A quirky series of adverts currently on British TV is certainly making an impact. Folks in everyday situations, like the grocery store are faffing around, trying to decide between one can and another when the disembodied head of Arnold Schwarzenegger bursts into view. “Make a Decision. COME ON. Do it NOWWWWW,” he roars.
The adverts aim to get people off their butts and applying for refunds for mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI) on our credit cards and loans. We’ve known we’re entitled for years but haven’t got round to it, even though collectively we’re owed billions.
And every time I see the Arnie advert I think of the FEI and how I wish I could set “the Governator” on them too. Good people of Lausanne, please just grow a pair and make an actual Announcement in the affirmative about wider use of safety technology on cross-country fences.
I hadn’t planned to discuss safety again this week following my blog about the death of Maxime Debost at Chateaubriant in France. But it’s unavoidable, given the feedback.
There is palpable frustration and bewilderment as to why frangible and deformable devices are not already mandatory. But even if the FEI is not ready to demand mandatory use, it is a mystery why the FEI’s own “very strong recommendation” about the enhanced use of devices secreted its way only into the mailboxes of national federations and officials this spring, stopping well short of shouting it from the rooftops.
Yes, I completely get that anything to do with horses can never be risk-free. You don’t even have to be riding to be badly hurt; I myself was hospitalised 35 years ago with fractures from head to toe after being mown down by a horse when merely spectating at horse trials.
But while we may never save everyone whose horse falls on cross-country, why still the misgivings about saving just a handful more? Horsetalk NZ have made it their business to maintain a list of all eventing fatalities since 1997, which reminds us, as if we need it, that these are people, not numbers.
This past week, rider Meike Weber took to Facebook to insist her life was saved by the frangible device on the fence she broke in Germany, the same day Maxime died. (The Chateaubriant fence, a triple bar, was not “pinned,” and I am now receiving conflicting advice as to whether it was capable of being pinned or not.)
Horse-Canada.com reader Gabby Elle kindly posted the results of her own “straw poll” – of 150 event riders she canvassed last month, 92 per cent favoured making a financial contribution to safety technology. That idea is nothing new, though, as it transpires the International Event Officials Club suggested some while ago that a 10 euros start levy could pay for safety devices, though there is no record of any FEI reply.
David O’Connor, who chairs the FEI risk management steering group, kindly sent me a note that frangibles cost much less than people might think. Another expert told me a set of 10 pins would cost $1,300, exclusive of shipping.
Why can’t a sponsor subsidise the basic supply of 10 pins to all CCIs and CICs as a global initiative? As there are only 400-odd FEI eventing fixtures worldwide, the whole enterprise need cost only a tad more than the prize-fund on a single weekend of the jumping Global Tour.
The most significant social media debate this week was triggered by long-time safety campaigner David Morton, a Brit living in Ireland, in his open letter (text in full below). I have seen only supportive responses. Though you won’t, of course, hear those who prefer discretionary use of frangibles publicly articulating their opinions for fear of appearing uncaring, well-reasoned as those arguments also can be.
Morton doesn’t mind saying what everyone else is thinking – note his remark about how you defend the non-use of devices to a coroner.
Why are more horses falling and/or riders falling off nowadays, anyway? A brilliant analysis from 2008 by Jim Wofford has been recirculated this week. I also commend absolutely anything written by William Micklem.
The gist of their articles is that is now a whole different sport and the trend to over-train for the arena phases has robbed horses of their own initiative across country and the instinct to find a “fifth leg” in an emergency. That is one reason, of course, why some harbour concerns that blanket use of frangible devices will discourage some riders from self-improvement. According to the statistics guys at EquiRatings, clear cross-country rounds at 3 and 4 star level have decreased 10 per cent in the past 10 years. All this is connected, surely?
How long will it take for that penny to drop with all 5,693 registered FEI event riders worldwide? We can refer them to the holistic approach of Jung, Todd, Nicholson et al, but making the masses want to embrace the same training philosophy as their icons is quite another thing.
Safety is multi-faceted, but must we wait years, decades even, for every single element of our safety wish-list to be in place before we actively apply one safety initiative ahead of the others?
We have found ourselves in an era where with more solid, technical courses and a competition structure which enables riders to compete out of their comfort zone, we must save riders from the worst consequences of a mistake. Frangibles won’t stop people hitting the deck. Riders may well break an arm or leg as well as a pin; their horses may still sustain career-ending injuries. But frangibles will stop most people being crushed to death, for let us not mince our words about what happens when a horse lands on your head or trunk. Horse-tripped-and-crushed-rider is indeed how this type of fall was described in the nineties until the more sensitive term “rotational fall” entered the vernacular.
Come on. Make a decision. Do it now.
David Morton’s open letter.
“We can save a life for as little as 100 Euro.”
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 XC 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 XC 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 XC official to defend the fact that a fence approved by them is not compliant with FEI recommendations in a Coroner’s court?