Eventing is a wonderful sport, but it does not take competitors long to experience the fantastic highs and the terrible lows.
At Luhmühlen we saw some terrific riding as some great young horses put in world-class performances in perfect weather on perfect footing.
That spectacle was sadly clouded by Benjamin Winter’s tragic death and the sad loss of Tom Crisp’s old friend Liberal, who looked as though he died of a heart attack, just 1,600m into the course.
A lot of research has been done in America into what causes this type of fatality, which appears more prevalent today than 25 years ago. Sadly, as yet we don’t have any answers.
Like Liberal, Benjamin Winter [pictured at Houghton last year] died doing what he loved best. He had a wonderful ride at his first four-star on Wild Thing Z and looked to be heading for a second one on Ispo.
We will never know what made him have a rush of blood to the head and kick for a distance that was never there. He’d even been told by coach Christopher Bartle not to see the distance from 100m away. He never took the tug and paid the ultimate unacceptable price.
Ispo did not land on him, with resulting crush injuries, but the impact caused fatal head injuries.
As course-designer, the sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach never really leaves you. Simon Long’s fall at Burghley over 10 years ago still haunts me; Benjamin Winter’s will never disappear either. All riders know the risks, but none expects to lose their life when they make a mistake.
With frangible pins and other technologies, we have made so much progress, but we cannot make eventing totally safe, any more than you can guarantee safety in your car.
What is so unfair for Benjamin is that plenty of others make mistakes. Georgie Spence did a very similar thing at the oxer at number 5. She was lucky — the post broke and she only broke her collarbone. It is not the first time she has ridden this way and she should be mindful of the possible consequences.
Craig Nicolai fell at the footbridge at number 6, a 3-star level fence with an uphill take-off. At 3- and 4-star, riders really need to take responsibility for jumping the straightforward, let-up fences. Please let us not end up with a situation where we cannot, at the top level, site fences off a straight approach, unless they are steeplechase fences.
The memorial service at Luhmühlen was a moving way to handle the tragedy. With amazing courage, Benjamin’s mother Sybille said he would have wanted the event to continue and so we went on.
I was thrilled for Tim Price and Wesko. This class performance greatly strengthens their World Equestrian Games [WEG] bid.
You have to take your hat off to Boyd Martin. He rode in pain from his recently broken leg all weekend and his clear was a masterpiece, as Shamwari 4 is not easy on the last day. At full fitness, he must have a strong chance at WEG. Oliver Townend, too, did a great job on Black Tie.
Our low was compounded by the news from Nunney of Jordan McDonald’s death. His was the slow rotation, Ben’s the fast one. Let’s hope the rest of the summer brings more smiles after these tragedies.
Erratic yellow card use
I was saddened by Mary King’s automatic 2-month suspension for 2 yellow cards for dangerous riding. I did not see the first incident at Le Lion d’Angers, but I saw the second at Bramham. These days Mary is not as tidy as she once was, but she has not competed so successfully all these years by riding dangerously.
We do not seem to have a level playing field here. For me, there was no question that Georgie Spence should have had a card at Luhmühlen and Anna Hasso, too, for jumping the string and then having a stop when she tried to jump back again.
We see many people getting away with bad moves. I support the yellow card system — people who ride dangerously need to be warned — but much depends on who sees you and the mood of the ground jury.
The FEI has some video footage, but probably needs to introduce more video education for officials to give a fairer system. H&H