The need for eventing riders to face up to their unreadiness to upgrade was a recurring theme at the FEI eventing risk management seminar, held online last week.
At the same seminar in 2020, riders William Fox-Pitt (GB) and Jonathan Holling (US) emphasized personal responsibility in the drive to improve cross-country safety. The pair did so again at the 2021 renewal, this time joined by GB team trainer Chris Bartle.
Fox-Pitt said the sport “has to be braver” at addressing those involved in cross-country incidents and having conversations with riders “where necessary” on the day, not putting it off. “We mustn’t hide behind officials or MERs (Minimum Eligibility Requirements) or any excuses; we are responsible. Are we ready? Are we riding well enough?” said Fox-Pitt. “I think a lot of riders will say: ‘Well no one said anything, my owners are supporting me, so I’m going to go.’ A qualification is not a right to continue.”
Bartle stressed that MERs are only a very “base” level of assessing competence. It is more important that the rider feels “competent and confident” at each level, is able to analyze their mistakes, and that their coach “can be absolutely honest and direct as possible, even if sometimes you’re going to upset somebody if you say they are not ready.”
Bartle also thought one ground jury member should watch the cross-country on the livestream in the riders’ tent, where the most vocal and knowledgeable feedback can be heard. “That ugly aspect is also an important part of the sport.”
Holling wanted officials to be “brave” too; reprimanding riders does not mean you are stopping them from winning.
Sam Watson and Diarmuid Byrne presented a new tool from their analytics company Equiratings, the HFI (Horse Form Index). Byrne emphasised they were not predicting a particular horse’s falls but showing what went on to happen to someone with a similar pattern of results.
Watson said: “This is about a much smaller part of the population, where negative outcomes are far outweighing the clear rounds. It’s important it goes along with the qualification system. Until a horse is performing poorly more than its performing well, this number doesn’t come into play for recommending whether they should be at a level or not. Has it taken 10 attempts to get their MERS or just two?”
FEI risk management steering group chair Geoff Sinclair expected the HFI to be released in Europe this spring as an aid to officials, and hoped that riders could view their HFI privately on the FEI database.
“There are riders who we all know should not be riding at that level, but they go, however much we try to talk to them,” said Sinclair. He hoped that HFIs could be publicly available in due course, after “baby steps” to ease them in. Whether the HFI becomes part of FEI rules, rather than an advisory, is yet to be decided.
British Eventing is in the third year of continuous performance requirement based on the Equiratings original system. With a 67% drop in fixtures in 2020 because of the pandemic, just 79 (1.1%) registered horses had to downgrade due to poor form. GB’s NSO Jonathan Clissold reported that initial rider resistance had largely disappeared, with some voluntarily asking organizers to transfer their entry to a lower-level class.
There were other vigilante-style proposals from national safety officers (NSOs). Laurent Bousquet outlined French plans for an “alert” when a particular designer’s courses produce more than 3% falls or 15% eliminations. Last season France also created a knowledgeable team of “spotters” to advise officials if they see a dangerous or out-of-control rider in the warm-up, who is then observed.
Bousquet said: “This was quite well understood. The one important thing is that the decision to stop the rider or not [from starting cross-country] will be taken by the ground jury and only by the ground jury.”
Lars Christensson said Sweden was trialling a system in which trainers complete a form detailing training accidents and inform the FEI. There were concerns that potentially concussed or injured riders were competing too soon after a heavy fall at a schooling track.
GB official Alec Lochore said that not just bad but good horsemanship should be recognized “in all its forms,” including the thoughtful rider who recognizes his horse is flagging and pulls up at the second last fence. Officials should actively congratulate people who have done well, even seeking them out in the stables, while at the same time not baulking from sanctioning (ie by yellow card) riders who have done wrong.
In other developments:
- Equestrian Canada eventing manager Fleur Tipton reported the huge impact on Covid on the calendar, a 70% reduction in starters across nine provinces last year.
- The percentage of rider falls did not increase despite the Canadian nine-week Covid lockdown, which prevented riders not resident at the barn from even visiting to exercise their horses. Despite that setback, when competition resumed there was only a slight increase in horse falls, some of them slip-ups on the flat in the warm-up.
- Canada’s objective to eliminate rotational falls at its home events has been achieved for several years now. Forty-seven per cent of falls in 2020 did not involve a fence, drawing attention to riding standards at lower/amateur levels where, for instance, a pony might spook and the rider is unseated.
- David Deillon, founder of Alogo Analysis, presented a sensor fitted to the girth to analyze horse movement. It is hoped to run a study at CCI5* into risk factors in course-design that predispose a horse to fatigue.
- Meredith Chapman was appointed Australian NSO following a wholesale review after two deaths and a coronial inquest in New South Wales attracted worldwide attention. In its Phase 1 audit, Australia has completed 25 of the coroner’s 31 recommendations with the remainder underway.
The seminar livestreams can be viewed here.