By Veronica Spaulding
What is a rotational fall, and what can we do to prevent them? There has been a lot of discussion among the eventing community about how to prevent rotational falls — a fall where the horse hits a fence with its front legs or chest and its body somersaults over the fence, with the fence acting as a pivot point. In such tragedies, the rider is thrown out of the saddle and flies over the jump before the horse. In a worst case scenario, the horse can land on the rider.
Back in 2008, an Australian research study on the safety of the sport took place, directed by Ms. Denzil O'Brien and Dr. Raymond Cripps, both from the Research Centre for Injury Studies at Adelaide's Flinders University. The research was based on data collected during a five year span. There were a total of 444 one-day and three-day cross country events during this time, which concluded in 1732 rider falls. O'Brien and Cripps received officials' reports from several events. Jumps and courses were analyzed, and it was clear that the accident risk for rotational falls was larger for step-in and step-out water obstacles. The authors stressed the dangers of rotational falls by reporting that in 1999 five riders died in the UK, and four were caused by the rotational fall.
Of the 58,000 starts throughout the five years, many horses fell, but only four had to euthanized. Three of the four horses' deaths were caused by fractures, and the last by unknown causes. The report said that "rotational falls can have catastrophic results for both participants in the sport."
As a result of the falls in the UK, the Transport Research Laboratory(TRL) patented a jump design to minimize the dangers of cross country jumps — called frangible pins. The TRL's research suggested that "a landing angle of more than 90 degrees was considered to provide a significant risk of crushing injury to the rider." It is most commonly caused when the horse hits a fence from the...