Events will have to use “safety” cross-country flags on certain fences from 20 August, in line with a new British Eventing (BE) rule.

This follows the freak accident at Badminton in which French rider Jean-Lou Bigot’s mount Icare D’Auzay died after being staked by a wooden flag at the Vicarage Vee that snapped and pierced several arteries.

BE sport director Mike Etherington-Smith explained: “This rule [has been introduced] as a safety measure to avoid potential accidents. It is hoped all organisers will understand the importance of introducing such flags as soon as possible.”

Among other requirements, poles must be made of material that cannot shatter or splinter and poles and flags must have no points or sharp corners. Corners and narrow fences are among the fences that must use these flags.

BE will keep a list of suppliers of suitable flags to help organisers. Aston-le-Walls and Barbury Castle are among the events that have already used safety flags.

Barbury director David Green said: “Our flags are made by a Swiss company called Equibois Creaton, which makes the spring-loaded ski poles used for slalom races.

“If they’re hit they just bounce straight back into position. They are expensive but we are happy to hire them out to other events — Burghley has already enquired about them.”

Leading event rider Francis Whittington praised the move to introduce safety flags.

He said: “I’ve seen bendy flag poles at Saumur and Aachen and they do work very well. Flags with no sharp edges are a good idea too.

“Our sport is dangerous and you can never take away the risk completely, but anything we can do to minimise the risk and make the sport safer for horses and riders, we should do.”

Read this story in full in the current issue of Horse & Hound (2 August, ’07)