From the outset, I am passionate about our sport and believe that jumping big solid fences is paramount to the future of the sport. Whatever we do in the coming years must not change this.
That said, there is one thing that is critical to the future of the sport that requires change, minimising horse falls, in particular rotational falls. Simply minimising this element from our sport will reduce fatalities and serious injuries to both Horse & Rider.
How do we remove this most dangerous element of our sport? Big question, lots of answers and NO simple fix, but there are a number of ways we can (and have) start turning the corner. I have been criticised since beginning this website for being overly supportive of the introduction of more frangible technologies in the sport. My simple principle is that, whilst we continue to have preventable deaths of horses and riders in our sport we need to push hard to find a safer way and frangible technologies are a critical element in this change.
Frangible fences can provide part of the solution and quickly. In the last few months I have seen the evolution first hand of the Mim NewEra Clip System and let me tell you each time I see it, we have learnt more. This system is no panacea to fix all issues but it is certainly flexible in its application, simple to understand and measurable in its results.
I first saw the clips first hand in March, a sample newly minted from the factory in Sweden. Only four weeks later I saw it first hand in action at the Sydney CIC-W, it was set up on the A & C elements of a coffin for both the 2* and 3*-W classes. It was exciting to see it in action but those early results proved more needed to be learnt before the system could be rolled out more widely.
The engineers in Sweden went back to the drawing board and in consultation with Wayne Copping the Course Designer responsible for the Sydney event, a simple but fundamental lesson was learnt.
The fence must be set up with a neutral centre of gravity, ie at the Sydney CIC-W event the heavy log was already leaning forward, taking the smallest hit to come down.
In August, I returned to another event at SIEC the Sydney CIC run by a different committee but on the same site and with Wayne once again at the helm. Wayne had made two changes, a slight change of striding between the elements. However more critically he adjusted the centre of gravity to be neutral, in essence without the clips in place the fence stayed upright. The clip is then added to ensure that the fence is frangible at the desired force 180kg or 1800kN.
The stark contrast in the way the fence performed was amazing, at the CIC-W we broke all but 1 pair of clips (over 20 pairs I believe). In August not one pair was broken and only one pair registered any force, wait until you see the video below to see what it took to pop the indicator flags (90-180kgs of force).
Most recently I was lucky enough to see the clips in action for the third time this year at the Wooroloo Horse Trials in Western Australia again with Wayne Copping at the helm. This time Wayne had installed the clips on a vertical gate 1.2m tall with a log set 60cm out from the base, it was a very upright fence. Thankfully the riders respected the fence so highly that it barely copped a knock from a wayward hoof.
These tools are a way to help improve safety in our sport, they are not changing the nature of the sport, but they will save lives.
I have heard it said many times that we need to improve the quality of riding to reduce these falls, that rotational falls are a new phenomenon that has arisen in the last 10 or so years. That may be true, partly that is because the sport has grown, lots more riders at the lower, “Grass Roots” levels. AND yes, we need to improve the quality of riding but not every rider can work with Lucinda Green or Mark Todd or one of the many old school riders who have the lost art of horsemanship.
In addition we have spent a lot of time, money and effort broadening the base of our sport into Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa, once again a critical measure to ensuring the long term survival of our sport especially at an Olympic level. These new riders have limited access to schooling of cross country let alone being able to work with some of our older and most experienced riders/coaches. We need to use every tool available to us to ensure the viability of the future of our sport, frangible fences are a critical tool.
We must improve safety by mechanical means. In my opinion there was one positive to come out of Oliver Townend’s fall at Rolex this year. Few people can argue that Oli lacks either skill or experience necessary to compete at 4* level. The frangible pins did not break, but they were not designed to break under the circumstances that led to his fall. Frangible clips may have worked, we will never know, but we need to keep evolving, striving and reducing horse falls.
WEG is less than four weeks away and I will be interested to see what types of frangible devices will be used at the Games. Will we see the reverse frangible pin or the Mim NewEra Clip make their debut in Kentucky? I hope so.