Progress in reducing eventing accidents

A minute of silence was observed at the Eventing Rick management Seminar for Tom Gadsby (above), Bruno Bouvier (France) and Adrienne Hofer, Denmark's National Safety Officer.
A minute of silence was observed at the Eventing Risk Management Seminar for late eventing riders Tom Gadsby (above), and Bruno Bouvier, and Denmark’s National Safety Officer Adrienne Hofer.

Encouraging progress is being made in the quest to reduce the number of accidents in eventing, the latest FEI Eventing Risk Management seminar has revealed.

The two-day meeting in late January in Lausanne, Switzerland, was attended by 26 National Safety Officers, and representatives from 22 National Equestrian Federations.

A pin and blocks on a fence at Badminton.
A frangible pin and blocks on a fence at Badminton.

But reports from several countries also showed differences in standards and reporting, particularly among European nations. For example, France had the highest number of competitions in total, as all levels, including pony club, amateur and professional, were included in the statistics.

Data had been collected for 10 years and while reporting was still being refined, the seminar noted that falls at two, three, and four star levels were within target, but falls at one-star level – at 5.63% for 2009-13 – were slightly above the target of 5.4%.

Overall, the number of falls and accidents was lower than the previous year, and the general trend was for fewer falls at national than in international events. The seminar heard that a review would be needed to understand the reasons. “Factors could include stress, pressure of owner and/or sponsor on athlete.”

Over all levels, total falls as a percentage of starters decreased from 6.01% in 2004 to 5.26% for all levels in 2013, despite two fatal accidents. In 2013, a total of 937 falls occurred for 17,708 starters, 854 had no injuries, 60 slight injuries, and 23 serious injuries, of which two were fatal.

“The most significant percentage of falls are in 4 star level competitions with 10.48 % in 2013 against 22.34% in 2004.”

Over the last 10 years of reporting, the serious injuries statistics had improved from 4.29% to 2.24%, slight injuries had reduced from 11% to 6.4% and no injuries had increased from 84.57% to 91.14%.

However, there are differences between national federations as to what constituted “serious injury”, with moves being made to standardise such definitions.  Initially it was agreed that serious injury would mean permanent disability, and currently the reports defined serious injury as concussions and broken bones as per the British reporting system.

The percentage of total horse falls had decreased since 2004 from 2.02% to 1.59% in 2013. Non rotational falls had reduced from 1.51% in 2004 to 1.37% in 2013 as well as rotational falls passing from 0.51% in 2004 to 0.22% in 2013.

Statistics on air jacket safety vests and the use of frangible and deformable devices was also presented, but there was not enough data on either to make meaningful interpretations, the seminar heard.

In order to enhance the quality of statistics and data mining, Belgian Equestrian Federation representative Dominique Maes had started an initial review of information relating to the rider, the horse, competition type, penalties, and the fall profile.

© Mike Bain
© Mike Bain

Maes found there was enough data to demonstrate some meaningful trends but reliable information on horse and rider injuries was missing, and more information could be obtained in post-event forms. The quality of the athlete and horse injury data collection would be improved by developing a follow-up system in the database.

Among the findings were:

  • The distribution of unseated riders and horse falls at certain type of fences included more horse falls than unseated riders on open spreads.
  • There was no significant tendency for a fall to take place at a certain stage of the course (there were very few at the start and finish of a course).
  • There were a significantly higher number of unseated riders at one-star competitions.
  • The age of the rider and horses had only a slight influence.
  • There was a correlation between falls and athletes who compete with fewer horses.

A working group discussed possible improvements to information gathering, with several modifications and additions suggested on the reporting forms.

Spotlight on the federations

Several countries, including Italy, Portugal and Finland, had in recent months changed their eventing rules to align with FEI rules.

Other observations included:


In 2013 Austria experienced a decrease in both the number of falls and in the number of starters from the previous year (2012: 2139 starters, 83 falls – 3.88%;  2013: 1794 starters, 75 falls – 4.18%). This led to the implementation of dedicated training sessions for riders and officials.


The collection of statistics started in 2011. The number of athletes increased from 366 in 2011 with 18 falls (4.9%) to 588 in 2013 with 19 falls (3.2%). “Seminars for Officials, Instructors and Riders have been organised, however, few of the athletes were interested to participate,” said National Safety Officer Delano Miranda.


