Top US eventer injured, two horses die at event


Florida’s prestigious Red Hills Horse Trials have been marred by the serious injury of an Olympic prospect and the deaths of two horses.

Top US eventer Darren Chiacchia was airlifted to hospital in Tallahassee, after a fall in the cross-country phase of the preliminary event yesterday.

Chiacchia fell from Baron Verdi at fence 5C, when the horse took a misstep which led to a somersault. Baron Verdi was uninjured in the fall, but Chiacchia suffered a serious head injury, a collapsed and bleeding left lung, and four broken ribs.

Initial concerns about spinal injury were alleviated after extensive specialized testing. His pulmonary function is improving, but the major concern remains the head injury. His overall condition shows definite improvement, but he remains unconscious.

Baron Verdi was the first of Chiacchia’s six rides; he was to have started Better I Do It and Dun To A T in the World Cup class, Tragumna in the three-star, and Hanno and Fantastik in the preliminary class.

Jonathan Holling’s mount Direct Merger collapsed and died near fence eight, the mouse trap and edge, during the World Cup class.

A necropsy will be performed at the University of Florida. Holling was uninjured in the fall.

In a statement, Holling thanked organizers and veterinary staff of the Red Hills Horse Trials “for their quick response to the tragic events that occurred today.

“The accident was in no way related to a jump on course … I would like to thank everyone for their concern and friendship during this difficult time. I lost a great partner in Direct Merger today, and he will greatly missed.”

At fence 17, Missy Miller and Leprechaun’s Rowdy Boy fell while negotiating the two-jump combination. A statement from the Red Hills Horse Trials said Leprechaun’s Rowdy Boy died instantly in the fall, but a spectator said she saw the horse go into convulsions for several seconds after hitting his head on a jump as he fell. A necropsy will be performed on the horse at the University of Florida.

Event organisers are holding a press conference at the end of the competition to discuss the accidents.

Red Hills features a challenging cross-country course designed by Captain Mark Phillips, Chef d’Equipe and Technical Advisor for the United States Equestrian Team and a former member of the British Olympic team.

The cross-country course was originally built by Scotland’s Hugh Lochore, and is set in the central area of a 120-acre indigenous plant/horticultural park owned by Tallahassee ecologist and horse enthusiast Colin Phipps. It features a variety of formidable obstacles, including water, banks and ditches, which wind through Phipps’ arboretum. Red Hills’ new course builder is Eric Bull, from Scottsville, Virginia.

Event horses died of pulmonary hemorrhage

March 19, 2008

The two horses who died during the cross-country at the Red Hills Horse Trials in Florida at the weekend both succumbed to pulmonary hemorrhage, according to post mortems.

The post-mortem examinations on Direct Merger and Leprechaun’s Rowdy Boy were carried out by the Large Animal Clinical Sciences Department of The University of Florida.

“Despite the excellent organization of the Red Hills Horse Trials, the competent veterinary team on site, and the rapid response in both cases, nothing could be done to save these horses and there are no known methods to have prevented these rare occurrences,” the report stated.

According to Eleanor Green, DVM, Chief of Staff, Large Animal Hospital, University of Florida, complete post-mortem examinations were performed on both horses, Saturday evening, March 15, 2008. The owners gave permission to share information about the cause of death.

Preliminary results have indicated that Direct Merger, ridden by Jonathon Hollings, died because of pulmonary hemorrhage, which is bleeding into the lungs. Leprechaun’s Rowdy Boy, ridden by Missy Miller, also had a pulmonary hemorrhage; in addition, and during the fall at the jump, the animal sustained a severe fracture between the third and fourth cervical vertebrae of his neck.

Fatal pulmonary hemorrhage is a rare condition in elite equine athletes, yet it is at the top of the list of possible causes in cases of sudden death during exertion.

The scenario is similar to sudden death from heart disorder in basketball players, in that the occurrence is very uncommon, while a heart disorder would be the most likely cause when a young, healthy athlete dies acutely during exertion. It is exceedingly rare for two horses to be affected on the same day during the same competition,” the report concluded.

Dr. Mike Sigman, DVM, Veterinary Delegate of the Federation Equestrian Internationale which oversees eventing competitions worldwide, headed the Veterinary team at the Red Hills Event. Sigman said “consideration for horse safety and response to incidents is always exceptional at Red Hills. Both incidents were handled as well as possible. Everything that could have been to aid these two horses was done. If we could have saved the animals we would have. Unfortunately, no-one could have helped them. When speed is involved in any sport, accidents will happen.”

Thomas Barron, Board Chairman of the Red Hills organization, said, “safety of the mounts, riders and spectators is a top priority of this event every year. Our Safety Plan is reviewed and revised after each Trial. We have Emergency Medical personnel on site as well as Veterinarians. Nothing is left to chance. We require riders to wear appropriate safety gear, as do other events of this kind. But like any sport, there are always risks involved. We deeply regret the accidents which took place over the weekend.”

“Since its inception, the Red Hills Course has been designed by Mark Phillips, US Olympic Equestrian Coach, and riders planning to enter the event are provided a description of the course, terrain and course difficulty well in advance. Mark Phillips is a recognized authority in his field. His courses are designed to safely test the ability of horse and rider. There will always be situations where a horse will refuse to go over an obstacle for some reason, and this weekend was no exception, but the refusals were scattered about the course as they have been in previous years,” Barron said.

Darren Chiacchia, a member of the US Olympic eventing team, was injured in a fall on the Red Hills Cross Country Course on Saturday. He is in intensive care at Tallahassee Memorial Regional Medical Center with head injuries, but is gradually showing improvement in his condition.

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