Event course designers 'put horses at risk' - study

December 5, 2008

A British report into eventing says course designers are putting horses at risk with the inclusion of potentially dangerous fences. © Jan Milne

A British horse welfare charity says its research has shown that cross-country course designers are putting horses at risk of damaging falls by putting potentially dangerous fences into eventing courses.

The study was undertaken by Dr Ellen Singer at the University of Liverpool, in research funded by The Horse Trust. It is the first such epidemiological survey; previously, suggested changes to course design were based on anecdotal or descriptive information.

The research showed that fences posing the greatest threat are those with a base spread greater than 2m (6ft 6in) which are faced straight on. "Analysis shows that these cause most rotational horse falls - which in turn pose greatest risk of injury to both horse and rider. Reducing the width of these fences would make a greater contribution to safety than reducing the number of fences jumped at an angle," Dr Singer said.

The study also revealed that horses competing in one-day eventing competitions are at greater risk of falling at a drop landing compared with those competing in three-day competitions.

Speed of approach is also significant, with falls occurring both when the horse is allowed to approach an obstacle too quickly and when the rider is over-cautious.

"The challenge of the cross-country course is an essential element of the competition, but we would urge designers to take account of this research when preparing their courses and riders to think more carefully about their speed of approach," said Horse Trust chief executive Paul Jepson.

"It seems that, every year, there is the tragic death of a horse or rider. If taking account of this survey can prevent one of these tragedies, it will have more than proved its worth."

At least a dozen horses have been killed on cross-country courses in the past year. The latest fatality, Mary King's Call Again Cavalier, occurred at the weekend in an indoor horse trials event.