Australia to Make Frangible Devices Compulsory in 2018 + Why the FEI Is Not

Photo courtesy of ERA International.

Equestrian Australia is leading the eventing world by example, having yesterday announced a rule change that mandates the use of approved FEI frangible devices. Beginning Feb. 1, 2018, frangible devices must be utilized “on those fences in 1*/2*/3*/4* courses in Australia (National and FEI events) where the materials fit the specifications for use of a frangible device.”

The initiative to introduce frangible pins was originally implemented with financial support from the Equestrian Australia Making Eventing Safer Fund, supported by Terry Snow, and the Olivia Inglis Foundation.

The Making Eventing Safer Fund will distribute $45,000 toward the rollout of frangible devices at all EA events across Australia, with funding to be matched by State Eventing Committees, meaning a total of $90,000 will be spent on improving safety. The fund was introduced following the deaths of two young Australian event riders, Caitlyn Fischer and Olivia Inglis, last year.

The change was made following a series of meetings at the Australian International Three-Day Event in Adelaide last month involving the Equestrian Australia Eventing Committee, the EA National Safety Officer, members of the FEI Risk Management Steering Group (Mike Etherington-Smith and Geoff Sinclair) and EA Chair Judy Fasher.

The new rule is in addition to other initiatives being carried out by EA toward improved safety of both horses and riders. Its implementation is supported by an explanatory memorandum for Officials and Organising Committees with an Officials’ Education Program to be rolled out in February and March 2018. You can view the updated 2018 EA Eventing Rules here.

In this video, Olympic medalist Stuart Tinney talks about the “Making Eventing Safer” initiative to introduce frangible jumps in Australia, and breaks down how this technology works.

Despite calls for the FEI to make frangible devices compulsory from National Federations, including the U.S. and Canada, as well as events such as Badminton and individual leaders within the sport, the FEI confirmed in a Dec. 7 Risk Management memo that it will not be enforcing a global rule until more evidence is available.

From the memo:

Why is the FEI not making [frangible device] use mandatory?

“The global use of frangible technology is one of our goals in risk management, and it is the FEI’s role to provide the necessary educational and logistical support to National Federations to enable them to source approved devices, ensure their correct use and ultimately decide when the time is right to make their use compulsory so that frangible technology is used effectively worldwide. We are also encouraging the National Federations, alongside the FEI, to look at other aspects of risk management, including coaching and course design. Frangible technology is clearly part of the way forward, but it is one element in a complex picture.

“While rotational horse falls have decreased dramatically, there is evidence – as highlighted in the Barnett report – that the number of horse falls in general is higher at fences fitted with frangible technology. Although clearly it could be the question rather than the frangible technology that is causing these falls, more information and data is needed to understand this horse fall rate.

“It is a priority to reduce horse falls as a whole so this is where data collection is an extremely important part of the decision-making process around the world. However, as stated above, FEI statistics show that rotational falls have been reduced by more than 50% in the 10-year period from 2006-2016 so there are clear benefits. The bottom line is that we need to have a better understanding of this evidence, and where it fits into the overall picture, before we can consider making the use of frangible technology mandatory.”

Isn’t that going against the recommendations of the Risk Management Steering Group?

“Following the recommendations of the Risk Management Steering Group, we are continuing to work with our National Federations on the logistical and educational elements of frangibles, respecting the individual decision of each National Federation regarding their eventual mandatory use in their own country when they have the knowledge base to ensure the technology can be effectively used. The decision of National Federations to use frangible technology is fully supported by the FEI and in line with National Federations taking their responsibilities on risk management. However, following a more comprehensive evaluation by the FEI Eventing Committee and for the reasons mentioned above, the FEI strongly believes that it would not be beneficial to the sport to impose mandatory implementation at this point in time.”

So should the FEI stop recommending the use of frangible technology?

“No, for the same reasons as above, but the facts are that although we have evidence that there is an increased risk of horse falls at fences fitted with frangible technology, rotational falls have been dramatically decreased and the percentage of serious injuries have also shown a strong reduction, halved from 0.28% of starters in 2006 to 0.13% in 2016. The percentage of horse falls overall is also reducing, going down from 1.76% of starters in 2006 to 1.4% in 2016, so the risk management strategy is clearly having a positive effect.”

“The bottom line is that we need to have a better understanding of this evidence, and where it fits into the overall picture, before we can consider making the use of frangible technology mandatory.”

Read the full memo here, and access the FEI Eventing Risk Management and Action Plan here.