Horsemanship, Lack of Data Discussed at Eventing Safety Summit

Officials with the U.S. Eventing Association (USEA) and U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) collected input from the equestrian community on ways to improve eventing safety at a summit on June 7-8. Proposed solutions range from required pre-competition preventive veterinary checks to promoting rider education.

The summit, held in Lexington, Ky., included several sessions that allowed more than 250 riders, coaches, course designers, veterinarians, and animal welfare activists to share their perspectives and experiences on eventing safety and offer suggestions in an open forum setting.

A list of five to seven specific goals derived from the summit will be released later this week.

David O'Connor, president of the USEF, stressed that every conversation at the summit was aimed at reaching common goal: reducing horse falls. He stressed that two-tenths of a percent of competitors in events fall on the courses. But after two horses were euthanized following falls at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in April, and a former Olympic equestrian was injured in a fence collision earlier this year, the risk of injury in the sport has attracted national media attention.

O'Connor said many competitors have "their own timeline" for qualifying for competitions and moving on to advanced courses, pushing their horses to perform, which might lead to fatigue or other medical conditions. He said he believes promoting basic ideas of horsemanship--for instance, a rider knowing his or her limitations and abilities--is an important part of promoting safer competitions.

Ideas proposed at the veterinary and medical session included:
  • Establishing a committee to review incidents of horse falls,
  • Setting higher standards for rider fitness, and
  • Requiring a medical card for competitive horses.
"Realize the responsibility you have when you get on your horse is the ultimate responsibility," he said.

Catherine Kohn, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at The Ohio State University, researched equine fatalities in event horses (1996-2008). She sat on a panel of medical professionals at the summit and presented research concerning 51 horse fatalities due to collapse or injuries at events in the United States.

Kohn said she wants to know more about the causes of collapse, which she believes could be associated with medical conditions not detected in horses before competition. She believes that it is important to develop a database containing comprehensive information about horse fatalities, injuries, and falls. This information will assist with ongoing efforts to develop strategies that reduce the risks for event horses. Kohn also said she believes more oversight by ground jury members at events, including the use of yellow flags, could help prevent horse falls.

Kohn acknowledged that a cultural change in the eventing community is necessary. She said riders must be held responsible for their horses' welfare while competing, and that the rider's mindset must be geared toward safety.

"You have to have in your mind that welfare of the horse and rider are paramount, not winning," she said.

Kent Allen, DVM, a prominent eventing veterinarian and chair of the USEF veterinary committee, sat on the panel during the June 7 veterinary and medical session. Allen said he is interested in collecting more information on cardiovascular conditions present in a horse before a competition. He also expressed a need to research exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, which might be on the rise. He postulated this could be because of the increasing speeds of horses between the fences due to newer types of courses and format changes in eventing.

Duncan Peters discusses horse safety at Rolex Event

April 24 interview with Dr. Duncan Peters on event horse safety
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"We have a great deal of knowledge in the musculoskeletal area but are lacking good information as to what is happening in the heart and lungs of these horses in trouble," he stated.

Representatives from the USEF agreed the organization would fund future necropsies as needed, in the hope that this will provide information to veterinarians and researchers about the causes of death.

Ideas proposed at the veterinary and medical session included the establishment of a committee to review incidents of horse falls, setting higher standards for rider fitness, and requiring a medical card for competitive horses. The USEA also has already established a committee that will look into the need for cardiopulmonary research in event horses.

"We're not going to be able to mandate everything, so a lot of this falls on improving rider and trainer education," Allen concluded.

About the Author

Elizabeth Troutman

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