FEI gets serious on reducing eventing accidents

January 18, 2010

The FEI aims to reduce horse falls in eventing by 10% over the next three years. © Jan Milne

The world governing body for equestrian sport has launched a risk management plan aimed at reducing the number of horse falls in cross-country events by 10 percent.

The FEI's worldwide Eventing Risk Management Policy and Action Plan was launched at the third annual FEI Safety meeting in Malmo, Sweden, yesterday.

This is the first time that a statistical database has monitored the sport on a global basis.

The action plan is based on a six-year statistical study of the sport, and will be used to monitor risk factors in eventing, and to streamline international data and ideas to further understand the root causes of falls.

The FEI says that from 2.3 million fences jumped in international competitions since 2004, six riders have died. The FEI did not provide data on horse fatalities or the number of falls. However, Horsetalk has been noting horse and rider fatalities from all levels of the sport and in the same period has recorded 22 rider fatalities, and more than 30 horse fatalities since 2007.

FEI Secretary General Alex McLin said that in the past there had been a tendency just to count the accidents, "but we need to be more proactive and count all the near-misses too". He described the new plan as a "major step towards ensuring that our horses and riders are not exposed to unnecessary risk in what is inherently a risk sport.

"It's all part of a cultural shift in the mindset of the sport. Education is key."

Giuseppe Della Chiesa, the new chairman of the FEI Eventing Committee and the FEI Eventing Risk Management Advisor, said the new system provided a systematic approach to risk management in the sport.

"There will still be accidents, but we can use this system to better manage the risk and keep it within acceptable and accepted levels," he said.

The eventing committee data for the period from 2004-2009 shows that, despite a significant increase in the popularity of the sport - a 35% increase in the number of competitions and a 22.5% increase in the total number of starters - the percentage of horse falls had decreased from 2.02% to 1.73%. The committee aims to reduce horse falls by 10%, and by 20% at 4-star level, over the next three years.

The Risk Management Policy and Action Plan is the result of a collaborative effort between former Safety Committee Chairman David O'Connor, Giuseppe Della Chiesa, the Eventing Committee members, and FEI staff.

The Action Plan includes:

Twenty-two nations - Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden - were represented at the NSO seminar in Malmo.

Steps taken include trials with and the patenting of deformable devices in Sweden, Britain, Canada, Netherlands and Italy; initiatives by the German and Czech Republic National Federations to teach riders safer falling techniques; emphasis on style in competitions in Canada and Germany; rider licensing, exams and rule changes in France; twice yearly medical examinations in Poland and a fitness badge in Germany, plus several other national projects.

Canada's National Safety Officer Peter Gray commented: "The forum has exceeded my expectations and it will make my job easier. The presentations from each country were really useful - it's a great opportunity to see how the sport is developing worldwide and to share problems and ideas."