Statistics for 2013 showed that 300 falls occurred for a total of 6000 starters. There were no rotational falls recorded. But there were other hazards, said safety officer Rob Stevenson: “An area of concern in Canada was the rising amount of dogs and ATVs (all terrain vehicles) roaming the grounds, especially ridden by kids with no helmets. It was an emerging problem. Each province had different laws; a lot of events were run on private property. It was becoming a real problem and an enforcement of the local laws was being studied.”


Reverse qualifications have been implemented for the lower levels (pony and amateur) for the last five years. A fall on cross-country results in going back one level. Speed is controlled, athletes at least 10 seconds under optimum time are penalised one point per second, to avoid athletes taking long routes and speeding to catch up the time. Combinations with too low a dressage score could not start the cross-country.

Falls were categorised thus: Level 2: fence involved; Level 3: competitions needed interruption; Level 4: rider and/or horse transported to hospital.

France also has other rules relating to taking direct routes – if there is a refusal on a direct route fence, the rider cannot re-present on the direct route but must use the option. And at National Championships, riders not taking the direct routes were given 5 penalty points. This ensured that a rider could not win if they had taken a long route.


The qualifications for riders moving up a level were dealt with on a case by case, as only about 10 riders were concerned.

At the last National Pony Championships, six yellow cards were given because some trainers encouraged riders to increase speed. One card was given to a boy of 10 years old who didn’t understand penalties. “It was proposed to give the yellow card to the trainer however, this was a sensitive topic. It was also suggested to publish this information,” said safety officer Felicisimo Aguado Arroyo.


In 2013 there were about 68 national competitions with 1500 starters. Penalties for going over the optimum time were applied. Yellow cards were given, in 2013 some 10 to 15 for dangerous riding in comparison to only one or two in 2012. Riders were assessed every other year. Riders eliminated two or three times had to go to a lower level and re-qualify (up to 1m classes).


The number of starters over 10 years had increased to reach 59,000, for a total of about 1500 falls, of which 250 were horse falls. It was noted that the types of fences used had changed in recent years; post and rails formed 20% in 2002 and were now about 5%. Number of falls per 1000 jumps had dropped down to a flat level in the last few years. Serious injuries definition in GBR were riders going to hospital with head injury or broken bones. The number of seriously injured riders had dropped from 33 in 2002 to 7 in 2012.

The number of falls per 1000 jumps was higher at international level than at national. It was questioned whether this was due to chasing qualifications, prize money or owner pressure.

Cases where rotational falls had been avoided by the use of the frangible pin were also reported by safety officer Jonathan Clissold.


In 2013, there were 310 athlete falls; 48 were not related to a fence; 262 related to a fence; 205 were related to a refusal; 25 falls involved the horse touching the fence, and it was agreed that those falls would be examined by the course designer.

Data collection had improved via the results system; 36 parameters for each fall are entered, such as rider age and horse age. Out of 56 horse falls; 20 falls didn’t relate to a fence; 12 were without touching the fence; 32 involved the horse slipping, losing balance after landing; 24 needed a closer look, 11 of them were rotational, 6 at 1.10m and 5 at 1m.

Four horse fatalities occurred in 2013, including two major ones: King Artus at Wiesbaden (due to rupture of aorta) and P’tite Bombe at Lühmühlen. “This brought a strong critical reaction from the German media and the public,” said federation representative Philine Ganders.

The German Federation said it was considering producing a DVD on safe riding.

Research was ongoing at the University Hospital in Hamberg studying the causes of accidents and the development of protection, such as Airbag systems and helmets. A doctor with experience in severe trauma was now compulsory at cross-country competitions.

Course designer Rudiger Schwarz was also supervising the testing of safety systems, such as  frangible devices, for real-life practicality.

There was also an ongoing review of veterinary cases, assessing whether it would be beneficial to have regular screenings of Three Star horses.

“The guidelines for serious incident management were reviewed, Germany had a sensitive public therefore guidelines for press conferences were revised.”


Eventing Ireland has restructured its classes to align with Britain’s levels system.

