2011 FEI Risk Management Seminar Minutes and Reports

My apologies for not getting onto this earlier but I have been away in sunny Florida.

So the FEI have released the minutes, participant list, presentations and fall statistics from the meeting held in late January. We must remember that this annual meeting is primarily National Safety Officers and is called the “FEI Eventing Risk Management Seminar”.

I must say up front that I was told in no uncertain terms prior to the meeting that the meeting was not about frangible devices or moves to develop an industrial standard. Well this seems to be exactly the case. I found a total of three references, in all of the eight documents published. All of these references were passing and include NO detail at all.

Personally I see this as a glaring omission and I will explain why.

For at least the last 12 months and for longer, but perhaps more anecdotally, we have been compiling data on the types of frangible devices used, types of fences they were used in, did they deploy or did they fail to deploy.

These are important statistics, there is NO statistical information included in the FEI Statistic on falls, fences and injuries that identify frangible devices. Just so I am being clear, there is absolutely no statistical information released by the FEI on the use of frangible fences.

I believe this information is critical to our plans and future direction. Let me explain a little first. At an FEI Competition, the TDs and CD need to fill in an extremely detailed form outlining the details of every fence included in the competition. Using this information we should be able to identify if you are more likely to have a horse fall off a left or right bend, in or out of water, up or down a hill, at a portable or fixed fence and also at a frangible or non-frangible fence.

We can also identify using the report, the profile of fences that have a statistically higher chance of causing a horse fall. We should also be able to identify if a particular profile of fence has a lower chance of producing a horse fall if a frangible device is used (and perhaps even which type of frangible device has the lowest chance of a horse fall).

All of this information is important for Officials to understand when analyzing a course and for CDs when preparing a course. Failure of frangible devices to deploy is also important information, especially when the resulting fall results in serious injury or worse. I can think of four really famous examples of failure to deploy in the last 12 months.

Was the failure to deploy a case of the perfect storm of bad circumstances or simply, a less appropriate device being used?

What I do know is that this type of information need not be highly sanitised to the point the information becomes useless, but disseminated to the people who need to know, firstly the NSO’s and secondly to the Officials who are the Individuals responsible and are responsible when something goes wrong.

I really do hope that more time was spent on discussing frangible devices and that some lost report suddenly appears on the FEI website, but I do not hold out much hope. It seems we are destined for another year of sanitised, compartmentalised and fragmented information about the sport.

One other issue I see with the statistics is that they only represent the FEI competitions. I know there are issues with getting complete information from National Federations, but hey, a complete picture on the sport would be nice. For instance the report mentions that there have been seven rider fatalities in the last 7 years. Unfortunately when you add the national competitions into the mix that number goes from 7 to 27 almost four times the rate.

Statistics are important and we must continue to work on them, however we need to extract and disseminate more meaningful and practical, applicable data that a Course Designer or Technical Delegate can use in the field where it really matters.

The documents can be read and downloaded on the FEI website here.

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FEI Eventing Committee – look at Air Vests

I am glad to see the FEI Eventing Committee have released a position on the Air Vests. The FEI have released this press statement late last week:

8 Sep 2010
Following a meeting of the FEI Eventing Committee evaluating the potential of air vests in overall rider safety on the Cross-Country phase, the Committee has recommended National Federations and riders to keep themselves informed of all the latest developments and to consider the potential benefits of their use.

The Eventing Committee will continue to monitor the evolution of this equipment, for which there are currently no internationally recognised industry standards. As part of its FEI Eventing Risk Management Policy and Action Plan, the Eventing Committee is fully committed to continuing the collection of data on all aspects of safety in the sport. Specific data on air vests will need to be evaluated in detail before any further advice on their use is issued.

“There is no doubt that air vests represent an important development in rider protection, but protective clothing is not the magic solution to rider safety. It needs to be considered in combination with active measures such as correct training, responsible riding, course design and fence construction”, Giuseppe Della Chiesa, Chair of the FEI Eventing Committee, said.

The one issue I have with this statement is that they have not come out with a clear position on the use of the vests with or without a traditional vest.  The USEA rulebook states;

2. PROTECTIVE VESTS.

a. A body protecting vest must be worn warming-up for and in the cross-country test.Stable, team or club colors are permitted. The Federation recommends that the vestshould pass or surpass the current ASTM standard F1937 or be certified by the Safety Equipment Institute. Inflatable vests are permitted only when worn over a body protectingvest. EC 3/15/10 Effective immediately

This is a clear and instructive rule that has been in place since March 2010.  I think most people are in agreement that there are some circumstances that an air vest will not deploy and thus it is not recommended as a replacement to a normal vest but is to be worn in addition to a normal vest.


Return to play and where the USEF seem to be heading

I just found this article in the Spring 2010 edition of the Eventing USA 2.0 magazine written by Captain Mark Phillips, Chef d’Equipe and Technical Advisor of US Eventing.  This is an extract of his article which is on pages 26 & 27 of the Eventing USA 2.0 magazine.

