level. There is no doubt that the technicality of the sport has increased over the last 10 years. I have heard it said that questions at some T courses are equivalent to what has been P in the past. With the loss of the traditional format and much of the endurance challenge, the technical difficulty has had to increase to keep up interest. Progression is important. An undynamic sport does not survive. But maybe we're taking it too far.

        As to where the responsibility falls, I think it must be shared. That's a cop-out answer, I know. I think the dangerous riding rule has to be enforced more often. I think competitors need to be more aware of their capabilities, and think in the best interest of their horses more often rather than have a "higher, faster" mentality. And I think that coaches need to be riders' Jiminy Cricket, if you will, and guide riders to make correct decisions about level of competition, and which courses to tackle.

        I look forward to reading the article.
        "Cynicism is a sorry kind of wisdom" Barack Obama


        • #5
          I'm with Elena on this one. The vast majority of "scary riding" I see (and that sometimes results in accidents) is probably due to the rider and horse not having the quality training that they need. As you already know and we've discussed this, anybody can hang ou their shingle and pretend to be a trainer. I know of one local "trainer" whose students routinely put in scary rounds - with mom and dad standing by with video camera in hand! The problem is that the average rider doesn't know how to tell the difference between good training and bad, and when they finally do figure it out (if they ever), the whole "cult of personality" is already firmly in place and they can't find a way out of a bad situation. I speak from experience too many times, here. It's not that I WANT to go riding around while everybody is holding their breath and waiting for me to somersault off my horse's head - it's just that I don't know any better and someone who DOES know better is encouraging me to get out there and compete before I'm ready. I think that's the case of most adults - in children, there may be a little bit of that feeling of immortality that causes them to go "higher, faster".

          I also think that the lack of preparation is hurting a lot of people. NOt everybody these days grows up on the back of a horse, or (in my case) didn't really get to ride one on a regular basis until I was a grown adult. The vast majority of us did not grow up trying to catch chickens from the backs of our ponies ;^).

          Most of us don't have ready access to good places to xc school, and when we do, we have to find a way to pay for the gas to get there (ouch) and take the time off of work to do so. So, we get one good xc school in a season, if we're lucky, and we hope that that one experience of going over a ditch is going to be enough to suffice us for all the ditches that we will encounter during that season.

          Hope this helps...looking forward to the article as well.
          "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." - Thomas Edison

          So, the Zen Buddhist says to the hotdog vendor, "Make me one with everything."


          • #6
            XC concerns and a bit of luck

            1. Poor XC course design--)
            a)Fences too vertical -- XC country fences are made to be taken at speed. Everyone knows that vertical fences can cause flips. Personally, vertical fences scare the jeepers out of me.
            The question: Can you recollect your horse for a more upright type fence? This question may be a bit technical for the T, N, BN courses but doable because speed is never faster than 450mpm. But is it fair to ask the P, I, A horses to make the faster time AND recollect to a show jumping type gallop during their run? Yes, but the question should be asked fairly and many times is not.

            b) To technical, poor profiles--courses are becoming more and more technical. More skinny fences, more fences with poor ground lines, no ground line, or a fake ground line. We need to remember that our fellow athletes are 'just horses'. Fair questions [for the horses] need to be asked. Give them good solid ground lines so that they have a chance to judge depth properly.

            c) Speed - the training level courses I have ridden are now wheeled at 450 and 470. Often I come up 200 meters or so short (even when I walk paths that are too tight to actually ride). One course in particular I had to flat out gallop in between fences on muddy footing. 6 out of 30 Training riders made the time. I felt for the average Training Level rider and horse this was a very unfair question to ask. I really feel TDs need to crack down on the speeds and wheel them APPROPRIATELY! There were many falls and two instances when the ambulance was used for Training Level.

            2. Bad Luck:
            I have had people look at me like I am crazy when I talk about luck.
            For me, luck is 50% of the game. One great example: At a HT last year I lead through all phases, my horse has no XC issues. In the bag right? Nope, he slipped while swapping leads and almost fell down, there were no fences involved and the footing was spectacular. I ended up hanging off of his head and due to time faults I ended in 4th. Pure luck was involved.

