The eventing season is building momentum both here and in the Northern Hemisphere. I can hardly wait.
There’s nothing like a tragic accident to either a horse or rider to liven up a dull news day, usually a Monday or Tuesday, after the weekend’s carnage is revealed in the light of day.
A quick look down our list of horse and rider casualties shows that injuries to mount and man (and woman) occur throughout the world in virtually every month of the year. There is no let-up, though no riders have died for their sport since Irish eventer Ian Olding last April. Our list is not official and probably not exhaustive, though we’re working on it. Since 2007 we’ve noted 22 rider fatalities, and more than 30 horse deaths. (What sporting organisation publicises their casualties, unless it has to?)
We’ve also written plenty about eventing safety and the new measures being introduced to stem the number of deaths and injuries. But the numbers don’t really suggest that much progress is being made. There are copious mind-numbing statistics available on the number of obstacles jumped and the number of riders and competitions. But the bottom line showing deaths and injuries remains, to me, anyway, unacceptable.
So what is the answer?
Sure, there are new jump designs being introduced to make rotational falls less likely. Some jumps will break away when hit by a horse, thus preventing somersault injuries. That’s a good start.
Education on safe riding is part of the FEI’s action plan to reduce accidents, and guidelines on cross-country course design to minimise risk have also been recommended.
But tell that to a rider galloping helter-skelter to make the finish line in the allotted time on a flagging mount, whose ranking, livelihood, and future quite possibly depend on a good placing.
And never mind the jumps – too many event horses have died in recent years without an obstacle being involved.
Frankly, I’d like to see some sort of metabolic measurement added to eventing. Something like how endurance horses are vet checked after each distance loop for heart rate, dehydration, soundness (not just the legs), and so on.
If the horse’s heart rate is too high after the cross-country, and fails to drop to a reasonable level, they’re out. An elevated heart rate can suggest many issues, most notably fitness.
But I doubt such changes would get traction. Imagine the cost.