In one of the darkest days in eventing’s history, 2 riders were killed at separate events on Saturday (14 June). Both deaths were caused by rotational falls.
German rider Benjamin Winter died after a fall in the CCI4* in Luhmühlen. Britain-based Canadian Jordan McDonald was killed while riding in a novice section at Nunney in Somerset.
Benjamin (pictured top) was lying 14th after the dressage with Ispo and had already jumped clear with his first ride, Wild Thing Z.
Ispo, a 10-year-old gelding, hit the large table at fence 20 (pictured below), causing him to rotate and fall on top of his rider. The 25-year-old was taken by helicopter to Borberg Hospital in Hamburg, but was pronounced dead on arrival from head injuries. Ispo was unharmed.
The same afternoon Jordan — who had competed up to 2-star level — was riding his own Only Me in the 7-year-old gelding’s first novice when he had a rotational fall at fence 7 at Nunney.
Some media outlets reported that Jordan’s death has been caused by a cardiac arrest, but this is believed to be incorrect.
“Jordan died as a result of injuries sustained from the fall,” said a spokesman from British Eventing (BE).
Only Me was also not injured in the fall.
Bright young star
Benjamin was one of Germany’s emerging talents and had been a member of junior and young rider teams. He was 13th in Luhmühlen at the 2011 European Championships and 18th at last year’s in Malmö.
Benjamin was also well known on the British circuit and finished 10th and 12th in last year’s under-25 CCI3* at Bramham.
It is understood that the rider from Dortmund was wearing an air jacket at the time of the fall, but that his death was caused by impact to the head rather than crush injuries.
Dr Annette Lorey-Tews, chief medical officer at Luhmühlen, said it had been an “unlucky accident”.
“He fell face first and there was bleeding in his brain. It’s not a typical riding accident — it could happen falling off your bike,” she said.
After discussions with Benjamin’s family, it was decided that competition should go ahead on Sunday (15 June) and a memorial service was held before the showjumping phase.
His mother Sybille Winter said her son’s biggest concern would have been that his accident could have a negative impact on the sport he loved.
German team manager and former British rider Christopher Bartle paid tribute to the popular rider at the service.
“We have lost a talented young rider and, above all, a friend and a fun-loving guy who had decided to make horse sport and, in particular, eventing his life,” said Christopher.
“We are all shocked and in deep sadness at our loss, and our thoughts at this time are very much with Ben’s family and his close friends.
“But we can also be strong. We can hold our heads up high in the knowledge that Ben lost his life doing what he so much wanted to do. The sport of eventing was his life, his passion.”
Canada-born Jordan, who had previously lived in Ontario, had moved to the UK with his wife Shandiss last year. He was based in Leicestershire and had not had a cross-country jumping penalty while competing in England.
As well as being an accomplished rider, he was a talented musician and a qualified commercial airline pilot.
Shandiss, who finished 15th at the CIC3* at Burnham Market this spring, was also competing at the event.
Graeme Thom, chair of Canadian Eventing High Performance Committee, said: “The entire Canadian eventing community is devastated by this tragic event.
“I have known Jordan as a great friend for over a dozen years and as a member of our national team programme. My heart goes out to Shandiss, his lovely wife, and deepest love to his fantastic parents, caring siblings and all relations.”
Canadian eventing coach Clayton Fredericks also added his condolences.
“They left everything in Canada to go to the UK and pursue their riding career,” he told H&H. “They were very determined and a lovely couple.
“They had been dating since they were 14 or 15 so it’s going to be very hard for Shandiss. It’s a sad loss for Canadian eventing.”
The accidents will be fully investigated, but they both took place at straight-forward fences.
Luhmühlen had been criticised in the past, particularly by the German media, for being too testing. Last year, there were 5 horse falls at fence 4 and Emeric George’s P’tite Bombe was put down after hitting fence 12.
Switzerland’s Ernst Bauman was killed at the World Championships held at the venue in 1982.
Course-designer Mark Phillips was at a loss to explain the number of falls that happened this year — 6 rider and 2 horse falls. Britain’s Georgie Spence broke her collarbone in a fall from Wii Limbo and Tom Crisp’s ride Liberal also died on the course.
“I feel sick to my stomach,” Mark said. “We had a course that a lot of people thought was easier than last year, we had perfect conditions, great footing, a sunny day.”
He added that one of the issues was that the bad accidents were happening at “straightforward” fences — including the table fence where Benjamin fell.
“It’s a fence that you need to give the horse time to see and jump,” said Mark. “I spoke to Chris Bartle earlier today and he said that he had said exactly the same to Benjamin when he walked the course with him. Ben didn’t do that and he paid an unacceptable price.”
Fence 7 where Jordan fell was a hanging log fence with mushroom decorations on a slight downhill slope.
“It has been jumped hundreds of times over the past 3 years in courses at both Pony Club and BE 1-day events,” said a BE spokesman.
There have now been 9 fatal falls at novice and 1 at BE100 in the UK since 1982.
“The initial report indicates that the horse may have left a leg at the fence; a thorough investigation is currently under way,” confirmed a BE spokesman.
This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (19 June, 2014)