            It all has to fall into place. The person in 1st has a stop (or slips) lol. No one makes the time. A horse randomly spooks. You get up on the right side of the bed. A super star horse/rider brain farts and goes off course...
            A horse takes over and makes a bad decision. The rider is distracted. The horse uncharacteristically leaves a leg behind. The horse finds the one rut on the landing onto the water to trip in.

            You could be a fantastic rider and be sitting on the best horse in the field, but if luck is not on your side...

            Look at Pippa Funnell at Burghley when she won the Grand Slam.
            Bettina Hoy had a stop at the smallest fence on course and Zara Phillips had a rail in SJ. Yes, Pippa rode a fantastic show...but the rest was her good luck.

            One BNT maybe Graham or Wofford? wrote: William Fox Pitt is one of the best riders in the world, he's just not lucky.

            I placed luck above poor riding because sometimes a poor rider can get around when the force is with him/her.

            3. Poor coaching/riding: I agree with Eventer Mi.
            There are also instances when a student is unhappy with their own progression and instead of dealing with their abilities they find a coach to pay that will tell them what they want to hear. That alone puts pressure on the more conservative coaches to allow students to compete at levels above which they should actually be. A concern that will always exist.
            I was lucky. I found a fantastic, conservative coach that puts student safety above winning.

            Rayers said it well:
            From a competitor, official and spectator point of view, my opinion is that it is the responsibility of everyone to make the sport safer. It is the responsibility of the rider to be accountable for their training, fitness and understanding of the sport. It is the responsibility of the course designers and builders to truly know the ground, the type of course, and competition so the course is appropriate for the levels. It is the responsibility for the USEF, USEA, FEI to make rules and regulations based on reasoned common sense (HORSESENSE) and not to react in a knee-jerk way to perceived trends or incidents (e.g the false reasoning that the short format is better for horse than long format).
            Horses are amazing athletes and make no mistake -- they are the stars of the show!


            • #7
              harm reduction

              I think it is important for everyone to realize that the best we can hope for is harm reduction. The is the chance for injury every time we get near a horse (or get in a car for that matter). All the rules and prepartaion in the world won't change that.

              The worst injury I have had in my 50 years of riding was walking across a parking lot and slipping on some oil. I ride a well schooled, well cared for horse with a helmet, gloves, appropriate footswear, vest, well fitting tack and take regular lessons. And I am aware that @#&* happens.
              A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.--G. K. Chesterton


              • #8
                Hmmmm ... I've been doing XC warm-up at a local event for a few years and I'm amazed at how many riders look honestly scared when going into the start box. I just think to myself, "isn't this supposed to be fun?" I know that some people get nerves, but those that look like they're about to hurl make me a little nervous.

                And I also agree that the courses are getting more difficult. I'm going to a Novice horse trials this weekend, and I had to make sure that I schooled a trakehner before the show. A trakehner for a N horse trials! Two summers ago I had a giant white triple bar in my N stadium course followed by an equally scary in-and-out ... let me tell you how many problems there were that day.

                I can't really comment on the upper-levels as I've never competed above novice, but those are my 2 observations from the lower-levels.
                Take Your Equestrian Business to the Next Level: http://www.mythiclanding.com/
                Follow me at http://mythiclanding.blogspot.com or http://twitter.com/mythiclanding


                • #9
                  I want to add that another way to make the sport safer is that "We," the not big name riders, must be willing to voice our opinions and ask questions without fear of offending the big names/stars of the sport. In other words the "cult of personality" that the FEI said it wants to create around horses and riders should not mean that those folks are above reproach. For example, if there is a genuine concern on the part of a novice rider riding a David O'Conner XC course, they need to be willing to stand up to David and stick to their ideas and not let them be simply dismissed by the idea that "He is David O'Conner. He knows all about this stuff."

                  I am not disparraging David O'Conner but I am using his name as an obvious example.



                  • #10
                    Having been on the recieving end of a very stern lecture from my instructor about being too fast and not safe on XC one day I think we have to have 2 approaches. One, is for the instructors to have the wherewithall to have those hard conversations when they see their students riding poorly. And two, just as if not more importantly, that student has to listen and respond- accept that they need to fix it. Take those extra lessons, don't compete until you solve the problem

                    That same day, I had a chance to watch about 15 horses on course with her - I wanted to see how it was done correctly. (in this case, balancing the horse before the big table after a short gallop - this was at Training or Prelim, I can't remember) She 'approved' about 3 rides, and felt the rest could stand some improvement. I was surprised in a way at the low number of really good rides, but since I hadn't felt my own ride was 'that bad', I realized I had some things to learn.

