updated March 17, 2008


Darren Chiacchia pictured at the Pan American Games riding Better I Do It.
© Ken Braddick/FEI

Florida's prestigious Red Hills Horse Trials have been marred by the serious injury of an Olympic prospect and the deaths of two horses.

Top US eventer Darren Chiacchia was airlifted to hospital in Tallahassee, after a fall in the cross-country phase of the preliminary event yesterday.

Chiacchia fell from Baron Verdi at fence 5C, when the horse took a misstep which led to a somersault. Baron Verdi was uninjured in the fall, but Chiacchia suffered a serious head injury, a collapsed and bleeding left lung, and four broken ribs.

Chiacchia sustained a severe head injury, and also contusions to both lungs with multiple rib fractures and a partially collapsed lung. Initial concerns about spinal injury were alleviated after extensive specialized testing. His pulmonary function is improving, but the major concern remains the head injury. His overall condition shows definite improvement, but he remains unconscious.

Family and friends at the hospital report that Darren is still in critical condition in the Neuro Intensive care unit at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, but is now showing definite signs of improvement.

Baron Verdi was the first of Chiacchia's six rides; he was to have started Better I Do It and Dun To A T in the World Cup class, Tragumna in the three-star, and Hanno and Fantastik in the preliminiary class.

After the cross-country in the CIC 3 * World Cup class, Clark Montgomery and Up Spirit are leading on 57.5 penalties, with Allison Springer (Arthur, 63.4) second, and Karen O'Connor (Allstar, 63.7) third.


Direct Merger
© US Eventing Association
Jonathan Holling's mount Direct Merger collapsed and died near fence eight, the mouse trap and edge, during the World Cup class.

A necropsy will be performed at the University of Florida. Holling was uninjured in the fall.

In a statement, Holling thanked organizers and veterinary stafff of the Red Hills Horse Trials "for their quick response to the tragic events that occurred today.

"The accident was in no way related to a jump on course ... I would like to thank everyone for their concern and friendship during this difficult time. I lost a great partner in Direct Merger today, and he will greatly missed."


Leprechaun's Rowdy Boy
© US Eventing Association
At fence 17, Missy Miller and Leprechaun's Rowdy Boy fell while negotiating the two-jump combination. A statement from the Red Hills Horse Trials said Leprechaun's Rowdy Boy died instantly in the fall, but a spectator said she saw the horse go into convulsions for several seconds after hitting his head on a jump as he fell. A necropsy will be performed on the horse at the University of Florida.

Event organisers are holding a press conference at the end of the competition to discuss the accidents.

Red Hills features a challenging cross-country course designed by Captain Mark Phillips, Chef d'Equipe and Technical Advisor for the United States Equestrian Team and a former member of the British Olympic team.

The cross-country course was originally built by Scotland's Hugh Lochore, and is set in the central area of a 120-acre indigenous plant/horticultural park owned by Tallahassee ecologist and horse enthusiast Colin Phipps. It features a variety of formidable obstacles, including water, banks and ditches, which wind through Phipps' arboretum. Red Hills' new course builder is Eric Bull, from Scottsville, Virginia.