In the first study of horse falls in over 20 years, academics in England have identified some simple interventions to reduce the risk of injury in equestrian sport—making it safer for both horses and riders.
The study by a team at the University of Bristol pinpointed characteristics associated with an increased risk of falls in eventing, such as higher-level events, longer courses, more starters at cross-country phase and less experienced horses and athletes.
Identifying these risk factors allows riders and event organisers to assess the level of risk for individual horse, rider and event combinations. The study, published in the Equine Veterinary Journal, recommends simple mitigations such as adjusting minimum eligibility requirements (MERs) to ensure horses and riders always compete at a level appropriate to their ability.
It is the first large scale study using a global data set of every FEI eventing competition over an 11-year period.
This data included every horse start worldwide in all international, championship, Olympics and World Equestrian Games competitions between January 2008 and December 2018. This amounted to over 200,000 horse starts, allowing researchers to specifically analyse the cross-country phase and identify any common factors.
Of 202,771 horse starts during this period, 187,602 started the cross-country phase. Of these, 1.5 per cent recorded a fallen horse and 3.5 per cent had an unseated rider.
At least 50 riders and 109 horses have died since 2000 across all levels of competition worldwide.
“We have gained a detailed understanding of the risk factors that make horses more likely to fall, so that we can provide actionable advice to governing bodies on how to reduce the number of horse falls, and therefore injuries and fatalities among horses and riders,” Dr Euan Bennet said.
The researchers now hope the FEI will use this new evidence to implement evidence-based rules for eventing which protect the safety of athletes and horses without compromising on competitiveness.