I have read the research results below, but am not clear on how it will impact on eventing. It does not discuss frangible pins at all, which I thought were an important part of making eventing safer. Does anyone know what kinds of changes we can realistically expect? With high-profile riders like Zara Phillips and Mary Kind losing their horses, I would think a lot of the focus in the eventing world would be on re-thinking the cross country courses.

Does anyone have some realistic ideas about what can be done - or what is being done?

A British horse welfare charity says its research has shown that cross-country course designers are putting horses at risk of damaging falls by putting potentially dangerous fences into eventing courses.

The study was undertaken by Dr Ellen Singer at the University of Liverpool, in research funded by The Horse Trust. It is the first such epidemiological survey; previously, suggested changes to course design were based on anecdotal or descriptive information.

The research showed that fences posing the greatest threat are those with a base spread greater than 2m (6ft 6in) which are faced straight on. "Analysis shows that these cause most rotational horse falls - which in turn pose greatest risk of injury to both horse and rider. Reducing the width of these fences would make a greater contribution to safety than reducing the number of fences jumped at an angle," Dr Singer said.

The study also revealed that horses competing in one-day eventing competitions are at greater risk of falling at a drop landing compared with those competing in three-day competitions.

Speed of approach is also significant, with falls occurring both when the horse is allowed to approach an obstacle too quickly and when the rider is over-cautious.

"The challenge of the cross-country course is an essential element of the competition, but we would urge designers to take account of this research when preparing their courses and riders to think more carefully about their speed of approach," said Horse Trust chief executive Paul Jepson.

"It seems that, every year, there is the tragic death of a horse or rider. If taking account of this survey can prevent one of these tragedies, it will have more than proved its worth."

At least a dozen horses have been killed on cross-country courses in the past year. The latest fatality, Mary King's Call Again Cavalier, occurred at the weekend in an indoor horse trials event.

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This connects directly to our discussion on acceptance...and without question relates to the issues of rider judgement and education and the choice of horse.

With the exception of more narrow fences courses have not changed that much. For example the allowed dimensions have not been increased for almost 40 years. However I believe there is now a huge amount of inappropriate training with horses that produces submission rather than acceptance and discourages the horse from taking responsibility for the jumping and making the sometimes split second decisions that are necessary when going cross country. On the contrary I make 'fifth leg' training part of every lesson, just as I do training for 'feel', whether it is a flat or jumping session.

To make things worst the true event trainer is a dying breed, which means horses and riders are often taught by a clutch of different coaches, who often don't communicate with each other and often use different aids and different strategies which do not complement each other. Is this fair or sensible for the horses or the riders?

In addition I question the suitability of many horses chosen for cross country competition. The secret of good cross country work is to always have room for error. Working well within the horses maximum speed, scope and energy level is essential for providing that room for error. If horses are too limited in ability and quality and riders have not been coached to have the judgement to work well within the limits you have an accident waiting to happen.

Yes we must produce fair and safe courses at each level but we must ensure we are not diverted from making improvements in these other areas I mention. These other areas have the potential to make a far greater difference to rider and horse safety.

William Micklem
Very interesting post William, especially regarding the type of horse that will be used for 4* in the future as the short format (& possibly "arena eventing") becomes more important.

Having ridden 2 horses this evening that totally contrast each other it brings the issue of submission v acceptance into sharp relief.

Horse # 1 is a wise old native x lippy x arab mix. I feel that I have never achieved true submission with her & hence her dressage prowess is limited. But she is the best horse ever to hunt or x-country on as she has a pony brain, a 5th leg & has saved my bacon numerous times.

Horse #2 is a young Hanoverian (but with over 50% TB blood), 5 weeks under saddle. His movement is fabulous & he showed a lot of talent for jumping in the loose lane. In contrast to horse #1 he is submissive & accepts the aids clearly with no resistance. (I picked him carefully for bloodlines known for throwing trainability). He is a joy to ride & will excel in the dressage arena because he shows submission. However I have had to work on getting him to think for himself. While it is very easy to micro-manage this sort of horse, IMO he must be able to balance & carry himself & we regularly hack out over rough ground & steep hills on a long rein so he can learn to think for himself.

As wonderful as he is, I don't think I'll ever feel as safe going XC on him as I do on the ornery old mare.

Now this is me making a sweeping generalisation based on only 2 horses. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Is the modern sport horse, while certainly superior in movement & athleticism, lacking in the "pony brain" that makes a safe XC horse?

These are really interesting insights. Forgive my ignorance, but can you explain the concept of the "fifth leg"?
Hi Susan...I use the term 'fifth leg' to refer to a horse's ability to find a metaphorical fifth leg in times of difficulty and as a result look after the rider in a safe way. It is something which Irish horses are famous for and certain TB families have in spades.

Horses need to develop their ability in this area as young horses. This can be encouraged in many ways, including allowing them to look after themselves over small fences and lines of fences; allowing them to think more about what is in front of them than what the rider on their back is doing; by experiencing all types of terrain; by ensuring you have an 'allowing' rein contact and the horse has a natural outline and way of going; and by being turned out on varied terrain.

Even if you don't have access to thousands of acres it is possible to develop a horse's fifth leg ability on a daily basis - you can see a range of ideas on how to do this in my book - The Complete Horse Riding Manual.

Hope this helps. William
Hi William,

Your explanation of the fifth leg brings together the whole concept of acceptance rather than submission for me quite clearly (it took a while!).

Interestingly, at the dressage barn where I ride, all of the horses, from youngsters to international and Olympic mounts, hack almost daily in the regional forest beside the property. They have to go up and down long, winding hills, cross over bridges, encounter hikers with dogs running all around, go under branches and find their way on uneven footing - and they all LOVE it! It keeps their minds fresh, makes them think, and works their muscles in ways that riding around the ring never could. In the winter, it becomes very icy, so it's hard to go hacking, but we set up poles and little jumps on the weekends to keep them thinking.


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