New rotationals falls research is a ‘vital’ safety step

  • The project used a computer-generated forecasting model to gain a physics-based insight into rotational falls enabling the researchers to calculate the scenarios in which a horse would rotate or not. H&H speaks to those involved to find out more and garners reaction from the United States Eventing Association and the FEI to the findings...

    New research into rotational falls in eventing has been called a ‘vital step’, as it is hoped findings could pave the way for new frangible device options.

    The four-year project, carried out by University of Kentucky PhD student Shannon Wood under mechanical engineering professor Suzanne Smith, and funded by the United States Eventing Association (USEA), aimed to build on previous research on the use of frangibles in cross-country and to provide more information about rotational falls for device designers.

    A statistical ensemble model (a computer-generated model similar to those used in weather forecasting) was used to create more than 10,000 scenarios using a variety of factors that could lead to a rotational fall, including different approach speeds and angles, fence types, and horse and rider positions, using measurements taken from more than 400 videos of horse and rider combinations competing or training.

    Dr Smith, who has led research on frangibles since 2009, told H&H the aim was to gain a physics-based insight into rotational falls.

    “The complexity of when a horse makes contact with a fence in the most dangerous way is such that it is really too difficult to have a ‘one-size fits all’ solution,” she said.

    “To this point research hasn’t included the rider, and the rider has a significant contribution on what happens. You never know before it happens exactly where the rider is going to be so using a statistical ensemble looks at all  the places they could be.”

    Ms Wood told H&H the model allowed them to calculate the scenarios in which a horse would rotate or not.

    “Most frangible devices have been created using a dummy or pendulum that simulates one situation, but in eventing there are different types of horses, distances, fence types and terrains. Horses can be jumping up or coming down to a fence, so that variety really affects the way the devices should activate,” she said.

    “We created the critical contact situation where the horse was hitting the fence based on measurements from real horse and jumping positions. From those we are able to see whether these would rotate or not by calculating the overall probability of what’s happening at the fence.”

    Ms Wood said the research shows there is a need for more different types of frangible devices.

    “In FEI competition, course-designers and jump builders have MIM clips, the frangible pin and the reverse pin, but there are so many different possible scenarios,” she said. “The idea is to provide guidelines for designers to create more frangible options tailored to specific situations.

    “Eventing is definitely moving in the right direction but it must be fine-tuned and that’s why adding more options for course-designers is so important.”

    United States Eventing Association chief executive Rob Burke said the research was a “vital step” in connecting previous studies.

    “With these models we can make more educated rules related to cross-country course and fence design. Through engineering and education we can further mitigate risk by implementing the findings into the field and in rider and horse training,” he said.

    “We have amazing builders, designers, riders, coaches, and officials, and we aim to provide them with as many tools as possible to reduce risk. This research will help us to that end and it also provides direction and focus for the future. Reducing risk in eventing is, and will be, an ongoing effort, but through research such as this we are hopeful that risk will be continually lessened.”

    A spokesman for the FEI, which announced a new frangible standard for January 2021 with regard to specific energies at which rails must activate and changes to testing (news 7 May), said the FEI risk management steering group welcomes Ms Wood’s study.

    “Frangible devices are one of the important protective measures developed to reduce horse falls, particularly rotational, consequently, FEI-approved frangible devices have been compulsory on the defined fences where they can be fitted in four- and five-star competitions in 2020 and across all FEI competition levels as of 2021,” he said.

    “The goal of the FEI is to encourage inventors to be creative, develop and test using this new standard. The feedback has been very positive, and we look forward to many more new and different concepts in the near future.”

    The spokesman added that several manufacturers are working on having current and new devices tested to meet the new standard.

    “The FEI looks forward to reviewing this new research from Kentucky and will include it in the ongoing efforts to keep learning and improving safety,” he said.

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