Eventer Liz Halliday-Sharp has called for riders to speak out if they are unhappy with a fence or a question on a cross-country course after her horse was fatally injured at Burgham Horse Trials.
The US rider paid tribute to her “horse of a lifetime” HHS Cooley, who was put down after breaking a leg in the fall on 30 July.
The combination have enjoyed success at three-star level over the past three years, scoring six top-10 placings including third in the CIC3* at Ballindenisk, Ireland, last September.
Liz brought the 12-year-old grey gelding, who is owned by her mother Deborah Halliday, up through the levels during the past five years.
The pair enjoyed their first four-star completion together at Rolex Kentucky in the spring date, where they jumped clear across country, and have also represented the US on three Nations Cup teams.
“Cooley was the scopiest, bravest horse I have ever ridden in my life,” Liz told H&H.
“He went pretty quickly up the levels. It took him a while to get confident on the flat, but he was brilliant across country.
“I had the most incredible ride cross-country on him [at Kentucky], he just flew around and took it all in his stride.”
She described him as having an “old soul”.
“He would look at you like he knew so much more about you,” she said.
Cooley fell at an open square-type oxer at fence seven on the CIC3* cross-country at the Northumberland event. Liz was knocked out and broke a vertebra in the fall. She is now recovering at home.
Liz said it felt as if Cooley changed his mind in the air and thought he had to bounce the fence, which she feels was too low for its width.
“I remember I didn’t like the fence when I walked the course. I will probably never forgive myself for not speaking up and questioning it,” she said.
“Riders have got to be brave enough to have a voice.
“Never feel you are being a wimp or being too picky or that you should just ‘get on with it’ if you are unhappy with a fence or its safety. It is at least worth asking the question and voicing your concerns.”
The fence had frangible pins, and the left side broke on impact.
“I feel that perhaps the FEI and national federations need to think about how wide an open rail square-type oxer can and should be,” she said. “Just one honest and experienced horse misunderstanding and losing his life is too many in my opinion.”
She added it would be good to have a rider walk the course ahead of an event to give an alternate perspective and would like to see a minimum height for maximum-width open square-style oxers.
Chris Farr, British Eventing’s (BE) sports operations manager, said that “first and foremost” BE extends its sincere condolences to Liz and her team.
“BE is currently assessing the information about the fall and the fence in question,” he said.
“The dimensions of the fence were within the permitted FEI guidelines and it was fitted with frangible pins and MIM clips.
“The role of the rider representative in both national and international competition has been in place for many years, and is a proven method of raising any concerns riders may have about any part or phase of the competition.
“By way of an example, a different fence at Burgham was altered after the riders approached the rider representative and he raised the query with the BE officials.
“BE would strongly encourage riders to use these existing processes if they have any concerns, in all competitions.
“We all wish Liz a speedy recovery.”
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Burgham organiser, Martyn Johnson, added the entire team at the horse trials are deeply sorry for Liz and the loss of her horse.
“The team at Burgham work hard to provide the best possible environment for rider and horse welfare as the number one issue when planning the event,” he said.
David Evans, course designer at Burgham, said: “As anyone involved in eventing will know, whether as an official, volunteer or supporter, we take any injury to either horse or rider incredibly seriously and work tirelessly — and will continue to do so, to move towards making our sport as safe as possible.
“Our thoughts at this time are with Liz and her beloved horse, HHS Cooley.”