                    It was not easy to hear, but she didn't tell me to be mean, or disparaging. I needed to hear it so I could fix it. If I didn't realize it on my own, someone needed to tell me. Next time, I hope I will be able to recognize it myself and fix it. (or not let it happen)

                    What scares me most about these latest accidents is that two of them were professionals, competent, GOOD riders. Our best. If our best can't get it right, what does that say? How can I be confident I will be safe if I do everything "right" if our best cannot always do it?


                    • #11
                      What scares me most about these latest accidents is that two of them were professionals, competent, GOOD riders. Our best. If our best can't get it right, what does that say? How can I be confident I will be safe if I do everything "right" if our best cannot always do it?

                      I understand all the concerns about "scary riding" but recent history indicates that scary riding does not lead to serious accidents.


                      • #12
                        Luck and cycles are certainly part of it, as well as the nature of the sport, so I agree with those who have said we need to remember that eventing is unlikely to ever be an "accident free" sport and that's probably not where we are trying to get.

                        I am curious about equipment issues. We go for traditional, with some notion of improved certification for safety, but what might people who design safety gear in car racing, ice climbing, hockey, kayaking, etc. have to contribute to design of helmets, vests, stirrups and how they are attached to the saddle, etc. that might improve outcome of falls, refusals, slips, etc.

                        I also think there is an important role for the fence/course design, perhaps an expansion of the course advisor role to lower levels trials, even if those courses are only inspected on a periodic basis, and stricter rules about whose name goes on the course design (I think there are courses that in the omnibus have names on them, where that person did originally design the course, but hasn't seen it in years) along with some type of inspection of courses that were built before we had certified course designers.

                        I agree with the posters who have said that everyone shares in the responsibility and that efforts to reduce dangerous riding are a good idea (as hard as it can be to figure out in practice). We talked at the last USEA meeting about having "roving" ICP instructors available at events to help those who don't have instructors of there own. I think especially having ICP instructors do XC course walks for folks who don't have a trainer would be great (and I would hope riders would be willing to pay for this - yes I know; the sport is expensive, flameproof suit ready, but we pay for safety in other venues).

                        Along with IFG, I do the kind of research in my day job that trys to build predictive models for bad outcomes with complicated inputs including luck, so would be happy to help if there might be ways to improve record keeping and analysis.

                        Also, when there is an incident of serious horse/rider injury involving a fence, do we have anything that happens beyond the TD at that event. That might be another role for more experienced course advisor types.
                        OTTBs rule, but spots are good too!


                        • #13
                          I agree. MOST of the recent accidents have been with upper level riders. My goal is to get to the upper levels, I, A. But, seeing so many accidents at these levels recently, makes me wonder if it really IS what I want to do.

                          As far as lower levels go. At a recent event, I saw SO many riders who couldn't even round up their horses going novice. I think that there has to be some other type of requirements to be able to go and jump at a certain level. I personally feel that if you don't even have the ability to round up your horse, you don't have any business steering him around a course of jumps.

                          What about requiring a certain score in dressage to be able to proceed to the jumping phases. I know that those of us who are bringing along babies may not make it to the jumping phases on those days when our horses just won't listen, but that just means we go to another trial to try again and go home and do more homework first. Kind of a "back to the basics" approach to sort of force people to be prepared. Let's face it, if you can't do the dressage, you really shouldn't be jumping.

                          Also, I see so many people riding at shows with out coaches. We need someone out there watching these people saying "No, not today." for them when they really don't need to be riding at a certain level. Do we need to require the coaches to sign for BN, N...

                          Most of the time, but not always I know, by the time people make it to training level, they are pretty compitent and don't always need to have their coach there. I personally always do, but that's just me. I have a good friend who competes beautifully, wins regularly and has an amazing understanding of riding and of her and her horses capabilities. She usually does not have a coach. But, on those days where she just doesn't feel 100%, she's not afraid to ask me to come and be her eyes and give her advice from the ground.

