Scientific breakthrough will inform new frangible fence technology * H&H Plus*

  • Among the topics discussed at the FEI eventing risk management seminar was news of a breakthrough for the science behind frangible technology that took place at Burghley Horse Trials last autumn

    The latest developments in frangible technology and how the past could influence cross-country courses of the future were discussed by leading figures in the world of eventing course design at a major seminar.

    Attendees at the FEI eventing risk management seminar at Aintree (24-26 January) heard how a video research project at Burghley 2019 was a big success; how new frangible technology is within touching distance and why super skinny fences might take a back seat.


    Dr Dave Vos, a member of the frangible device working group, explained how valuable Burghley 2019 was in terms of a breakthrough for the science behind the technology.

    He told the forum that the well-placed cameras meant the event was “phenomenally useful”.

    Among the headline messages were confirmation of the “pitch-up” time of a horse’s jump — the moment of take off — which for a fit event horse is around 0.18 seconds. This can be translated into distances and will help inform dressing of fences, in relation to their shape, to help horses find the right take-off point. The other was that the physics model experts have created to understand the angles and forces involved in a horse’s jump at this level and these types of fences is accurate.

    “We can believe and trust what the physics model predicts and use that to determine how we are going to define the requirements for frangible devices going forward,” he said.

    Dr Vos added the aim is to find the best way of preventing most falls within the parameters of the majority of forces that come from the many different ways, speeds and angles horses may jump and hit fences, and answer these with one or two easy to use devices, rather than having thousands of different pin options.

    The seminar also heard that new technology, for angled gates and open-fronted corners, is in the pipeline.

    FEI eventing committee chairman David O’Connor mooted the idea as to whether course designers should be more involved on cross-country day itself.

    He suggested course designers be given the power to ask the ground jury, or ground jury president, to stop a competitor on course who is riding dangerously.

    ‘We have gone too skinny’

    Course designers Mike Etherington-Smith and Mark Phillips also discussed how courses have changed and proposals for the future of cross-country.

    “We can only control what we can control, but we have to be mindful of all the external pressures looking from the outside in,” said Mr Etherington-Smith, referring to a list of factors including the Olympics, accidents, public engagement, use of animals in sport, affordability and sustainability .

    “All of this is what goes through our minds as course designers and we have to recognise and be mindful of as we ply out trade.

    “Cross-country is our USP and we still fundamentally believe it is about jumping fixed fences.”

    The pair proposed steps and ditches are no longer always counted as jumping efforts, which may see the return of more coffins and sunken roads.

    “Coffins and sunken roads have almost disappeared from our sport because at the moment a coffin is three efforts and a sunken road is four — 10% of your efforts in one fence,” said Captain Phillips.

    “It would give course designers a lot more flexibility and start to bring some of the traditional cross-country fences back.”

    Mr Etherington-Smith added this is very much a discussion point, but these type of fences are “a fantastic education for horses and riders”.

    They are also recommending widening narrow fences at all levels.

    “We collectively feel that we have gone too skinny in some regard and we are not being fair to the horses,” said Mr Etherington-Smith.

    Captain Phillips added: “In the training of the horse it is so important that the horses shouldn’t learn to fail at these skinny fences.

    “We are not being clever by asking our young horses at the one- and two-star level to go super skinny.”

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