The Pine Top accidents brought many issues into focus. Not least of which is the new rule in this country that if it is possible to ‘pin’ or make a fence frangible, it now has to be done. The pins are free, courtesy of the USEF, so there are no excuses in the future.

Secondly, the concussion incidents at Pine Top highlight once again the inadequacy of the USEF ‘return to play’ policy. In Europe it’s very simple; if you have a concussion you are suspended for three weeks unless you go to a neurosurgeon and have an ‘impact’ test. Only then can you get back to compete sooner. Rusty Lowe who has done so much for safety in the sport of eventing in the U.S., has been a strong proponent of this rule, and I understand that Malcolm Hook, (USEF National Safety Officer and USEA VP Competitions) and the USEA Safety Committee led by USEA Vice President, Carol Kozlowski, are planning to put this proposal on the agenda for an upcoming meeting of the Board of Governors and fully expect it to go forward as a rule change to the USEF this year.

In the same vein, I believe that a USEA ICP certified coach is essential for all riders competing at USEA events. After all, everyone is in agreement that the fastest way to a safer sport is through better coaching. I fully expect that in ten years all coaches at USEA competitions will be ICP certified and I call upon the leadership of the USEA to work towards this goal. Becoming certified certainly shouldn’t cramp anyone’s style if they are a good enough coach. In the meantime, I stand in the collecting ring and warm-up areas feeling immensely sorry for all those people paying for and listening to often dangerous advice from their coaches at USEA affiliated events.

Mark and many of his contemporaries including Lucinda Green have been very public and vocal that one of the most critical steps to increasing safety in Eventing is to lift the level and quality of coaching.  Many riders come to Eventing from numerous different avenues including starting out as adult riders.  Fewer are having grown into the sport through Pony Club where a focus is on horsemanship not just learning to ride.

There is also a movement in some countries that teaching riders to fall safely can help to reduce injuries.  Personally, I think this may help for smaller falls but when your in a rotational fall, it is not your landing that is the issue but the horse landing on you that causes the issue.

So YES, it is definitely important to teach riders to become better “Horseman”, and learning to fall cannot hurt (well it might, but a great skill to have). But reducing rotational falls is simply the area of focus which will reduce the number of serious injuries and fatalities.  The most recent death in our sport was a 16 year old young lady in Russia (an emerging Eventing Nation), read my story here.

We all need to consider the factors of “Return to Play” and how having a heady injury can affect your performance, not just on the day but in the weeks following.  For instance in the UK, British Eventing will place any rider who has had a head injury that results in a loss of consciousness on a mandatory minimum 21 day “Medical Suspension”.  At the end of the suspension written approval from a medical specialist (i.e. Neurologist) is required and must be approved by British Eventing before a rider can return to competition at both BE and FEI events.

Here is an extract from the BE Rule Book explaining a “Medical Suspension”

vii. Falls and Suspensions

Falls – Any Competitor who has had a fall or sustains a serious injury anywhere at the competition site must see the Doctor and be passed fit to ride before riding that horse in a further test (Show Jumping or Cross Country) or before riding any other horse. After a fall in the dressage, the BE Steward may, after discussion with the ambulance personnel, give permission for a rider to ride again, if no doctor is present.

Suspensions – The doctor may decide that the Competitor is so badly hurt that he should be medically suspended. Such a suspension will either be for a stated period or of unspecified duration. Details will be recorded on the rider’s BE Medical Card.

In the case of a head injury (or other injury likely to cause concussion) the following applies:

a. No loss of consciousness and no sign of concussion – No mandatory suspension;

b. No loss of consciousness but with brief symptoms of concussion (all symptoms of concussion must have resolved within 15 minutes both at rest and exercise) – minimum of 7 days mandatory suspension;

c. Any loss of consciousness, however brief, or symptoms of concussion persisting after 15 minutes – minimum 21 days mandatory suspension.

The day of injury counts as the first day of the suspension period.

After suspension the rider may not compete in any competition to which these rules apply nor in any FEI competition until:
a. Any period of suspension, whether stated to be minimum or not, has elapsed and the rider has written confirmation that he is fit to compete in Events from a Registered Medical Practitioner and the contents of the written confirmation have been communicated to BE;
OR
b. The rider has written confirmation that he is fit to compete in Events from a Registered Medical Practitioner accepted as appropriate (e.g. a neurologist) by the Chief Medical Officer and the contents of the written confirmation have been communicated to BE.
If a rider is taken to hospital from an Event without having his Medical Card completed by the doctor, a minimum 21 days mandatory suspension shall automatically apply in respect of a head, or other, injury likely to cause concussion. In the case of other injuries the rider may not compete until he has obtained written confirmation that he is fit to compete in Events from a Registered Medical Practitioner and the contents have been communicated to BE.
A copy of any written confirmation of fitness to compete must be supplied to BE if required by the Chief Executive.
A rider who has been medically suspended from competition must supply written confirmation of fitness to compete to BE office before resuming competition.
Alternatively a copy of the document may be faxed to Carolyn Simm (02476 697235) or scanned and emailed to carolyn.simm@britisheventing.com

Some people consider this rule to be too tough, a Medical Suspension rule similar to this was actually introduced into the FEI rules on 1 July 2009.  This rule 519.3 was then removed (in the main) on 1 January 2010.  No public explanation has been given for this reversal.

