Irish centres trial safety zones in warm-up rings [H&H VIP]

  • Irish shows have introduced “horse-free zones” in warm-up areas. The move comes after a woman was knocked down and paralysed by a horse that galloped in between the practice fences at Cavan Equestrian Centre’s indoor championships in September 2012 (news, 25 October 2012).

    Course-designer Tom Holden, who is on Showjumping Ireland’s (SJI) health and safety committee, has driven the initiative.

    Plastic traffic barriers at 1.20m are positioned between practice fences to “create a safe area where the groom or trainer can retreat after adjusting the fence”.

    “It’s not legislation, but we have encouraged show centres to use them,” said Mr Holden. “People were suspicious at first, but we’ve had positive feedback from riders, grooms and trainers.”

    Mr Holden added that since Dublin Show agreed to try horse-free zones last summer, “most show centres have followed on”. Tattersalls and Ballindenisk Horse Trials are also using them.

    SJI chairman Georgia Stubington said the organisation is working to reduce the risk involved in warm-up arenas.

    “The plan in 2014 is to trial a few options,” she said. “They include a penned area built with plastic traffic barricades and a penned area designated with poles on the ground — which provides a demarcated area for assistants to stand in.

    “There were concerns about the barricades blowing over or loose horses jumping them, crashing into them and causing more injury.”

    The Meadows Equestrian Centre in Co Armagh was one of the first venues to start using the barriers.

    We now wouldn’t consider running a show without them,” said director Hugh McCusker, who believes 70% of Irish centres now use them. “At first there was opposition, especially from riders, but now people can see it’s an excellent idea.

    “The horses don’t even notice, and we haven’t had any problems with them trying to jump or run through them.”

    But they are unlikely to be spotted in this country imminently. The subject has not been raised at British Showjumping (BS).

    “Before we consider an idea like this, there would have to be stringent health and safety checks,” said BS’s Maria Clayton.

    British Eventing confirmed that while the initiative “has been discussed, we are not planning anything at this stage”.

    One argument for the barricades is that some insurance companies on the Continent now insist — to prevent accidents — that shows employ professionals to adjust jumps, which raises the cost of hosting a show.

    Mr Holden believes that Ireland is the first country to use the horse-free zones.

    Up to 6 barriers are required, at a cost of €60 (£50) each.