Increasing awareness and discussion about Eventing Safety, FINALLY!!!

Well, WEG has come and gone and to be honest I have tried to enjoy the entertainment from all directions without ranting about safety, although I couldn’t help myself and commented on the continued “IMMUNITY” that dressage riders seem to have on head injuries or at least think they have.

I thoroughly enjoyed a real variety of coverage of the games and the best stuff was really the behind the scene reports from Samantha & Glenn from Horse Radio Network, John and Team from Eventing Nation, endless twitter feeds from some wonderful & informative tweeps and of course Hamish & Dave.  Those two, I think, even surprised themselves.

Special mention must also go to Australia’s newest team member Peter Atkins and his horse Henny, their XC run on youtube was highly awaited and is breathtaking.  It is hard to imagine watching this horse carve up the course with less than two years of eventing under his 9 year old belt!  If you haven’t seen it, I guarantee this is 12 and half minutes of XC you will want to watch time and time again, I watched it for the first time on my big ass TV.

I had a ball at WEG, all live from my home, my office and even in my car listening to the daily Horse Radio Shows, I think I am already going through withdrawals on hearing Samantha Clark’s voice every day.  So now as we prepare for London 2012 and us Aussies need to pull our fingers out as we don’t have a qualification yet, I would like to reflect on Safety at WEG.

John Thier please accept this as a complement I am a fan of your bullet points and will adopt them for this post.

  1. I did not see a single media release or story from anywhere in the world that had any focus at all on the safety aspects built into the Cross Country Course and Fences, I am happy to be proven wrong but I did not see one.
  2. This year’s WEG seemed to have only incorporated one safety device Standard Installation of the “Frangible Pin”, now this surprises me as both Mike ES Course Designer and Mick Costello Course Builder are both advocates of the use frangible devices and Mike ES in particular is behind the use of the Reverse Frangible Pin methodology.  There were no ProLogs or Mim NewEra devices used on course.
  3. There was a liberal use of brush, many people don’t think of this as a safety device but it is, brush allows you to build big fences where the hard (fixed) part can be very low.
  4. Today or yesterday depending on where you are in the world John Thier published an article on his website Eventing Nation on Frangible Pins and Eventing Safety, John, as he does, has managed to explain how Frangible Pins work in simple and easy to understand language.  He has also touched on one of the key issues, Frangible Pins, particularly in their traditional use have a very limited set of circumstances on which they come into play.  The fact that they are not a one size fits all solution is why there are a number of other devices and methodologies out there being used and tested.  One key point I would like to differ from John on is the last point which he calls the collapsible table, this is certainly a method, but it does not highlight the device.

The Collapsible Table at Chat Hills was built by Dan Stark, well known in the USA as a top course builder.  The table in question and in fact in the picture on Eventing Nation is but one of many uses of the Mim NewEra Clip System.  This system was developed in Sweden by engineers Mats Björnetun and Anders Flogård.  Critically the Mim Clips are very versatile in their application and can be used in so many more fence types than the Frangible Pins.  Personally I have seen the Mim Clips on fences at Sydney Events very similar to the fateful fence that Oli hit at Rolex and also similar to that of Sharon’s fall this weekend at Fair Hill.  The key difference between the Mim and the Frangible Pin is that the Mim can be set to react to both forward and downward force.

These devices are very new to eventing being less than 12 months old, however they are backed and designed by two very skilled engineers who have made a living building car safety devices for many years, they know how to both build and test based on solid engineering principles.  I have been privileged enough to see the Mim Clips in action 3 times this year, thanks to Course Designer and Builder Wayne Copping and they are impressive.  I have no doubt that when the wider eventing community take these up as the norm rather than the exception we will save more lives of both Horses and Riders.

In early November the Mim NewEra Clips will be used on four fences at the CCI Four Star Australian International Three Day Event in Adelaide, this is a great opportunity for these revolutionary devices to be highlighted to the world.  I do hope that the Aus3DE PR Team and the Media alike take the time to explain and highlight how these life saving devices are being incorporated as a proactive means of improving safety in our sport.

Next time you go to an event where ever that may be in the world, take the time and ask the Technical Delegate (TD) and Course Designer (CD) or the Committee for that matter what safety devices they are using and let them know that you would like to see more used for the benefit of the sport.

I have received written confirmation that in the future Badminton Horse Trials will include a feature on the safety devices incorporated into XC and how they are designed to work.  This is a great step forward as education and understanding is a key step to making safety a higher priority in our sport.  And if Badminton is doing it then it must be something worth following and developing.

A final comment on John’s EN article, there are lots of comments on the page and in fact John is highly encouraging of comments and debate.  One of the comments makes note of the fact that we keep on losing horses that either die on XC or need to be euthanized following an injury.  This is true and is a really important focus we need to have, we also must not lose sight of the fact that we have and will continue to lose riders in our sport and WE must do everything in power to avoid this.

The most recent death is that of Sebastian Steiner of Austria who died on XC in Italy in September just before WEG.  At the time there was a 2 line Press Release from the Event Organisers and the FEI.  Since that time there has not been a single substantive article written about Sebastian’s incident.  We cannot allow these deaths to go unnoticed or in vain, we must learn from them, talk through them and do our best to avoid them in the future.  The “CONE OF SILENCE” helps no-one.

