The less things change, the more they stay the same. Earlier this month in this space, I wrote about a March "eventing" competition in Florida at a course called Red Hills. At that event, two horses died and one high-level event rider was critically injured because of the artificial difficulty of the course the horses were forced to complete.
Eventing, or cross-country equestrian trials, tests horse-and-rider duos in stadium jumping, dressage, and a so-called cross-country course of fences outside rings or stadiums.
After Red Hills, there was much sturm und drang about reforming courses and making them less dangerous for riders and horses. Well less than a month later, two more horses are killed and another rider critically injured at yet another high-level eventing competition, this one at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
To be fair, the Red Hills event is governed by the Eventing Association, a national sport governing body. Rolex, an event that draws riders from around the world, is governed by the Fédération Equestre Internationale. Nonetheless, each body watches the other's events carefully, and they are intricately intertwined in terms of horse and rider safety.
Still, to have two horse trials take place in the United States within such a short time, each producing the death of two horses, is too much. At Red Hills, the horses died of pulmonary events--in my opinion, because the course demanded too much of them. At Rolex, the horses died after crashing into different fences on the course.
A reader who was at Rolex posted the following comment on my last blog about this topic:
Two more 4* horses killed over the weekend at the Ky Horse Park, it's absolutely sickening. We were standing right next to jump 13 when The Quiet Man crashed, critically injuring himself. Both wrecks were "rotational." It is very frustrating for me to see this time and time again, hearing only lame excuses from the sport's leaders. The courses leave no margin for error, and the penalty for mistakes is often either death or serious injury to horse and/or rider. No living thing is perfect, we have no right to put an animal in the position where one mistake of either itself or its rider will lead to death. The time has come for the eventing world to accept that the fences need to be able to come down. Ensuring that the fence can come down safely when necessary and not crush a downed rider/horse is a simple mechanical engineering problem, not exactly rocket science. There's no excuse for rotational falls, they CAN be avoided!
Now of course this will take money, just take it out of the flower budget... Along with building safer fences, they also need to reduce the max width allowed and the number of fences on the course. 20-25 should be sufficient. If the sport wants to test endurance more than this will allow, then require the riders to run a marathon after they finish their ride. that way, if anyone keels over with a heart attack, it will be the human, who has the free will, if not the intelligence, to decide what is appropriate risk.
This reader has it exactly right. The sport could easily be made much safer for horses in a variety of ways. One is that fixed fences could come apart when hit by horses, thereby lessening the impact. Rolex has proved that the people who govern the sport of eventing really don't care (rhetoric aside) how many horses die. If they did, they would put all future horse trials on hold, convene emergency meetings on course redesign, and take the artificially dangerous elements out of high-level courses.
By Bonnie Erbe