                          This is all a really hard call. B/c as eventers, we are all confessed adrenaline junkies.

                          Thanks, Denny!


                          • #14
                            Well....I've seen a lot of bad falls. I do think that most of them actually were just bad luck. I know that my most recent fall was me not riding right and missing at a coffin.....it happens. That is part of the sport. Nothing was wrong with the fence, nothing was wrong with my horse other then being too bold and jumping too big (problems that I don't mind working with ) and I screwed up my end of the bargin and knew it even before I hit the ground. I understood why I fell at the coffin....and many a good rider has had a spill at a coffin (hence the name)....it would have scared me a lot more if I hadn't known I was in trouble, and didn't understand why I fell. We are working on the issue that led to the problem but often...those are issues you don't even realize you have until you are on a course (i.e. the horse getting strong after a good gallop 3/4 of the way around a x-c course). But it wasn't a bad fall and both my horse and I were fine.....but if I had landed a different way or my horse stepped a different way....it could have been a different story....that is the bad luck aspect.

                            It is a tough sport....there will be falls....some will be from scary riding, some will be because a good rider misses ....some will be from a rank bad horse....some will be because a good horse makes a mistake. Some falls will be nothing, some mistakes will not result in a fall...and some falls will be tragic.

                            I think the focus of any rider should be to do their best to be prepared....but I want to be challanged out on course....I want to ride those verticle fences or hard combinations... I want there to be a fence or two on a course that scares me bit but that at the same time I can analysis and know that if I ride right, we will be fine. Let me tell you I laid awake thinking about jumping into the foundation at Plantation for the first time, yet it rode fantastic....I will probably lay awake the night before the first time I jump in the leaf pit at Morven...but I know that rides well. That is the fun part of this sport, being afraid of a fence and then having it ride like a breeze.

                            Yes, I will occassionally make a mistake and when that happens, I hope that luck is on my side. I need to be prepared for the level that I'm riding and I need to be on a horse that is capable...but there is no question that this sport is dangerous and always will be....I think that working on keeping course designers educated and qualifications for moving up the levels (like currently exist) are good safety measures....but I worry that people think that they can make this sport safe. The only way to make this sport truly safe is to get rid of the horses and the jumps and have us all ride a merry-go-round.
                            Last edited by bornfreenowexpensive; Apr. 18, 2007, 12:21 PM.
                            ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


                            • #15
                              First and foremost accidents do happen.
                              We've all had them and often not during a hard competition but because a horse tripped while trotting around, fell and landed on you.

                              1> Bad Riding
                              3> Bad Coaching

                              On one hand we must all take responsibility for ourselves -- particularly as adults. Parents of teen riders should be talking to them about what to do when they feel over-faced.

                              Be smart. Be self-regulating. Be safe.

                              When I was with a coach who sent me up a level the first event of the season after virtually no preparation it was the beginning of the end of our time together. I don't believe he did it "on purpose", and nothing happened, but I realized that I needed to take more control over my own program. I found a new barn/trainer. I put safety first. I drive an HOUR farther than I used to because I feel that strongly about the quality of training.

                              Secondly, somebody must speak up and say "you and/or your students need to go home and work more before you compete again at this level". If I as an adult amateur can tell something is wrong with the riding or training it sends a real signal that they shouldn't be out there. If it is that obvious there is a real problem.

                              Last summer I watched two students (adults at Novice) of the same trainer trying to "gallop" into the stadium arena. (I surmise to maintain the canter that they had from the warm-up.) It was dangerous to them and it was dangerous to all the horses and riders waiting at the in-gate. They needed a talking to and so did their trainer. Even if it had to happen after the event, somebody in charge should have said something.

                              In terms of the accidents at the upper levels I do believe that you need to sit down and look at real concrete statistics as IFG suggests. Real cold hard facts: numbers of people competing, types of accidents, the types of jumps (including the approach) where the accidents happen, footing etc. It could be increased number of people = increased number of accidents or it could be something more than that but really a statistical analysis needs to be done. Otherwise it is just conjecture.


