Friday, May 1, 2009

2009 Eventing Season has Started - and so have the Discussions

Last week marked the 11th anniversary of the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event CCI****. The start of the major eventing season here in North America. The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials CCI**** will follow next week as the first 4 star of the year in the UK. Although many spectators and riders consider the Rolex a success this year, there is a lot of opposition. Discussions on the safety and research needed for eventing has started in full force.

Already in the start of the 2009 season we have lost two horses in competition, and one rider. Canadian Mike Winter lost his long time partner KingPin at fence 10 at the Rolex. KingPin suffered a hemorrhage of the large vessels in the abdomen which was unrelated to any jumping effort (speculation). Another horse Double Chocolate, ridden by Katrina McQuarters collapsed and died after being eliminated on the cross-country at the Mitavite International Horse Trial at Kihikihi, in Waikato. Northern Ireland event rider Ian Olding died at the hands of injuries due to a rotational fall at Belton
Park.

So, already this year we have lost three athletes. Different accidents, different instances, different causes (most of which are unknown), but one common thing. A tragic death, and the eventing community left wondering WHAT if anything can be done to fix this problem. It IS a problem, and anyone who says otherwise has their head buried in the sand. So how can we change things? Prevent these things from occurring again and again, and becoming more frequent? There needs to be a platform developed for all of the eventing community to get answers, and solve problems.

Understanding

There is constant disagreement over the deaths of these horses and riders. What caused it? Could it have been prevented? Are we helpless to things like pulmonary aortic ruptures? Can we fix these problems? Are the top riders and go to people of the sport really the ones who should be finding solutions? The biggest question for me is WHY THE INCREASE in instances? I just don't buy the argument that there are more people eventing more than ever now so naturally there is an increase in cases. There have always been a large number of eventers in the UK, NZ and Australia, yet their instances are increasing also, perhaps not at the rate of the Americans. What we need is an broad understanding of the who, what, whys and hows.

Research Leads to Understanding

Most eventers and associations have limited funds, and certainly do not have disposable money available for the intensive research that is needed in our sport right now. I can think of a few areas that desperately need solid, validated research.

Aortic Ruptures and Similar Instances - Can we find a common ground?

There has to be a common ground, or science would believe so anyway. So what is it? We need to look at ALL the horses we lose to this, not just eventers. Some possible commonalities?

  • Breed, bloodlines - Genetic analysis

  • Conditioning regime

  • Feed and supplements

  • Vaccinations

  • History of illness

  • Competition history and frequency

  • Strange behaviour exhibited recently

Research needs to be done on how to detect if this seems likely in the future for the horse. I know there is something along those lines going on in the racing world but no word on how long until they know something.

Rotational Falls - The Thorn in Eventings' Paw

Rotational falls are accounting for an alarming number of accidents and deaths. Why do they seem so much more common and deadly now compared to "the good old days". Little research has been done in this area. The introduction of the frangible pin is an attempt to lessen the likeliehood of a rotation in the event of a fall, but is there any proof that it's working? Some areas I would like researched and considered into the possible cause, or correlation:

  • The change from the long to short format

  • Course design

  • Fitness levels and conditioning of horses competing

  • The frequency of competition of horses competing

  • Rider ability - rider fitness

  • Rider horsemanship

  • The impact of needing a great dressage horse - and getting a not so careful jumper

  • The impact of higher level dressage tests

  • Thoroughbreds vs. Warmblood or other breeds competing
I was looking through a photo album someone posted on CoTH of the Rolex, and I have to say I was alarmed at the position of a lot of the riders in the stadium ring. Their horses were getting awful spots to the fences, the riders were all over place, some even staring at the ground over every single fence. To me this is just unacceptable riding at the top level. These pictures are a great tool at looking into some of the problem.

Some associations have made rule changes in an effort to make the sport safer. Although the heart may be in the right place, there is no research or evidence that the rules are actually beneficial to the sport. Eventing has suffered and changed a great deal in the last few years. Many people of the eventing community are continually feeling frustrated and unheard in regards to these issues.

As the discussions continue, the realm of understanding becomes closer and the hope of research becomes nearer. As a lover of the sport, I will be writing a lot on my personal take on the stance of eventing, and where we are headed. I pray for the moment we continue the season safely, without tragedy.

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