The fence where teenage eventer Olivia Inglis had a fatal fall was “appropriate but not safe”, according to international rider Paul Tapner.
The 2010 Badminton winner told an inquest into her death that he “would have liked something to be changed about that jump” had he been competing at the Scone Horse Trials in March 2016.
“I would be exceptionally unhappy to jump that without a discussion with the course designer and technical delegate about how it could be made safe,” he said.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the rider was concerned that only two of a number of risks presented by the fence had been addressed by course-designers.
While the jump had been painted white and the back rail of the oxer at 8b had been raised by 3cm to make it more visible, it did not feature a groundline or use frangible pins.
While an investigation into the accident revealed that the obstacle did not meet at least three FEI guidelines, three course-designers called as witnesses said they believed it to be safe. They were Brits Mike Etherington-Smith, Alec Lochore and Australian Grant Johnston.
While Mr Etherington-Smith stressed that course-design is “not a black and white science” and FEI guidelines are “not rules”, all three agreed they would not have designed the fence in that form.
Both the British designers told the coroner’s court they would have built the jump using frangible pins.
Experienced 17-year-old rider Olivia suffered serious chest injuries when her horse Corialanus fell at 8b, the second element of a downhill combination on the two-star (now three-star) track, and never regained consciousness.
The horse was later put down after he was found to have broken his neck.
The joint inquest into Olivia’s death and that of 19-year-old Caitlyn Fischer, who died at Sydney International Horse trials on 30 April 2016, is being heard by deputy state coroner Derek Lee at the NSW Coroner’s Court.
All three experts said they did not believe course design had been a factor in the death of Caitlyn, who was killed instantly when her horse Ralphie fell at the second fence of the one-star (now two-star).
It is thought that an error from the horse, who chipped in an extra stride on the approach, caused the rotational fall.
Questions over the handling of an Equestrian Australia review of Olivia’s accident emerged on Friday (24 May), when a safety investigator told the court she had been “frustrated” after her efforts to examine the teenager’s death had been “shut down”.
Australian website 7news reported that Samantha Farrar — a health and safety officer with more than 30 year’s experience, who is also the wife of Equestrian NSW chief executive Bruce Farrar —was told not to talk to some witnesses.
Mrs Farrar told the inquest that she had also been “blocked” from investigating the distance in the combination.
“I was just trying to get correct data and it was very difficult to get,” she said.
She added that at the time she had been “convinced it was poor striding” and had spoken with “a number of experts” about the matter.
“But I was told I wasn’t allowed to consider wider expert opinion,” she said.
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Mrs Farrar discovered that another young rider, Rosie Cohen, had experienced difficulties with fence 8b the previous year, and had been “very nervous” about riding it again following a “near miss”.
She said she had been “shut down” by the panel when she suggested interviewing Rosie about the incident, where her horse had become “caught up”.
“In retrospect it would have been very useful to interview these riders, but at the time that wasn’t a directive,” she said.
The hearing continues.
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