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by kacey'srider View Post

                                What about requiring a certain score in dressage to be able to proceed to the jumping phases. I know that those of us who are bringing along babies may not make it to the jumping phases on those days when our horses just won't listen, but that just means we go to another trial to try again and go home and do more homework first. Kind of a "back to the basics" approach to sort of force people to be prepared. Let's face it, if you can't do the dressage, you really shouldn't be jumping.

                                I really don't agree with this statement as I personally choose horses who may put in a mediocre (really blah but not "wrong") dressage test but are spectacular jumpers because that is where I perceive the safety issues to be. Yes, I work on dressage constantly. I actually really enjoy it but find it "harder" than jumping.

                                I have also seen a lot of novice riders put in a decent dressage test and feel that I have to hold my breath while they are jumping around (stadium no less).


                                • #17
                                  How many times have we walked a course and had coaches, experienced riders, trainers say "This fence/combination rides like crap." More than I'd like to recall, particularly in walking some OI and A courses. And, more times than not, that fence does, in fact, ride like puckey and/or there's a major issue there. Obviously my pet peeve is ditch/wall combinations that don't ask a fair question (when three horses fall at the same fence in one compeition, in the same way - you think it might be a fence design issue? Go figure) but there are lots of similar examples: coffins that always seem to come out on a half step, downhill questions that horses slide into, jumping into the sun issues, vertical fences that everyone crawls over etc. We need course designers and TDs to not only take riders seriously when they raise these issues, but we need riders to speak up when there is an issue. And, we need to put in place some mechanism to learn from mistakes/issues/goofs.

                                  For example, at AECs last year, the first horses on course in the Prelim division came back half-blinded by the sun and their riders urged the TD to hold the division for half an hour. Problem solved. But, at Southern Pines this spring? Once again, first four-five horses half-blinded by the sun until Phillip Dutton told them they needed to hold the division. Once is an honest mistake. But repeated at back to back shows? Should have been caught. I don't mean to single out CHP: it's a great facility and the folks down there do a stupendous job. But that's the kind of thing that gets people hurt, and I'd hate to see anyone open up to a lawsuit from a repeat issue like that.

                                  The responsibility goes both ways. Riders need to step up and take responsibility. They (and I'm just as accountable as anyone else) need to work on being safe, sane, trained, fit, appropriate and prepared for the level they've entered. Trainers and owners need to say "it's not your day" when it isn't, and we need to be able to say it ourselves. And TDs need to listen when riders are saying courses are measured too long or a fence is questionable and open the dialogue. And then, we all have to cut each other a little bit of slack: sometimes there's luck, sometimes there's flukes, sometimes things just don't go our way, sometimes our instinct is just plain wrong no matter how hard we train and try.

                                  And sometimes, sometimes we go through these hideous spells where some of our best and brightest have horrid accidents, and we search for some sort of meaning or explanation or reason, since perhaps that will somehow give us comfort that "it" won't happen to us.


                                  • #18
                                    I realize that eventing is dangerous, but I agree with Hilary and others who ask why accidents (serious accidents) are happening to seasoned professionals and students of seasoned professionals.

                                    I wonder if recent changes in the sport have not made it so technical that horses and riders are more fatigued XC than before and potentially more prone to accidents.

                                    This is a question that can be studied by examining the numbers of accidents as a function of the number of combinations on course, etc.


                                    • #19
                                      Denny, thanks for taking this issue on. Given recent events, your always thoughtful approach will help put our concerns in perspective and provide cogent discussion points.

                                      I can't begin to comment on the causes or possible corrections without getting all the facts, as so many others have mentioned. Additional issues I'd like to investigate about upper level riders in particular are focus and fatigue. I marvel at those who are riding several horses at various levels during the course of one competition, and frequently coaching as well. Is there any correlation between taking such a big bite of the competition apple and problems on course? Also, (another trained in epidemiology, sorry to say) I'd track where in the order of go the problem occurred to see if deteriorating footing, weather, crowd distractions may have had an impact. Even in schooling, and some really bad accidents have happened in schooling sessions, I wonder about these things.

                                      My gut tells me that we will probably not ever know or be able to control all of the factors that can cause accidents. Nonetheless, we need to keep searching.
                                      They don't call me frugal for nothing.
                                      Proud and achy member of the Eventing Grannies clique.


                                      • #20
                                        well said Got Spots.
                                        ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **