Less experienced Eventing riders in 3- and 4-star events face scrutiny

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The FEI has published an audit of Eventing it commissioned. © Al Crook
The FEI has published an audit of Eventing it commissioned. © Al Crook

Horse-sport regulators may want to consider requiring additional qualifications before permitting less experienced Eventing riders to enter three-star or four-star competitions, researchers suggest.

The research was commissioned by the former director of England’s Ascot Racecourse, Charles Barnett, for the FEI as part of an audit into Eventing he was conducting on behalf of the world governing body. The FEI has just published the full report, which incorporates an analysis of risk factors for cross country horse falls, on its website.

An analysis of horse falls related to jumping efforts during the cross country in FEI Eventing competitions was carried out by researchers at the University of Bristol and the University of Liverpool.

The researchers explored rider category by event level, as there were proportionally more non-categorised riders competing at the lower levels.

“At all levels, non-categorised riders were more likely to have had a horse fall than categorised riders,” the researchers said.

“The difference was most evident at three-star and four-star levels.”

They found very few horse-related factors consistently associated with an increased or decreased risk of a horse fall.

Event level was one of the strongest risk factors for a horse fall, they said, with a progressive increase in the likelihood of a fall at the higher levels, especially for Category D and non-categorised riders.

“In particular, there was a higher likelihood of a horse fall, and horse injury, at four-star events. These are usually the most high profile, public facing competitions.

“However, there are fewer competitors at four-star levels, and our analysis showed that in order to reduce the total number of horse falls, the demands of two-star and three-star levels should also be explored.

“We therefore recommend that the qualification system be reviewed for all levels.”

They said rider category was also one of the strongest risk factors when considered in conjunction with event level.

“Higher category (more experienced) riders were less likely to have a horse fall than lower category or non-categorised riders.

“The FEI may wish to consider additional qualifications before permitting non-category or Category D riders to enter three-star or four-star events.

“With the large numbers of non-categorised riders, perhaps further stratification of this group by experience level might be beneficial?”

They also found an increased likelihood of a horse fall and rider injury at championship level competition, compared to standard competitions. This may be due to entry qualifications and/or an effect of increased pressure on the rider.

There was also a significant difference in the likelihood of a horse fall at different venues. This was independent of event level.

“This finding could be connected to factors inherent in the venue such as terrain, course design or individual competition qualification,” they said.

The researchers also traversed fence-related risks, which were detailed in the first phase of the research. There was 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.

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 noted in his findings that riders had been categorised since 2013. “It has undoubtedly had a beneficial effect on the sport.

“Some riders, with whom I spoke, made the argument that it is hard to break into the top/elite level of the sport. This is no different from many other sports and actually should help with quality at the top
level, and the consequential safety.”

The analysis showed that Category A riders were the least likely to be involved in a horse fall, he noted.

“A review of rider qualification would be worthwhile,” Barnett said. “As riders in the lower categories (or uncategorized) were more likely to have had a horse-fall when competing at the higher levels, excluding these riders from the higher graded events should be considered.

“Indeed, as there are so many riders who fit into the non-categorised group, it may be the moment to create a further level of rider category below D.

“It might also be appropriate now to prevent riders who fit into the non-categorised group, and maybe even Category D riders, from participating in three-star and four-star events.”

He said categorisation, coupled with the Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MER) system, should help prevent riders getting into events that are beyond them, where the risks are greater.

Barnett said the MER system had undoubtedly had a significant and beneficial effect on preventing
unsuitable combinations entering events in which they were not capable of competing.

“Almost all the riders to whom I have spoken feel the system is good and does ensure, to some extent, that unsuitable partnerships do not get out of their depth. However, the rider categorization system can hinder a rider with one good horse climbing up the ladder.”

Barnett’s main recommendations include:

  • Making improvements to certain aspects of the data collection process and analysis;
  • The further development of officials worldwide and the appointment, and payment, of course designers and the ground jury at four-star and three-star events by the FEI centrally rather than their appointment by the organisers from an FEI approved list;
  • The appointment and payment by the FEI of an assistant to the course designer at four-star and three-star events;
  • The televising of all four-star and three-star events and the broadcast of this to spectators at the
    events;
  • A way of making it easy for spectators to follow the sport by proper branding on the riders and a means of identifying the relative positions of the riders at each stage of the competition, most importantly the cross country phase; and,
  • The establishment of a working party to consider radical and shortened versions of the sport to enhance public engagement and produce results of competition in real time.

His full report can be found here

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