The nightmare that was cross-country day at Luhmühlen 2014 isn’t lost on anyone this weekend. Nobody’s pretending like it didn’t happen — starting with an acknowledgement from Princess Anne in the show program’s forward:
“All equestrian activities are risky and modern equestrian sports understand those risks better than ever. While remembering Benjamin Winter’s tragic accident last year which has overshadowed Luhmühlen’s recent history, I would like to wish all those involved — the organisers, the many volunteers and the riders a very successful event.”
The 15th day of June last year was a dark day for the sport and one that raised some hefty, and ultimately impossible, questions. “Where do we go from here?,” Luhmühlen course designer Captain Mark Phillips asked in a press conference following the incident that afternoon.
“Personally, I feel sick to my stomach,” he said. “We had a course that a lot of people thought was easier than last year. We had perfect conditions, great footing, a sunny day — but we had too many falls. Six rider falls, two horse falls — it’s too many.”
Luhmühlen’s undercurrent of bad luck goes back a year further, when a fall claimed the life of another horse.
The event desperately needs to have a good day tomorrow. And, by all accounts, it has made every humanly possible attempt to ensure that it happens.
The cross-country course has undergone some dramatic changes for this year’s event, including completely reversing the course’s direction. The increased implementation of safety systems, especially frangible pins, has been emphasized. There is also plenty of use of hedges, described by Phillips as “a semi frangible medium” that can add an element of forgiveness to difficult questions.
But even with the most advanced technology and thoughtful course design, things don’t always go according to plan. And the ultimate responsibility, of course, falls on the riders to make smart decisions.
“The greatest aid towards safety is the respect riders have for the fences, so we are always trying to find the balance between the fence that is forgiving and yet still taken seriously by the riders,” Philips explained in a press release before the event.
Godspeed to all of tomorrow’s competitors — here’s wishing you all a safe, happy journey. Go eventing.