Eventing safety experts are calling on the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) to ditch an “unfair” new rule that would eliminate a rider for breaking a frangible pin in the cross-country phase.

The FEI announced the ruling on 8 January.

A frangible pin is a safety fastening which releases a pole when hit with extreme force, lessening the chances of a horse somersaulting onto its rider on named cross-country fences at international events.

But national safety officers from countries around the world, meeting for the first time at Hartpury College last weekend (24-25 January), decided to oppose the rule after learning from British Eventing (BE) and engineering consultancy Competitive Measure that pins are weakened by successive hits.

Frangible pins are used in international competition, but only by Britain, Ireland, Australia and Holland in national events.

“Automatic elimination for breakage of the pin [in FEI competitions] is unfair if, as this research has shown, they get progressively weaker as the competition goes on,” Australian delegate Bob Powles said at the conference.

His view was echoed by British team coach and member of the FEI eventing safety sub-committee Yogi Breisner and British eventing safety officer Jonathan Clissold.

When frangible pins were introduced in 2003, riders incurred 70 penalties (the same as a horse fall) for breaking them. In 2004, this was changed to an elimination, but scrapped halfway through the season as there were concerns about pins weakening.

“To reintroduce this rule would lead to a situation where connections of riders would request pins to be replaced before their rider set off,” said Mr Clissold.

Mr Breisner added it would encourage “a halfway house between eventing and show jumping, changing the character of our sport.”

But delegates were not unanimous in their views.

Italian safety committee member Guiseppe della Chiesa said: “We want horses to go over fences, not through them, surely. If a horse hits a fence hard enough to break the pin the rider should be eliminated.”

Competitive Measure tested a frangible pin on a post-and-rail fence during three days of competition at Badminton and Burghley last year (news, 14 February 2008). The fence was jumped 144 times and hit 147 times (some horses caught it with their fore and back legs).

The highest impact measured was 1.8tonnes of pressure — a hit with the back legs.

BE and the University of Bristol are working on a second generation of pin that will not fracture before it breaks, Mr Clissold told H&H.

And results of field and laboratory research on frangible pins by the University of Kentucky should be released in April, said president of the US Equestrian Federation David O’Connor.

The conference also discussed ongoing advances in other frangible fences that break on dangerous impact. The Dutch federation uses cardboard poles at national and FEI events and the US is investigating the possible use of polystyrene poles, snap straps, which would release logs on impact, and hanging gates on pins.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (29 January, ’08)