Mark Phillips: A new way to look at safety *H&H VIP*


    Kentucky designer Derek di Grazia and I have been talking a lot recently about how horses see. We believe increasing understanding of this has big
    implications for eventing safety. Horses are prey animals — they have a good range of vision to the sides, but they miss about 10° directly in front and behind them. So as horses approach a fence, they increasingly pull their information from the sides. We can use fence decoration to help horses read the question.

    For example, trees around the fence should be placed about one foot in front of the leading edge (the take-off side of the jump), rather than level with it. This will encourage the horse not to get too deep and take off too close to the fence.

    The trees should ideally be slightly taller than the fence, to give the horse the impression the leading edge is little higher than it is.

    The hardest fence for a horse to read is a spread with the flags on the back — as the horse gets closer, he reads the flags, but misses the leading edge, risking hitting it.

    Nothing is a complete solution in eventing safety, but this is a different way of looking at it — if we can help horses understand the question, we might not need so many frangible fences. I have been using this knowledge on my courses at all levels this year and it really reduces the number of fallers.

    Changing courses

    This was my third year overseeing the CIC2* at Rockingham. Budget is always a factor at one-day events and it takes time to make changes.

    The first year you’re basically putting on a plaster — getting rid of the bad fences and making the moderate ones as good as possible. In the second and third years, a designer can start to put in new fences to get close to the course you want. After that, there must be a policy of replacing a few fences each year as the old ones deteriorate. Without ongoing investment, an organiser will suddenly need to replace 10 to 15 fences at once, which is expensive.

    Although the ground at Rockingham had a hard crust, it was soft underneath and broke up well when aerated. Horses travelled well on it, so with sunshine and a new title sponsor in Fairfax & Favor, the event came together nicely.

    New rules

    The FEI is currently rewriting the abuse of the horse rule after the fallout following Oliver Townend’s warning for over-use of the whip at Badminton. The new rule will make it clearer to riders and the ground jury what is and isn’t acceptable.

    The FEI also recognises that showjumping is becoming very influential following the change of scoring this year to decrease the dressage influence.

    As such, it is looking at bringing in a change to award one time-fault per four seconds commenced over the time allowed in the showjumping (as in the pure discipline), rather than the current rule of one time-fault per second. This will mean three or four seconds over the optimum shouldn’t cost a rider 15 places, again a positive move.

    Finally, I am in favour of Mark Todd’s idea of trialling a split of the ground jury role to put separate experts in charge of each phase (comment, 24 May). Having the right people in the right roles can only improve the professionalism of former Olympic team gold decisions in our sport.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 31 May 2018