Eventing Safety Facts & Figures: Horse Falls

Welcome to EN’s Eventing Safety Facts & Figures series. In light of our recent discussion on asking the tough questions about the sport, we’re delving into the FEI’s safety data from the past decade to track trends and look for answers. If you’d like us to address a certain topic in this series, please email [email protected].

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The FEI began tracking detailed statistics on falls, injuries and fatalities in eventing in 2002, with an Eventing Risk Management Policy and Action Plan officially adopted in 2004. Reports tracking data on FEI competitions have been published every year since.

It’s worth reading the full action plan, but here’s an excerpt from the introduction to give you an idea of its objectives:

Risk criteria can only be developed taking into account the context, values, objectives and resources of the organization.

Eventing is a complete all-round test of horse and rider and a tremendous test of horsemanship, but it is also, and will remain, a risk sport.

The final decision and the ultimate responsibility for participation must continue to remain with the rider. The rider and no-one else has to decide upon the level of training, ability and limits in performance of his/her horse.

With a decade of data now available through the FEI, we have the most accurate picture in recent history of how safety continues to evolve in eventing. First up, we’re taking a look at horse falls in the past 10 years.

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This chart from the FEI’s 2013 statistics report gives us quite a bit of data to chew on. The first yellow column shows a definite drop in the number of horse falls in FEI competitions in the past decade, but keep in mind that’s largely because of the decrease in rotational falls.

Non-rotational falls have continued to fluctuate and show no real improvement, with the percentage of falls in 2012 matching the same level in 2005. The bar graph below illustrates the fluctuation, with the two low points in non-rotational horse falls coming in 2007 and 2011, when the numbers dipped to 1.26 and 1.25 percent of total starters.

horse falls

The real improvement in horse falls comes in the rotational category. Since 2004, rotational falls have decreased 57 percent, definitely an encouraging number. While frangible pins remain an imperfect technology, they have undoubtedly played a roll in lowering the number of rotational falls since their introduction to FEI cross-country courses in 2003.

It’s also worth noting that this decrease in rotational falls occurred during the transition away from the long format at the FEI levels. CCI4* events like Badminton, Burghley and Rolex Kentucky last used the long format in 2005.

In other words, rotational falls have decreased from 1 rotational horse fall for every 197 starters in 2004 to 1 rotational horse fall for every 445 starters in 2013. Better? Yes. Still room for improvement? Absolutely yes, especially when rotational falls continue to claim the lives of horses and riders alike.

Both Ben Winter and Jordan McDonald died on June 14 this year as a result of rotational falls. And while the FEI Veterinary Department is “currently working on horse injuries and fatalities statistics,” that data is not yet available to the public, we’ve been told by the FEI.

Points to consider:

  • While rotational horse falls have dropped by 57 percent in the past decade, non-rotational horse falls continue to fluctuate and essentially hold steady at the same rate.
  • Advancements in safety technology like frangible pins have almost certainly contributed to a decrease in rotational falls, with just 40 rotational falls occurring in FEI competitions in 2013.
  • Is it possible to prevent rotational falls altogether? What type of changes can be made as the sport looks to decrease the number of total horse falls?

Resources:

[FEI Eventing Final Statistics Report 2013]

[Eventing Risk Management Policy and Action Plan]

[FEI Eventing Risk Management]

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