Badminton Horse Trials has joined calls to make the use of safety devices mandatory on suitable cross-country fences, as pressure mounts on the FEI to act in the run-up to its General Assembly next month in Montevideo, Uruguay (November 18-21).
The endorsement of a premier four-star event is a further shot in the arm for campaigners, who have garnered support on social media following the death last month of Maxime Debost at a one-star event in France. Debost the 67th eventer ride to perish since 1995, suffered a rotational fall at an ascending spread which one of the fence-types suitable for “pinning” with a frangible device, but not fitted with one. To date the use of frangible and deformable technology has been “strongly recommended” by the FEI but left to the discretion of each event’s course designer and technical advisor.
Last week the United States Eventing Association (USEA) issued a formal plea for devices to be mandatory, promptly supported by Canadian Eventing and the International Event Officials Club.
Badminton director Hugh Thomas said: “At Badminton we have always been very supportive of the development of frangible technology and indeed a lot of testing has been carried out here from the very beginning. We have used this technology to reduce the risks to horses and riders, while acknowledging that acceptable risk is an integral part of Eventing and it will never be possible, or indeed desirable, to make the sport completely ‘safe.’
“We now believe the time has come for the FEI to make the use of suitable frangible technology compulsory in respect of those types of fences that are susceptible to its introduction, rather than simply recommended. We support the initiative of the United States Equestrian Association, also supported by the International Event Officials Club, asking the FEI to take this action.”
Eric Winter took over as Badminton course designer this year and used “pins” at 14 jumping efforts, understood to be the largest number applied so far at an event in Europe.
David Morton, a former British horse trials official now living in Ireland, spearheaded the recent social media campaign. Welcoming Thomas’s intervention, Morton said: “I believe leading events like Badminton have a huge role to play, leading the way in best practice.”
In responding to the USEA last week, the FEI put the onus on national federations to decide “when the time is right” to mandate the technology, emphasized that deformable technology alone will not prevent serious accidents, and indicated it prefers a more holistic approach to safety.
It has also emerged that the FEI is going against the advice of its own Risk Management Steering Group. Papers circulated yesterday for the General Assembly show that the steering group, chaired by David O’Connor, wanted mandatory use of frangible devices phased in from January 2018. There is no indication in rules documents that a new rule for frangibles is on the table, and due process may not allow it at this late stage. By statute, national federations must be given six weeks to consider all proposals, with final drafts circulated four weeks in advance of the Assembly.