Crash Notes from Rolex XC

First off, let me say that Rolex volunteers are AWESOME, and the veterinary team is simply spectacular.  Each and every horse was monitored very closely the whole way around the course, and an experienced veterinarian was stationed at every numbered obstacle.  The horse’s well-being was priority #1, and everyone did a great job communicating and attending to any issues.  The medical team was spectacular as well, and delivered Oliver to the  helicopter quickly and safely.  There is a lot of behind-the-scenes effort that spectators don’t see, but it is always there in case something happens.  

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There were six falls on course at Rolex on Saturday, and we know now that all the horses and riders are alright.

Mushroom: Jennifer Wooten-Dafoe and The Good Witch hit fence #3 and fell on the landing side.  The fall was not rotational.  Both walked away.

Duck Pond: Michael Pollard and Wonderful Will fell at #6A, the first element of the first water.  This fall was not a classic rotational, but both horse and rider fell on the water side of the fence.  Both walked away.

CoffinDorothy Crowell and Radio Flyer experienced a rotational fall at the first element of the coffin.  Dorothy was lucky she fell far enough down the slope that the horse did not land on her.  Both Dorothy and Red walked away.

The Hollow: Kristi Nunnink and R-Star tumbled down both the banks.  Kristi and R-Star were both up quickly and walked away, but Kristi’s shoulder started to swell.  She was taken to the hospital and released later Saturday afternoon.

Tara Ziegler and Buckingham Place rotated over the first element and fell over the first bank. Both walked away.
Oliver Townend and Ashdale Cruise Master had a rotational fall and Ashdale Cruise Master fell on top of Oliver.  
From the Universal Sports free streaming online video replay, you can see the following incidents:

DOROTHY CROWELL / RADIO FLYER fall at the coffin  1:57:49  (not for the faint of heart)

GEOFF CURRAN / THE JUMP JET breaks the log at the Lake   3:57:15

OLIVER TOWNEND / CRUISE MASTER fall at the Hollow   4:43:51  (one of the scariest falls I’ve ever seen)

5 of the falls happened at vertical hanging logs that employed frangible pins, and the frangible pins did not break in any of the incidences.  Important: It should be noted that frangible pins do not break under any and all circumstances; only when enough loading force is applied in the right way.  Another important thing to remember is that we are dealing with a very small (5) sample size of incidents from Saturday.  Frangible pins have undergone considerable scientific research and study using much larger data sets.
Reproducing the exact circumstance (speed, conditions, direction of force, etc.) are scientifically infeasible and we are left using video and reports from experts to analyze the performance of the pins.  We (Visionaire and I) spoke with several educated and influential sources who witnessed the falls in person and will undoubtedly be part of any official inquiry into the performance of the pins.
The consensus was that in three of the falls (Dorothy, Oliver, and Tara) the frangible pins clearly should have released, reducing the risk of a rotational fall.  Under the circumstances of the other two falls (Mike and Kristi), the experts were unsure whether the forces caused by those falls should have broken the pins. Perhaps it was appropriate that the pins did not release in those instances, as deployment may not have created a safer situation for the horses or riders.
We were more than lucky today that none of these falls resulted in serious injuries.  
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The performance of the frangible pins contrasts significantly with that of the foam log used at #16A, the second drop into water at the Head of the Lake.  The foam log was manufactured by Safer Building Materials, a company operated by eventers Mike Winter and Kyle Carter.

Capt. Geof Curran’s horse The Jump Jet ran into the log with considerable force.  Witnesses said that the log broke cleanly in half, exactly as it was designed to do.  Horse and rider remained safely on the takeoff side–they did not end up too close to the bank edge.  The log was quickly replaced with just a very brief hold on course.  


Video of replacing the log

Despite the “breakable-ness” of the jump, it held up very well to normal xc-jump abuse.  Many horses reportedly rubbed the jump with their stifles as they dropped down (VERY common for drops into water) and little styrofoam chips were knocked loose, but the log held solid.  This jump was deemed quite successful.

I didn’t know anything about these foam logs until Wednesday when I spoke to Kyle up by the first jog.  In what now seems like a prophetic moment, Kyle told me that the three other places on the Rolex course he felt they needed to use the foam logs were the jumps into the first water, into the coffin, and into the hollow.
Thankfully, out of the six falls suffered today, none of the horses and riders were seriously injured.  This sport will always have a high element of risk involved, and we cannot prevent every accident.  On one hand, you want to eliminate rotational falls; on the other, you don’t want xc with showjumps.  It is a difficult challenge to create a “safe” obstacle, one that can withstand normal xc stress AND have a reasonable breaking point that creates a more desirable “rider path to the ground.”  I’m glad there are efforts being made to achieve these goals, but there is still more research, testing, and design that needs to be done.  I am not a mechanical engineer, so I’ll leave the math and blueprint drawings to the experts.  

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