Designing Jumps to Prevent Horse Accidents

A few simple changes to cross-country courses will reduce the risk of horses and riders becoming injured at eventing competitions. A research study has found that most falls occur under certain conditions, some of which can easily be avoided.

These design changes were identified by an investigation into falls of horses and riders that happened while attempting jumps at British Eventing competitions.

The disturbing statistics of eventing riding accidents generates some urgency for creating safer cross-country courses. One-third of horses that fall while jumping get injured. For one in a hundred of these accidents, the horse's injuries are fatal.

horse and rider clear a water jump

Jumps involving water can be especially dangerous.

Among the 173 cases of falls examined, the study found that spills clustered around particular types of jumps. Especially hazardous were jumps involving going through water at take off or landing. Fences with a drop landing, a spread of over two metres (6.5 feet), and angled fences all elevated the likelihood of a horse falling. Jumps also became more treacherous when the ground at take-off was soft or heavy.

The horse-rider partnership itself can also add to the risk of having an accident. Falls were more likely to happen among riders who knew they were in the lead at the eventing competition. Approaching the jump at too fast or slow a speed also gave horse and rider a greater chance of ending up tumbling.

The study's authors recommend three cross-country course design modifications for lowering the frequency of horse falls:

  • having fewer fences that require horses to jump into or out of water,
  • keeping the base spread of fences to less than two metres, and
  • maintaining firm take-off surfaces at fences.

J.K Murray, E.R. Singer, K.L. Morgan, C.J. Proudman and N.P. French. 2006. The risk of a horse-and-rider partnership falling on the cross-country phase of eventing competitions. Equine Veterinary Journal. 38(2): 158-163.

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