Safety in Eventing, with Christine Bates

Christine Bates has been an elite-level rider for the last 20 years producing many horses to international level Eventing.

A seasoned professional, Christine continues to perform at the highest level of her sport and her sights are now firmly set on achieving success with her multi-event winning horse, Adelaide Hill.

This successful horse and rider combination was previously short-listed for the 2012 London Olympics. Christine was also listed for the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics, as well as being the reserve for the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez.

Who else would be best to talk HubVibes writer, Dannii Cunnane, of how safety has changed to make Eventing safer.

While Eventing is made up of three phases – dressage, show jumping and cross-country, it’s the latter where most riders get injured.

“Over the last couple of decades, eventing has evolved,” explains Christine.

“Horse riding is a dangerous sport in itself, but when you add open country with fences to navigate, it’s a whole new level of risk.

“It used to be that you could have multiple falls in the cross-country phase and get back on your horse, but over time that changed.

“Nowadays you have one fall and you’re eliminated, which is disappointing from a competitor’s point of view, but the safety aspect is great. There were so many riders getting back on their horse concussed – it was wild and woolly back then.

“The change in the safety aspect is to ensure that the rider is ok. They need to be checked out and medically cleared – which is new. It’s a very positive step to make the sport safer.”

Another change to safety is the frangible pin system, which were trialled at the British Eventing horse trials in 2002. The trial was successful and the pins were introduced to other events within the UK.

The breakable metal pins are inserted between the top rail and the uprights supporting it.

The pin is designed to drop the jump’s top element by at least 20 centimetres if the fence is hit from above, which research confirmed happens when a horse somersaults over a fixed fence.

“This drop is designed to allow the horse to get a leg forward to save itself from rotating over the fence,” said Christine.

“While this system may not prevent the horse from falling, it will help moderate the risk of a more serious injury.

“There are also completely collapsible tables being designed what when hit at speed or a certain angle, they collapse flat to the ground. This will also assist in preventing a rotational fall.

“In course building, there has always been a great focus on safety. Research into the safety aspects has always been a high priority but to get ideas approved and implemented takes time.

“On a global scale, everything to keep horses and riders safe is being investigated and designed into each course.”

In regards to personal safety, Christine believes that each rider can minimise some of the risk themselves by correct training at home.

“Each phase of eventing requires practice and all three phases should be practiced equally,” Christine said.

“In cross-country, the obstacle height and technicality is a factor with each level. The higher you go the greater the speed and technical riding knowledge you’ll need to know.

“The riding knowledge comes down to speed and how to jump each obstacle. There is less emphasis on riding to time these days but this really is something that each rider should focus on. The more you practice this, the better you get.

“The second part is the judgement of the obstacle and how you will go about clearing it. You will need to be knowledgeable on when to accelerate and when to apply the brakes.

“In the training of a good cross-country horse it’s all about schooling them over the different type of fences. They need to gain experience for themselves and learn what is the correct pace for each obstacle.

“They need to have an understanding of what footing each jump will have and gain confidence in themselves and their rider. The higher you go the more technical and educated you need to be to tackle the more difficult fences.

“Riders need to concentrate on their lines, never underestimate their jumps and make sure that they understand what pace and speed they should tackle them at.

“Invest in a good instructor to help you learn, the safety key here is that both rider and their horse are educated and can tackle the cross-country course competently and correctly.”

With knowledge and technology changes we hope to see less accidents in the cross-country phase of Eventing.

For more information on Christine and her wonderful mount, visit her webpage.

Written by: Dannii Cunnane

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