‘We Can Save a Life for as Little as 100 Euro’

An open letter regarding frangible technology has been circulating this week, written by UK course designer and builder David Morton in response to the death of Maxime Debost. The 29-year-old French eventer died as the result of a rotational fall on cross country while contesting the CCI* at Châteaubriant Horse Trials on Sept. 23. Thank you, David, for sharing. 

Maxime Debost and Qurt de Montplaisir at the Fontainebleau CICO3*. Photo by Ecurie MDG.

The eventing world has tragically lost another rider to a rotational fall. Everyone close to or involved in the sport can only imagine the pain his death has caused his family and friends. Since 1993, 67 families have also suffered the same pain of losing a loved one to eventing.

Yes, we all recognize that riding horse over cross country fences is a high risk sport, but as a result of these deaths engineers and scientists from around the world have designed devices and offered advice in how to minimise the risks and thus, reduce the potential tragedy of rotational falls.

The first device to be introduced was a ‘front pin’ in 1995. The function of the front pin is to support the rail at the front of the post and is engineered to break with vertical force. Over the last few years scientific and video evidence has proven that the ‘reverse pin’ or clips are safer.

‘Reverse pins’ or clips are fixed to the back of the post which are engineered to break with horizontal force which helps to stop the rotation before it reaches the vertical breaking point. This has been proven to be a lot safer for horse and rider. These safety devices are readily available and cost as little as a 100 Euro per fence. The devices are easily transferred from fence to fence and can be used many times for differing events thus significantly reducing the cost.

Following the 2017 FEI Safety Forum at Tattersalls the FEI made a very strong recommendation that open railed fences should be reversed pinned or clipped only. In a memorandum to stakeholders the FEI said:

“Further to the Eventing Committee meeting and the Eventing Risk Management Steering Group, we would like to share with you the very strong recommendations to be implemented by your NFs for Eventing in regard to Risk management:

FRANGIBLE DEVICES: The use of FEI certified frangible devices releasing from horizontal force on all open rails, gates, oxers and oxer corners is strongly recommended for all national and international events.”

The fence at which Maxime Debost fell at was a sloping triple rail, which from the photograph I have seen looks straightforward and well built. BUT like all bad falls regardless of the standard of horse and rider for some reason the two of them at a crucial moment made a catastrophic mistake. However, to comply with current FEI ‘very strong recommendations’ this fence should have had a ‘reverse pin’ or clip fixed on the top rail. WHY DIDN’T IT?

There has been much debate about the use of the new safety devices; the sole reason for the introduction of these devices is to prevent all riders (regardless of ability) paying the ultimate price as a result of horse or rider failing to work in harmony at a crucial moment.

Supporters of frangible technology recognize that ‘it’ alone will not prevent all rotational falls; however statistics from the FEI and British Eventing (BE) clearly show despite the growing number of participants that rotational falls have reduced significantly over the last few years. What is as important to understand is that while the number of deaths has also gratefully been reduced that too many riders and horses continue to be seriously injured.

Following Maxime’s death the FEI issued a press release stating that ‘it is working hard to improve safety.’ Surely it is way past the time for this ‘mantra’ to end and instead that the FEI back the years of research and proven scientific results and insist that ALL cross country officials comply with ‘their very strong recommendations’ regarding safety.

I am also told that the FEI press office claim that ‘reverse pins’ or clips cannot be fitted to triple bars — this shows just how misinformed they are!

WHY would cross country officials at any event want to take the risk of not using the best possible safety standards available? Do they not have a DUTY OF CARE to the horse, families and the sport as whole to insure the safest fences possible?

Who is going to be the first cross country official to defend the fact that a fence approved by them is not compliant with FEI recommendations in a coroner’s court?

So course designers and builders at events like Chateaubriant, Burghley, Blair, Barbary and FEI TDs and the BE safety officer, please comply with the FEI’s ‘strong recommendations regarding safety’ and STOP authorising fences that don’t!