US engineers look to develop safer horse jumps

October 9, 2008


Joe Meyer and Black Andy come to grief on the cross-country at Burghley. © 2008 Adam Wynne

Cross-country course designers and engineers are teaming up in the US to develop safer jumps to help prevent serious horse and rider injuries and deaths.

Course builder and designers, including US Equestrian Federation President and licensed course designer David O'Connor, will join with faculty and students at the University of Kentucky, forming a multidisciplinary team to develop and demonstrate additional frangible technology for cross-country fences.

Frangible technology, often referred to as "breakaway fences", must be based on sound engineering principles; it is not as simple as making fences that fall down when impacted. Ill-designed frangible technology can cause more problems than it is intended to prevent. This is an important project and will be costly in terms of testing and development. The USEF has launched a fundraising campaign to support the programme, with a goal of $150,000.

From December 1, all cross-country obstacles at horse trials events must be constructed with approved frangible technology if appropriate, under new rules mandated by the USEF.

The USEF held a Safety Summit in June in association with the US Eventing Association, at which USEF chief executive David Long said: "Our sport is in trouble." More than 250 people gathered at the forum, which discussed steps to improve the safety of the sport for both horse and rider.


Over safely: a young rider at a pony club event successfully tackles a cross-country jump.
Five riders have been killed on cross-country courses in the past year around the world, and at least that number have suffered serious injuries. Eight horses have been killed in the same period.

The Kentucky team expects to build on the extensive prior work of the Transportation Research Laboratory and Bristol University in Great Britain. The engineers plan to evaluate prototype and full scale jump concepts that course designers and course builders are developing.

"The University of Kentucky was connected with the USEF by a member of the Engineering Advisory Board," said Dr. Eric Grulke, Associate Dean for Research.

"We leapt at the chance to participate in this project, which has such importance for our state. We are excited to be teaming with such an experienced group of designers. We are going to research ways to make safer jumps through new and improved materials, different construction and better design. With work in all three areas, we think we can build revolutionary and safer eventing jumps."

"We are excited to be partnering with the University of Kentucky to help design the next generation of cross country fences so that all of us can continue to enjoy the sport," said O'Connor.