Athletes with consecutive falls were automatically downgraded and had to complete a clear cross-country round at the level below. Downgraded athletes had to train with an approved instructor.

Ireland’s National Safety Officer Alison Packman noted that more falls occurred with riders buying day tickets. These day tickets were available up to pre-novice level for riders who were not registered with Eventing Ireland.

The Netherlands:

National Federation representative Gert Naber explained that there were many more competitors in jumping and dressage than in eventing, but a 13% increase in eventing starters was noted in 2013.

“Many riders starting eventing had difficulties understanding the rules and it was difficult to communicate with them. This could explain the higher number of falls at the lower levels,” he said.

There was a need for more competitions, he said, as competitions were often fully booked within the first five
hours, and “some riders felt they were training for nothing”.  However, Naber said a serious accident in 2011 had dented the confidence of some organisers: “A horse going too fast hit a fence which was not secured. The athlete accused the event of being responsible and their horse was worth €40,000. The rules stated the fence had to be secured and it wasn’t; the organiser had to pay.”


In 2013 there were 61 competitions, with 827 starters, 33 falls, and three horse falls, but no serious accidents, safety officer Anton Granhus said.

Qualifications included an eventing card for 80 and 90cm, adapted from the Swedish system. Three qualifying results were necessary at each level. A licence system was also in place, and being a member of a riding club was compulsory. Riders must have an accredited trainer to enter a one-star competition.

“Serious accidents were analysed; two cases had occurred in four years. One in which the rider ended up in hospital; the Course Designer was not present at the event because the organiser didn’t want to pay. A ground line had been forgotten and the horse tripped over. The other accident was with a spectator; an old lady running to the cross-country course was hit by a horse. She was sent to hospital, got an infection, and died.” It was questioned whether this case was to appear in the statistics.


National Safety Officer Tomasz Mossakowski outlined the country’s extensive education system for officials, trainers, and riders. Poland’s Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MER) included an equestrian ‘badge’ system (bronze, silver and gold), with a the test including a short dressage and jumping test on a 70cm course and a theoretical exam. Those taking the test also need some knowledge about horses and husbandry.

Poland has a system of Red and Yellow cards, with Red cards (given in cases including horse abuse) resulting in an automatic two-month suspension.

Mossakowski said there were problems at some small regional competitions “due to pressure from the owners of horses, novice riders and local organisers who wanted to organise local competitions with low standards, such as very basic ambulances, poor fence design and only one steward”.


The country had a total of 1270 starters across all levels in 2013, and a single one-star international competition was held. About 30 riders compete internationally. Safety Officer Marius Marro said the number of falls were low, and only one minor injury was reported last year.


Just one international competition was held in Slovakia in 2013, with most riders competing in other countries. Slovakia hosted its first indoor eventing competition in the last year.


In 2013, 211 events were organised with a total of 4859 starters. The 127 rider falls (2.61%) was a slight increase in the previous year, and the 14 horse falls were fewer than 2012. “One of which was an old horse who died in the middle of fences from a heart attack,” said safety officer Lars Christensson.

All riders had to be signed off by an authorised trainer before starting their first event, and before starting their first one-star competition, had to be approved by a National Coach.

The seminar heard that Ground Juries “were a weak link” and work was to be done in that area.

Sweden has also launched a three-year project called “Courses without compromises”. This was to combat the compromises being identified by organisers who stated they had no money and were using “fences with wrong profiles.”

Christensson said the aim was that in three years’ time there will be no more such courses.

The ambulance costs were studied and it was questioned whether it was strictly necessary to have an ambulance if the cross-country course was within 15 minutes of a major hospital. “The Red Cross was not active in Sweden therefore the full equipment was necessary and it was very expensive.” Discussions were currently taking place.


The US Equestrian Federation is finding frangible devices, which must be used on certain designated fences. It was also funding an ongoing heart study of horses collapsing at events.

In 2013, there were three fatalities out of 68 horses; one on the flat; another may have had an aneurysm at a fence. Riders are not penalised for falls in between fences.

“The number of falls are stable over the last four years. Unfortunately, the level of starters is also stable, which seems to be dictated by the economy,” USEF representative Roger Haller said.



A seminar for eventing National Safety Officers has been planned for January 24-25, 2015, with the location to be announced.

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