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.  

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.  
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.  



  • Anonymous says:

    Then there is the fact that this year was the first year that the air vests were popularly worn on xc of Rolex. All riders are fine after a good amount of rotational falls for one day… interesting yes?

  • Anonymous says:

    John, thanks for the great coverage throughout the weekend. You wrote this morning that “The bounce banks down are invisible until the horse is jumping the rail at 20. I wish that 20 was a foam rail on top.” Great call, I guess we all wish that now.

  • John says:

    Anonymous #1 – Is it interesting? Sure, but the riders who were not wearing vests today and crashed fared just as well as the riders who were wearing vests so I don’t know if I feel like today has a huge impact on the vest debate.

  • Anonymous says:

    I am shocked they removed OTs helmet! One of the first things you learn as an EMT is to keep it on, as long as airway is not compromised. Especially until appropriate support systems are in place! However, I am glad he is OK, and glad the day didnt lead to any serious injuries on either horse or rider!

  • Rebecca says:

    If the foam logs are holding up well, they should be used on any vertical combination where the horses take a peak on the other side and tend to forget their front end (water, coffins, sunken road, light to dark etc…)

  • Visionaire says:

    I would not consider the air vests really relevant to “all riders are fine.” I’m not sure if Oli’s vest inflated before he hit the ground (or his horse hit him). Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. Three of the six falls wore vests, three did not. Dorothy was not wearing one; nor was Michael Pollard or Jennifer Wooten-Dafoe.

  • vagabondrider says:

    John, your rolex coverage has been amazing. Thanks for the continuous updates & analyses. The live blog was super to watch along w/ the live feed as it ran a little ahead so we always knew what was coming. And I especially loved your worst rolex videos ever- exactly the stuff I’d be doing & looking at if I were there. Actually, I think I’ve been kept better aprised of all that was going on sitting at home, reading eventingnation & watching the live feed than when I’ve been there in person. Quite a feat on your part- many thanks!

  • Anonymous says:

    Right with vagabondrider – Even at KYHP with a “backstage pass” your work is very valuable, and the coverage itself is a topic of conversation (in a good way). Thank you for being timely, insightful, and attuned to the welfare of the athletes and the sport. It helps a lot that you all have a great sense of humor and a relaxed tone. Best wishes and many thanks.

  • Retreadeventer says:

    It is my opinion the airvest saved Oliver Townends’ neck, and therefore, his life. If the thing does only that it is worth dealing with any criticism or red tape worldwide. It did deploy correctly, it was clearly visible in photographs I saw of this fall. There is no question in my mind it is a miracle he is alive, and the miracle is this device.

  • Golightly says:

    Your Rolex coverage has been BY FAR the quickest and most accurate available to all of us not able to be there in person. THANK YOU!!!! I’ve spent so many hours following the live blog, and staring at my computer waiting for updates – I might as well have just made the drive to Kentucky! I almost feel like I was right there with you – this has been fantastic!

  • kathleen sullivan says:

    It doesn’t look liek Ollie was far enoung away from his horse, before it fell on him, to ivlate his vest…it looks liek it infalted after teh horse rolled on down the bank….can anyone tell for sure when the vest went off?

  • Adam says:

    I’m with Kathleen on this one: when you watch the video carefully, you’ll see that Ollie’s vest didn’t inflate until after his horse rolled over him. Before that, he didn’t get far enough from the saddle to pull the pin. It worked just as designed but wasn’t there when he needed it. That’s my main contention that the Woof Exo is a better solution than the Point Two: it’s ALWAYS there when you need it even if you don’t fall from the saddle far enough to pull out some silly pin!

    (Before reading on, please understand that I’m not on any sort of personal crusade against Point Two and I don’t work for or receive money from Woof Wear! I’m for improving the safety of our sport and I simply feel that the hype over the Point Two jacket has caused people to lose sight of the fact that there ARE other options worth considering!)

    The Point Two simply has more points of potential failure than the Exo. The Exo just got some bad press for being too heavy (not true when you combine the weight of the Point Two PLUS a traditional vest) and hasn’t been out front publicizing and getting endorsements like Point Two has. We, as eventers, traditionally love Woof products so it doesn’t make sense to me that we haven’t embraced the Exo as well. It’s also cheaper than the Pro Air AND you won’t look ridiculous with your number pinny flapping in the breeze (and potentially up into your face!) because it might otherwise strangle you when your Pro Air inflates!

    I acknowledge that the technology in the Exo isn’t as cool as the Pro Air (didn’t come from motorcycle racing, contains no CO2 cartridge, no moving parts, no cool whooshing sound when it deploys, etc…) but it just strikes me as being much more reliable in more ways than one. I’m willing to let the performance of both devices speak for themselves but, after this weekend, I think the Point Two has at least one clear strike against it.

  • Adam says:

    For those who insist the vest inflated BEFORE Ashdale Cruise Master landed atop Ollie, compare the following two photos. (WARNING: NOT for the faint of heart!)

    1) ACM squarely atop Ollie, just before he rolls off and down the bank:

    2) A split-second later, as ACM starts his descent over the edge of the bank:

    Despite the lackluster resolution, when compared to the second where the vest is fully-inflated, it’s pretty clear to me that the air bladder is flat on Ollie’s side (though MAYBE caught mid-inflation, judging by the bulge near the small of his back — based on the contour, it could just be the tail of his crash vest flaring out) in the first picture. Note that ACM is already starting to roll off of Ollie in the first shot and, even if the vest was in the process of inflating in the first picture, the damage had already been done. At that point, inflation of the vest, at best, was of no value and, at worst, could have made the problem worse (imagine if he’d sustained spinal fractures!)

  • rl says:

    Really like this post, thanks a lot John & team.

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