Eventing authorities are urging organisers and owners of cross-country courses to ensure that portable fences are properly secured to the ground, following several incidents where horses have fallen over fences that have moved.

At the British Horse Society-affiliated Carousel Riding Club’s hunter trial at Burnham Market, Norfolk, on 6 March, two separate portable fences either collapsed or rotated when they were hit.

Although no riders or horses were seriously injured, the incidents raised concerns about the lack of safety checks at events not run under British Eventing (BE) affiliated rules.

A spokesman for the riding club said: “We regularly use the facilities [at Burnham Market] and this is the first time that we have encountered any problems.

“We hired the course on the assumption that it would be presented in a safe condition ready for the competition.”

Portable fences on BE courses are fixed to the ground, according to specific guidelines, and inspected by the technical adviser (TA) prior to the competition. But there is no automatic procedure for unaffiliated events.

In October 2008, Jade South, a member of the Ross Harriers branch of the Pony Club, died when her horse hit a portable jump on a course at Pauntley Court, Redmarley, Glos (news, 6 November 2008).

Her instructor Karen Slaughter told an inquest in February this year that: “It was a very solid jump, but it lifted up about 10 inches with the horse’s front legs.”

Anchoring is paramount

BE did not want to comment on the incident at Burnham Market, but referred us to its cross-country handbook that reads: “The anchoring of portable obstacles is of paramount importance. There are few accidents worse than a fence tipping over under a horse and either tripping or entangling it.”

Richard Pearson-Wood, sales director of Kent-based portables manufacturer Jump Co, which did not make these jumps, concurred.

He said failing to secure portables firmly to the ground with wooden stakes or specially designed fixing screws can be dangerous.

“If the fence moves significantly, it can cause the horse to do a forward roll, with potentially fatal consequences,” he said.

Burnham Market Eventing Centre regularly hosts affiliated and unaffiliated events, although the two are managed by separate businesses. Alec Lochore’s Musketeer Event Management runs BE horse trials, while his wife Emily manages the unaffiliated events.

Mrs Lochore confirmed that the fences in question were not pegged down, but said: “Considerable thought goes into all the cross-country courses that we produce at Burnham Market. We move our fences regularly to ensure good ground. However, we will obviously now consider pegging in instances where they are of a less-secure profile.”

Stringent guidelines

Head of British Riding Clubs Sarah Philips said: “This was an unfortunate occurrence and we will be reminding our clubs how important it is to check that portable fences are fixed.

“We produce stringent guidelines for clubs organising cross-country events and recommend they use BE-listed course-builders and designers. This was the case with the club in question.”

The spokesman for Carousel Riding Club added: “We will be considering whether in the future we need a written agreement [rather than the current verbal one] detailing whose responsibility it is to check the fences.”

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (7 April, 2011)