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8 thoughts on “Increasing awareness and discussion about Eventing Safety, FINALLY!!!

  1. Thank you for writing this, John. I was reluctant to comment at first, because I was too embarrassed by all the nice things you wrote about our podcast (it’s an english thing!), but all the points you make afterwards are too important to ignore. I’m so glad there is a site, and a person, that pulls all this information together, and keeps track of what’s happening, and not happening in the quest for improved safety. I learnt more in that one post than I can trawling the web for God knows how long. Thank you for all your excellent work, I hope we can do something again together in the future.

  2. Great article. X Cntry jump safety technology seems to be headed towards stadium type safety with “fall apart upon impact” technology. Maybe we should be headed this way: with log jump cups that would allow the log to come out with horizontal force, or release and drop with downward force.(just like the quick release stadium safety cups)…see photo of the existing log jump cup that could be modified to include downward force release technology.: http://etbjump.com/ordering/schooling/portable. Developed by Cindy Horrocks: http://www.fieldjumps.com/setups.html.

    • George, I couldn’t disagree with you more. There is a real place for selected fences and types of being frangible in some way. However, this is XC it must always include and be primarily fixed solid fences. Our focus must be on reducing horse falls and in particular rotational falls. We must not change the nature of the sport so dramatically.

      That said both options you suggest offer a great way to build variable sized fences at home for training, this is great.

      • We actually agree, as I support fixed, solid jumps too. Problem is that I sense that this is the current direction for safety for cross country …it seems to me that we will ultimately end up with a glorified OSHA approved stadium course for a xcntry sooner than you think…You say our focus must be on reducing horse falls/rotational falls ..Well, removing solid fixed fences will become the target; along with introduction of the type of release cups I’m describing. It’s certainly not cross country as far as we both would like it, but I suspect it will be where things will ultimately end up.

      • George, I certainly hope not, there are lots of us (probably not enough) working hard to find the right balance. Yes, rotational falls can help in a lot of circumstance including on a Showjump course so these types of fences may not help. What I do know is that discussions and comments like these help. When you go to an event, have a look and talk through the course with the right people including the CD & TD if you have an issue.

        I do believe we will find a balance, between the sport and getting safety right, until that day we need to work together to effect change.

  3. What a great resource, thanks for the effort! I’ll submit the following to perhaps keep the discussion going.
    The debate over the essence of xc is interesting. The desire for the fences to remain solid seems to be a popular position. The Tattersalls rider discussion group seems to indicate that many pros think that making the fences softer will make things more dangerous as people will perceive less risk and take more chances. The theory of risk compensation describes how we all have a risk tolerance threshold that we instinctively try to bump up against. Making the jumps seem safer then enables us to take more chances to satisfy our risk tolerance appetite. Riders thinking that a jump is safe will result in the rider adding speed or being less careful when approaching the fence, making the situation more dangerous, rather than less.
    One thought was to make courses stiffer so that riders would have to prepare and ride better. It was acknowledged that accidents would probably rise initially then fall as riders figure out the risk equilibrium again.
    Its easy to take this idea to its logical extreme. If a rider knows that a jump will explode on impact, she would never attempt the jump without being perfectly prepared in every detail. Perhaps the invention of the safety helmet has enabled people to ride who perhaps shouldn’t. The perception of being safe while riding in a helmet has made the sport more dangerous because more people are trying to bump up towards their risk appetite on horseback.

    • Dave you bring up a very interesting point, the whole issue of risk tolerance is one I have heard much about since taking up this project. I believe it may certainly be a factor, take cars for example, mine is 5 star safety rated with 7 airbags, stability control and ABS, not to mention all of the structural safety. Perhaps I drive it a little harder knowing that the computers should get me out of a sticky situation.

      I don’t believe that applies so much with riding a horse, I am still sitting on half a tonne of living, breathing, prey animal with a mind of its own. Horses are amazing and can get themselves out of some very tight situations, I have seen some brilliant saves by horses. But in the end, if you end up under half a tonne of flesh and blood, top quality helmets and airbags and even frangible fences can only help so much. It is going to hurt and could be very serious.

      So how do we avoid this? Yes better riding is critical, how do you make that universal? Can you get the same quality tuition in the UK, Australia or the USA, probably. But elsewhere especially in emerging nations no, so we need to make compromises. The real challenge is to make these changes without affecting the nature of the sport, I don’t know the answer but we must stick to the principle of solid fixed obstacles with frangible technology in strategic locations.

      A Course Designer I know has a simple mantra he uses “if you think you need a fence to be frangible, is it the right fence in the right location” that said he is a real advocate for frangible technology and uses it appropriately. But his goal is to build without needing it.

  4. I think it’s useful to break out all the components that influence safety including rider responsibility, rules, qualifications, coaching, course design and fence design. The problem is that we still see problems occur amongst the elite riders who usually have all the aforementioned variables under control.

    The frangible fence approach is tempting because it seems like it trumps all other variables in its potential to eliminate rotational falls.

    How much would the sport be changed in comparison to the changes seen in the last decade (ie long format abandonment) if the horses were asked to jump massive, solid looking jumps that just happen to be frangible above the height of the equine carpus?

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