Industry Standards for Frangible Cross-Country Jumps Defined

Cross-country jumps designed to break apart upon impact are safer for horses and riders, but in order to be fair they must follow new industrial standards in Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) competitions, according to an FEI spokeswoman.

As of Jan. 1, 2012, all "frangible and deformable structures and devices"--or breakaway jumps--used in FEI competitions have to adhere to a set of standards developed by an FEI Eventing Committee task force and the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), an "internationally recognized research consultancy," said Catrin Norinder, director of eventing at the FEI, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The fences are designed to give way under impact to prevent serious injury. However, if the fence does break apart, the rider is significantly penalized (21 penalty points), Norinder said. To maintain fairness of the competitions, it is critical that the obstacles always break under the same amount of force for all jumps, competitors, and competitions, she said.

"The (new) industrial standards have been put in place to ensure the constancy of the breakability," Norinder said.

The FEI recognizes what they call a "critical load"--meaning the amount of force necessary to cause the jump to break apart. The frangible devices are considered to be "activated" when this critical load is reached, according to Norinder.

Special pins and clips can hold fence rails in place but will "let go" when the critical load is reached. Styrofoam structures, such as the Prolog device, are engineered to deform or collapse under the critical load. The FEI approved frangible fences several years ago, but it was at the 2011 General Assembly that the organization announced that industry standards would be applied, Norinder said.

The FEI has defined three primary criteria for the devices, she said. They must:

  • Be practical and reasonably priced in order to be affordable by the sport worldwide;
  • Not expose horses and riders to a higher risk than traditional cross country obstacles; and
  • Maintain the same performance throughout the competition so as to be fair for all competitors.

Although frangible devices are not as solid as traditional eventing obstacles, they are "purposefully designed to look realistic so that horses treat them with the respect they would accord to (traditional jumps)," Norinder said. "The landscape of the cross-country course therefore remains unchanged."

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About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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