Initial results of the Transport Research Laboratory’s (TRL) research into collapsible cross-country fences have been released.

A simple peg mechanism causes the top pole to drop when hit by a force of 460kg or more. This represents a horse of approximately 15.3hh hitting the fence between chest and knee – as happens in the “somersaults” which appear to have been a major factor in recent rider deaths.

When the pole drops, two uprights to prevent it rolling and causing further risk contain it. A lighter blow, such as that caused by a hoof hitting the pole as the horse clears the fence, would not dislodge it.

“What the eventing experts believed was happening has been borne out by our findings, which is quite unusual,” said Nigel Byard of the TRL.

Former three-day event World Champion Ginny Elliot, who watched a trial run with the TRL’s “mechanical horse” simulating the action of a real horse hitting the collapsible fence, said: “I believe I would have been able to sit that. The horse would still think it was a fixed fence and it would not alter our enjoyment of the sport. But my first reaction is that it works well in testing but wouldn’t work in a real place.”

Funded by British Eventingto the tune of around £67,000, the research has taken longer than anticipated due to the vast amount of data used and the complex task of designing a “deformable” structure to represent the horse.

  • Watch BBC’s Tomorrow’s World on 11 April to see the mechnical horse in action.
  • See Horse & Hound issue dated 5 April 2001 for the full article.