An eventing audit has identified several risk factors in cross-country horse falls, including the surprise finding that falls are more likely at fences fitted with frangible pins.
The results of the audit, led by the former director of England’s Ascot Racecourse, Charles Barnett, was presented to delegates at last week’s FEI General Assembly in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The audit was based on information taken from the FEI database for events between July 2010 and December last year.
The data covered a total of 2,184,489 jumping efforts across one-star to four-star events, with the number of horse falls totalling 1180.
There were 360 horse falls in a total of 37,836 cross-country starts at one-star level; 394 falls from 24,781 starts at two-star level; 339 falls from 12,454 starts at three-star level; and 87 falls from 1567 starts at four-star events.
The percentage of horse falls per cross-country start increased in exponential fashion from one-star to four-star, he found. About one in 100 horses per cross-country start fell at one-star level, with that figure rising to five or six horses per 100 starts at four-star level.
Barnett said it appeared that rider experience was a contributing factor in falls and wondered whether some riders were proficient enough to be competing at the highest level of the sport.
Looking at three and four-star events, Barnett identified a higher percentage of falls for lower-category riders, with category A riders least likely to fall. The highest numbers of falls was in category C. Overall, there was a decreased risk of horse falls among higher category riders at these levels, which was found to be independent of any other factors.
However, the risk of a horse fall at championship level was almost twice that compared to a standard competition, which, again, was found to be independent of all other factors, such as event level, venue or rider category.
The audit found an increased risk of horse falls at corner fences and square spreads, and a decreased risk at brush fences and ascending spreads.
Falls at jumps with frangible pins were found to be about 1.6 times more likely than at jumps without frangible pins. This, again, was independent of all other factors.
Barnett stressed, however, that more control data was necessary before any firm conclusions could be drawn.
The audit also identified greater risks from downhills fences, which were found to be roughly 1.7 times more likely to generate a fall than level or uphill fences.
Water jumps also generated more than their fair share of falls, compared to those that did not involve water. However, although there was a high risk of a horse fall for fences jumped into water, the risk of rider injury was found to be lower.
Barnett, who also analysed rider injuries as a result of a horse fall, found a series of contributing risk factors. Rider injuries resulting from a fall were 1.8 times more likely at a championship competition; 2.5 times more likely if the horse was aged seven or younger; 1.5 times more likely if the horse approached the fence too fast; 2.4 times more likely if the horse hit the fence hard; 1.9 times more likely for jumps with frangible pins; and 2.8 times more likely for a fence jumped out of water. By contrast, the risk was found to be lower for fences jumped into water.
The risk factors identified in rotational falls were the horse hitting the fence hard, the horse hitting the fence on the way up, horses aged seven or younger, and the horse approaching too fast.
Barnett told delegates that data collection needed to be more robust.
He proposed that there should be photos of all fences and that head cameras should be worn by fence judges.