So what can you do as a rider to help improve safety in Eventing.

Start with yourself

  • Do you have an experienced and qualified instructor? If not, get one
  • Do you have even experience and appropriate horsepower to be riding at the level you do?
  • Have  you got and always wear the best quality safety helmet you can afford?  Read this to see what happened to Oli Townend’s helmet after his Rolex fall.
  • Do you have a top quality Back Protector Vest?  The best you can afford
  • Do you have an air jacket?  If you can afford to Event you can’t afford not to wear one, if may save your life! Point Two or Hit Air Airbag Vest
  • If you see something on the Cross Country Course or for that matter at an Event that you are not sure about, find the Technical Delegate and ask, we are not scary and better safe than sorry.

We all need to be part of the solution, so if you are not sure please speak up, for the sake of our sport.

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We all need to be involved in the solution

From Grant Johnston FEI I Course Designer

As an International Course Designer and Builder, the one thing I can note is that we are always trying to build jumps as safely as possible.

I also note that at some of the major events this year in the UK and USA, that some of the frangible pin technology DID NOT fail when it should have. This may have been because the pins were not correctly installed, possibly the way the horse hit the fence meant that there was not enough pressure going ‘down’ or it could have been that the pins simply were not appropriate for the style of the fence.

I would hope that we in Australia could encourage Eventing NSW to lobby Equestrian Australia to provide funds for Course Safety improvements. Not only to provide ‘pins’ and the like freely to event organisers (there are also plenty of other safety improvements out there now besides pins), but also provide funding so both our professional and amatuer course builders, Course Designers AND Technical Delegates are shown HOW to install them and what situations they are appropriate.

There is no doubt that many of the new safety devices currently in use are expensive so many event organisers in Oz shy away from this due to budget constraints, which means that we need our governing body to assist in providing funds to make it more achievable for event organisers to make it safer… The other option will simply be, that for event organisers to make it viable they have to continue to increase entry fees, something which most riders DON’T want to see.

After spending some time in Europe this year at Badminton and other events, If I were still riding today, I would be investing in every technology I could to protect myself. A high quality body protector, an air jacket, the safest helmet my budget could afford and I wouldn’t ride ‘yanga’s’…

Also as a rider, I would be happy to put in for a ‘sinking’ fund that would not only assist in making our courses better, but also make the courses ‘SAFER’.

Riders need to lobby for this to happen.. It won’t happen on it’s own.

My Response

Thanks Grant I agree. In the US frangible pins are required and provided FREE by the USEF to all Events. NO limits. In Holland the cardboard poles are also REQUIRED and FREE to EVERY event, I think the Dutch add $2.5 euros to every entry to cover cost of poles and transport.

BUT that is only the first step. No point having them if people don’t know how to use them:

A.In the correct situation, on the right fences at the right height, weight, etc.
B How to install them correctly.

The best example of instructions I have found, and indeed the ONLY real one, is from the USEA, This document is constantly evolving to meet the changes, lessons learned and keep up with standards.

Here is the link for the USEA page on my site and here is the actual document.

As for the NEW technology, I too have been lucky enough to see the Mim Clip and ProLog in action this year. Both hold huge promise. Course Builders, Organisers, Federations and the FEI need to use, test, report, share and build a bank of data that can help us get to where we are currently with the frangible pins now, much quicker.

No excuses, no umming and arrring, JUST DO IT, because the quicker we get it right the more lives we will save, that simple. in the meantime, we must test in competition at ALL levels and sometimes we will NOT get it right, but better to fail trying than not at all.

As for here in Australia, to date, other than the fall study which is now a few years old. I have been unable to find ANY documents, minutes, guidelines or anything else related specifically to Eventing – Safety or Risk Management (whichever floats your boats) that has been produced here in Australia.

We need to seriously pull our fingers out and get on the front foot, support our Officials, Designers/Builders, Organisers and most importantly Horses & Riders and get this right.

I know first hand that the average small competition in Australia can’t afford to put the 6-10 frangible fences they need in. BUT can we as a sport afford for them NOT TOO. It is only a matter of time before we lose another rider in Australia. We don’t want to be in a position to say, that fence would have been pinned (or other) if we could afford it.