Saturday at USEA Convention: Working Together Toward a Safer Sport

Dan Michaels’ new frangible device. Photo by Abby Powell.

How can we make our sport safer? It’s a question we’ve asked ourselves over and over, and possible solutions continue to surface and evolve. A number of forums have addressed the topic here at the 2019 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention, ranging from cross country course design and frangible technology to better quality coaching, risk assessment and rider responsibility among other safeguards.

Today began with a Safety Committee Open Forum, in which the Cross Country Safety Subcommittee shared that it is working to rewrite cross country course design guidelines to address using groundlines to help horses better read fences. The committee also shared that it is investigating putting a rule in place, similar to rules in Europe, that would prohibit horses and riders from going cross country if they incur too many show jumping penalties.

In the Annual Meeting, outgoing USEA president Carol Kozlowski noted the USEA’s two-year partnership with EquiRatings and the availability of ERQI scores, which can be utilized by riders as well as officials to identify horses with consistently weak performances that may require an intervention. Read our recap of the “ERQI Reports for Officials at Events” forum here. Carol also explained that better guidelines are being put in place to ensure safer cross country schooling and warm-ups at events, both of which saw rider fatalities this year.

Frangible technology and better educated riders continue to lead the discussion. Two of today’s panels spoke directly to those topics:

Where Is the Sport Headed with Frangible Cross-Country Fences? — Speakers: Tremaine Cooper, Morgan Rowsell, Jon Holling, David O’Connor, Dan Michaels

Last year, Dan Michaels, an amateur eventer and retired aerospace engineer, came to the USEA Annual Convention with a model for a new frangible device that would be broadly applicable to many types of fences and alleviate many of the limitations of the current mechanisms on the market.

There are currently two distinct frangible mechanisms on the market: the frangible pin which can be placed on the front or back of a post and will shear off at a certain amount of force, and the MIM clip which is a hinge attached to a rail or log. Neither mechanism is perfect. Each time the pin is stressed but does not fall, it increases the likelihood that it will fall at a lesser impact down the road. It’s also difficult to tell the level of stress that a pin has already taken and every time the pin actually breaks it needs to be replaced.

With MIM clips, there is an easy mechanism in place to tell if the clip has been compromised — there is a small ‘flag’ that pops out which jump judges check for every few riders. The MIM clip is more fair, since it is less likely to be triggered in compromised state, and easier to replace, however it is much less effective when jumped on an angle. There have been unintended consequences to implementing MIM clips, since the clip can only hold up to a certain size log so smaller logs are being used. Perceivably bigger jumps (think more ‘airy’ looking’) are created when smaller logs are used.

This year, Dan came to convention with a working device that he’s distributing to course designers.

  • Dan Michael’s device is essentially a spring inside a cylinder — the spring’s compression can be adjusted to account for the weight of the log or rail that it holds and to change the amount of force required for the device to release. A rounded protrusion at the end of the device next to the rail or log sits in a cup on the log. Force that hits the log/rail pushes the protrusion into the spring and releases the device. The “ball and socket” connection of the device to the log means that it will trigger with force at any angle.
  • From Dan, “We have to build all of our jumps with the idea of conservation of momentum. When a rider hits a jump, the force is distributed and the weakest link needs to be the frangible break point.”
  • The current penalty in FEI competitions for a triggered frangible device is 11 penalties. There is currently no penalty for a triggered frangible device in national competitions, but there is a rule change proposal for 11 penalties to be applied that would take effect at the end of this coming year.
  • There is a tradeoff between false activations and increasing danger.
  • The current frangible systems on the market have been distributed by the USEF via a grant, but as of this December the USEA has taken over this program. There is a new structure of distribution currently in the works for frangible materials to be purchased through Shop.USEA website. The hope is that this will simplify distribution of frangible devices and also that at some point these materials will be free for qualified people.
  • Even though the number of fences equipped with a frangible device is growing, it’s doesn’t take away a rider’s responsibility to jump cleanly. From Tremaine, “This is great technology, but it only comes into play when you’re in trouble. Any fence right now that can possibly have this technology should absolutely have it, but this is one little part of the whole picture. Equally as important is good course design and other factors that make fences ride well so that people aren’t getting in trouble in the first place.” David added, “We can’t start to think that because we have these (frangible devices) we’re safe hitting the fence. It doesn’t take away the responsibility to jump the fence cleanly.”

 — AP

Instructors’ Certification Program Open Forum — Speakers: David O’Connor, Jim Graham, Phyllis Dawson, Robin Walker

Insight from one of our sport’s most experienced and masterful coaches, David O’Connor, was a highlight of this morning’s ICP Open Forum. Why is ICP important, how is it intertwined with risk management, and how does it evolve: what does the “2.0” version of the program look like?

  • On thing David kept circling back to was how to respect the individuality of teaching, while standardizing “the quality of the thought process.” Working to become a more effective instructor, David says, “changed the structure of my teaching in that it became way more organized — not just the what, but the how. How do you teach? How do people learn? How does someone retain that? If they can’t go home and retain it, then you haven’t done your job … The how is really important.”
  • David explained the correlation between risk management and coaching, and that the scope cannot be overstated. As eventing continues to expand its global footprint — he points to the sport’s growth in Asia, via China, Korea and Thailand — coaching becomes even more important. He used this example: “Thailand has qualified for the Olympic Games. How do we make sure that those guys are going to have a good [safe] experience?” The answer: “Coaching. Pure coaching.” He pointed out that French eventer Maxime Livio, who was last year’s ICP Symposium featured clinician, has spent the last four years working with Thai riders. “The point is it’s a worldwide issue, not just national, and its multidisciplinary. Skill set based teaching is incredibly important for a number of different reasons.”
  • One particularly entertaining moment was when David recalled being the first ICP instructor to be tested. He was supposed to be helping a rider with flying lead changes, but when the horse swapped behind three times while warming up on a 20-meter circle he had to adjust the plan by keeping the big goal (lead changes) in focus but breaking it down into multiple steps to get there — only one or two of which was going to get accomplished during that particular session.
  • The panel fielded questions from the audience, including how to rekindle interest in ICP which has waned of late, how to improve its value for potential ICP participants, how to incentivise venues to host ICP clinics and testings, and if there is a way to quantify the effectiveness of the program.
  • Mark your calendars! The 2020 ICP Symposium will take place on Monday, Feb. 17 and Tuesday, Feb. 18 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Andreas Dibowski will be the featured clinician for both days. [ICP Symposium Registration Form] [ICP Symposium Demo Rider Registration Form] [USEA ICP Resource Page]

— LW

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