Saturday, November 24, 2007

Eyes Wide Open

EDITED: The context of this post is extrapolated from the discussion and work of others online. Specifically, the compiled list of eventing fatalities was referenced from a discussion thread on the Chronicle of the Horse Forums. All references to the list should include the original citation. Please also note that this post was originally uploaded 11/24/2007 and considerable discussion and energies have taken place by all interested parties. The information contained within it should be considered dated.

I haven't ridden since the last dressage show, letting both Brego and myself unwind. I have been using my "riding" time to study up on the cerebral aspects of the sport, read some interesting dressage books, and generally try to enrich my knowledge of horses.

But then I saw this thread of Chronicle of the Horse announcing Eleanor's death. There's been a lot of discussion on the event forum there about the deaths this year during competitions. Although I tend to consider upper-level eventing and what Brego and I do as different sports, 11 deaths in a year is seriously sobering.

What is going on? Is it the demise of the long format, the infusion of of warmbloods, more technical courses? In this post, someone details what they have found researching.

A list of eventing deaths from August 2006 - November 2007:

Sherelle Duke (IRE), 28, 08/20/06, Brockenhurst (UK), Advanced HT, rotational fall, horse fell on rider, head injuries

Mia Eriksson (USA), 17, 11/04/06, Galway Downs, CCI**, Fence #19, rotational fall, horse fell on rider, ruptured aorta

Kim Hyung Chil (KOR), 47, 12/07/06, Doha, Asian Games CCI*, Fence #8, table (1.08m in height), rotational fall, horse fell on rider’s head and upper body

Amanda Bader (USA), 32, 02/17/07, Ocala, Preliminary HT, Fence #13, table, rotational fall, horse fell on rider, head/neck injuries

Amelie Cohen (FRA), 30, 03/11/07, Fontainebleau, Novice, Fence #7, rotational fall, horse fell on rider

Jo-Anne Williams (UK), 34, 04/18/07 Sapey ODE, Novice, Fence #8, ‘bench-style obstacle’, horse somersaulted, rider thrown clear, displaced aorta (inoperable), also reported as head injury

Julie Silly (FRA), 17, 05/05/07, Novice HT, Jardy, ‘straightforward fence’, rotational fall, horse fell on rider

Elin Stalberg (SWE), 19, 07/21/07, Bollnas, CCI** or CIC**, 3rd last fence, corner, rotational fall, horse fell on rider

Tina Richter-Vietor (GER) , 32, 08/04/07 , CIC** Schenefeld , Fence #2, ‘easy-type’ fence, rotational fall, horse somersaulted and rider ‘catapulted out of saddle’, broken neck

Anke Wolfe (GER), 40, 08/15/07, Neu-Wulmsdorf, Novice HT, final fence, rotational fall, horse fell on rider

Maia Boutanos (FRA), 29, 09/01/07, Moulin-Coulandon, Novice HT, Fence #5b, ‘fall of horse and rider’, ‘obstacle not fixed’ according to regulations

Eleanor Brennan (UK), 20, 11/17/07, Ocala CCI**, Fence #18, table, rotational fall, horse fell on rider, head and chest injuries

(Note: in this list, the European Novice is the equivalent of our Prelim level)

The killer is rotational falls, at speed, over Prelim or higher fences which cause horses to land on the rider's head and chest. Rotational falls occur at the lower levels, up past 3' or so, but the speed is not as big of a factor and the rider is thrown clear or the horse lands on the legs and pelvis. And of course, the table fence, which killed Eleanor, is strikingly present in the list.

A lot people want answers, and of course, I want the USEA to address it, or at least admit there is a problem. Eleven deaths all due to a similar fall is not a statistical abnormality. While I do not believe we can lay the blame solely at the demise of the long format, there is a certain amount of fallout from the way courses are built today. I think Denny Emerson said it best in his post on Chronicle of the Horse:
There will be some rule maven on here who can correct me if I`m wrong, but I`m pretty sure that the speeds of 520 for prel, 550 for int, and 570 for adv have been the same since I started eventing in 1962.
But the x-c courses are very different than "back when."
Nobody who has been really "in the sport" for say, 15-20 years, will argue that many, if not most x-c courses have become much more technical.
This past summer someone was describing some advanced track they`d just watched as being like "a three mile Hickstead Jumping Derby over solid obstacles."
But the way horses generally get faults in jumping derbies is by having the rails fall down, not the horses.
As horses have to be slowed down and set up to negotiate technical questions, it then stands to reason that, in order to make time, the riders will "book" at the fairly straightforward ones.
Even our very greatest, Bruce, Mark Todd, Blyth Tait, have missed and had crashing falls, so what chance does a mere mortal have to always get the right distance on a horse that is "flying low" at high speeds, often tired, to make the time?
Sure, you say, the rider doesn`t have to make the time, he/she can slow down and ride better distances from better balance, but good eventers are first and foremost competitive people who want to do well.
I know, partly because I am one, and because I`ve spent the last 45 years in close proximity to thousands of them.
So if we are determined that we want more technical xc courses, and it seems we do, then I think our speeds may well be outmoded.
Heck, we`ve already done away with the heart of "speed and endurance", why not go the rest of the way and try lowering speeds by, lets say, 20 meters a minute, to 500, 530, and 550 for the 3 upper levels?
It might not be the answer, but at this point, we better try something, probably a number of somethings, if we want this sport to survive.
The way it`s going now has got to change, and fast, or some outside entity will change it for us, which might not be the worst thing in the world if we are found to be unable to police our own sport for the wellbeing of its participants.
I am way past thinking "It`s just an accident, and accidents will happen."
Not like this, not this many, no way.
For many reasons, I have capped Brego's competitive jumping height at 3'. I will not ask him to compete higher than Novice in eventing. But after reading about the upper levels of the sport, and I am not even going to start talking about horse deaths which is a much larger number, I think I might cap myself as well. Everyone told me at my first eventing clinic that I would outgrow Brego's abilities and need to get a proper eventer. Well, what if I don't want to outgrow them? Three foot solid fences is still looking pretty big to me and we have so much to learn to even get to that level of competition. By the time we get there, eventing may not even exist in its current form, having been sanitized into jumping derbies + high level dressage by the public outcry.

I don't have any answers. The only comfort I have is that I trust my horse, and I know we can be partners for the foreseeable future, with no pressure to move up to where the consequences of a mistake are too grim. Everybody be safe out there.


Beckz said...

I agree the times are too tight. I evented over your Prelim height and the only time I made time I was flying! I still think there will be fatal falls though.

If you miss your spot into a solid fence and your horse leaves a leg behind theres basically nothing you can do and these accidents will continue to happen. I have always thought that when you go cross country you take your life into your own hands and should be aware of the risks before you start. Riding anytime is a dangerous thing and add solid fences and speed- its bound to happen.

I total agree only event a horse you trust.

Daun said...

Love your blog!

I do agree that accidents will happen, especially with solid fences and at speed. But I am at the point, that these 11 deaths are not all just freak 1-in-a-million accidents. There is an underlying causative factor, maybe more than one. Maybe there's too many neophytes running the big courses, but most of the riders had plenty of experience. Maybe the courses are just too technical. There were 5 corners on Eleanor's course before she fell at the table.

Yes, eventing is damn risky. But frangible pins have helped a rider, perhaps we need to come up with an equivalent for tables. Or slow it down a bit to compensate for the incredibly technical courses.

I just know I am going to hedge my bets and stay below the magical 3'6" height where horses start chesting jumps and rotating.

Thanks for your comments as always!!