Eventers not ‘risk takers’ – study

Experienced eventing riders learned about minimising risk over time, an Australian study has found.
Experienced eventing riders learned about minimising risk over time, an Australian study has found. © Horsesports Photographic

It’s a risky sport and not for the faint hearted. But an Australian study of eventing riders has found that some of those taking part in horse trials are “extremely nervous or fearful during competitions”.

The 2010 study was led by Dr Kirrilly Thompson with the assistance of honours candidate Chanel Nesci, together with Dr Sophia Rainbird and Dr Matthew Thomas from the University of South Australia. It followed 22 riders from the ages of 14 to 54, from Pony Club grade 5 to international competition standard.

Not surprisingly, all of the participants thought that the sport was risky and that the
cross-country phase posed the most risk, but many of the riders said they did not take risks and did not consider themselves risk takers.

All participants in the study said they took measures to reduce or control risk, and emphasised the importance of training with qualified instructors in cross-country. “Experienced riders felt that they had learnt about risk minimisation through personal experience over time, including ‘learning from their mistakes’,” the researchers said.

An interesting aspect of the study revealed a “mind over matter” component – “many riders felt that thinking negative thoughts whilst riding could increase the chance of an accident or injury”, the study found.

The attraction of the sport for several of the participants was the thrill of the speed of the cross-country phase as much as or more than the jumping experience. “For these riders, what happened in between jumps also made the sport attractive. However, very few participants would have liked to specialise in racing or jumping only.”

In contrast to other high risk or extreme sports, eventing risk and safety was shared between the horse and rider. The horse was thus seen, paradoxically, as the source of both risk and safety. “Whilst horses were considered to a certain extent unpredictable and therefore potentially dangerous, a good relationship with a horse was considered to increase safety,” the study reported.

Among the participants’ concerns about the sport was the likelihood of injuries to their horses, such as strains to legs and tendons, that would affect soundness or longevity. Recommendations by the study authors included a suggestion that safety campaigns could take advantage of this concern, as well as the riders’ own safety concerns.

Increased training opportunities for jumping at speed could be explored, as could increased access to experienced riders and mentors, which could provide an opportunity for riders to learn from others’ experiences and incidents.

“The ability to assess the ‘safety’ of horse and rider combinations in general, on any given day, and in relation to the grade of competition and/or training course, is essential. This complex task requires further research and consideration.”

The study was the first of its kind to look at eventers’ subjective perceptions of risk. “Most sports research acknowledges human relations with inanimate technology and tools like ropes, surfboards and the environment. Little, if any, acknowledge intimate human relationships with other living creatures, as our study did in relation to horses,” the researchers said.

The study was funded by the University of South Australia’s Division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences Divisional Research Performance Fund.

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