Fewer eventing horse falls in 2019, but more work needed *H&H Plus*

  • While horse falls at FEI events, and the risk of rotational falls in particular, dropped in 2019, there was a statistical increase in the percentage of falls at the highest level of eventing. The best way to achieve a further reduction in these figures was among the topics discussed at the FEI eventing risk management seminar...

    Horse fall rates at international events were the lowest on record in 2019, but there remains more to be done in reducing these and collecting better information on equine injuries.

    David O’Connor presented the newly released 2019 statistics for eventing falls at the FEI eventing risk management seminar at Aintree (24 to 26 January).


    Strides have been made in how data is collected, with recent examples including recording the number of concussions separately, rather than bundling them into the “other injury” category.

    “[The number of] horse falls has to be how we judge ourselves,” said Mr O’Connor, explaining this is because of risk of injury to both horses and riders.

    In 2019, horse falls as a percentage of starters was 1.36%, with the chances of a rotational fall at 0.12%. In 2009, the corresponding figures were 1.72% and 0.23%.

    “We see this trend is still going in the right direction, with rotational falls more than halved in 10 years,” he said. “These are encouraging numbers.”

    But Mr O’Connor told the forum there remains a spike in the risk of horse falls at five-star level, higher than the increase between the other levels.

    “Maybe the progression between four- and five-star isn’t totally correct or maybe five-star has become a different sport,” said Mr O’Connor.

    He added the global aim has been to reduce horse falls at five-star level to 4% of starters, which the sport is “close to, but we still haven’t got there yet”. In 2019, this figure was 5.15%, compared to 4.25% in 2018 and 6.63% in 2017.

    Olympic eventer Vittoria Panizzon questioned whether the qualifications for five-star are where they should be, given the rise in risk shown in the FEI data.

    “Obviously look at frangible devices, course design [as well], but the qualifications seems to be a key thing to look at,” she said, adding she would also be wary of asking for too many long-format classes as qualifying criteria because of the mileage this adds to horses. “Not just add more, but look at the type of qualifications, therefore the level of courses.”

    She also made the point as to whether frangible pins allowed horses who would have fallen to continue, before having a fall later on course.

    “Should we be looking at whether horses need to be pulled up quicker if a frangible pin saves a fall?” she asked.

    There also remains a greater chance of having a fall at an international event compared to a national class at the same level, which has left experts scratching their heads.

    The average fall rate of horse and/or rider at international events is 5.57% — to put this into context, Britain’s national event fall rate is 2.26%.

    Mr O’Connor said it is believed the answer may be psychological, in terms of pressure felt by riders, as often international classes are run over the same courses as national sections.

    “We still don’t think we’ve wrapped our heads totally around the question between the international classes and national classes — why is that such a difference?” he asked.

    ‘Under-reporting’ horse injuries

    Professor Tim Parkin, of the University of Glasgow’s veterinary school, stressed better information is needed about injuries horses sustain at events.

    Reviewing the FEI’s current data, he said there is “quite a lot of variation” in the information sent in and outcomes and types of injury were not always well described.

    Professor Parkin added he believes there is an “unknowable degree of under-reporting”, and when this is taken into consideration, the injury rate is likely to be around one in every 1,000 starts.

    He suggested focusing on detailed reporting of injuries likely to impact a horse’s return to competition, whether that is in the long or short term, are fatal or career ending.

    “Overall, the number of injury reports might reduce, but that’s because we are only focusing on things that have a really significant impact,” he said.

    Looking at the FEI data compared to National Hunt racing, he said the risk of issues such as tendon/ligament injuries, lacerations, epistaxis (bleeding from the nose) and other lameness in racing is far greater than that in eventing.

    “Similar types of things come up, replicated in slightly different orders, but in general the risk in National Hunt racing is tenfold for the same type of [injury] than in eventing,” he said.

    “But we have to remember we probably see a greater amount of under-reporting in eventing than in National Hunt racing, where the system has been set up for a long time to ensure that pretty much as much as possible injuries are reported on the day they occur.”

    The discussion moved to how difficult collecting accurate data can be, with injuries showing up after an event, or horses transported to their own vets directly from the event site. But experts agreed finding a better way to collect data is important.

    “Collecting data from injuries will benefit the sport in the long term,” said FEI vet and trainer Staffan Lidbeck.

    Mr O’Connor said the issue comes back to racing’s message about being on the front foot when it comes to equine welfare and why our horses have a better life because of the job they do.

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