Making Cross Country Jumps Safer

A company in the United Kingdom has created a jump design to lessen the severity of cross-country jumping falls. In 1999, several U.K. riders died from accidents on cross-country jumps. The resultant British Horse Trials Association study committee hired the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), an expert in transportation safety, for scientific investigation, data analysis, accident investigation, and engineering.

From available video coverage of 100 falls and intensive equine anatomical studies, TRL created a mathematical model of a horse and a crash-test dummy. The key conclusion of their study was that significant injuries resulted from rotational falls. In this sort of fall, the horse hits a fixed obstacle between the knee and shoulder, overturns, drops the rider at the base of the jump, then falls on the rider. The speed is slow enough that the rider is not thrown clear. The study concluded that if the top rail could give way as much as 20 cm (7.9 inches), the horse would have a few fractions of a second to free up his front legs and prevent the rotation, if not the fall.

Barriers International created the "frangible pin" to meet this criteria as well as other sport-specific parameters. Frangible is defined as "capable of being broken." However, a frangible pin fence does not mean a breakaway fence. The set-up will only give way if the top pole is hit with sufficient downward force equivalent to the horse's weight plus momentum. Monitoring in competition has shown that horses can knock/heavily hit the crosspole of a frangible pin fence without breaking the pin (a rotational fall is required).

A frangible-pin fence, at this point in development, is always a post and rail jump of some type--an oxer (two verticals jumped as one unit), a vertical, a triple bar, or even a corner. A steel sleeve is inserted into the upright post, and a special aluminum pin is inserted in the sleeve to support the top crosspole. The pin is designed with a narrow 20-mm (0.8-inch) neck that shears under sufficient pressure. Each upright is built to allow the top pole to drop 40 cm (15.8 inches), easily creating the required 20-cm (7.9-inch) drop.

During the initial trial period in 2002, 29 frangible-pin fences were jumped by 2,344 horses in nine events of various levels and geographies in the UK. The pins broke once. Further testing was done at 12 events and complete load testing and monitoring has been done at two events. To date, the pins have broken four times. The general feeling among observers was that the breaks minimized injury.

About the Author

Katherine Walcott

Katherine Walcott is a freelance writer living in the countryside near Birmingham, Al. She writes for anyone she can talk into paying her and rides whatever disciplines she can talk her horses into doing.

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