Ken Baumgardner, president of the US Eventing Association (USEA) has issued a letter and an addendum related to the association's concern over safety issues in the sport following this weekend's fall at Red Hills Horse Trials in Florida by Olympian Darren Chiacchia, who remains on life support in intensive care in a Tallahassee hospital. In completely unrelated tragedies, two horses died on course; necropsy reports revealed that both died of heart failure. Chiacchia's horse appears to have been uninjured.
The letter is full of concern about saety and specifically mentions the evolution of the cross-country phase in a direction of testing the horse's ability to jump "technical questions" that require great agility and collection; the days of galloping horses seem to be fading in favor of a gallop-then-collect repitition as the horse proceeds around the course. There are many reasons why eventing in the USA has gone in this direction, but primarily it is in keeping with changes in the sport on the international level.
Back in the 20th century, eventing included a "roads and tracks" endurance phase before cross-country, which was eliminated in favor of what is now called "the short format" and a horse's cross-country score carried more weight than the dressage score, which is no longer the case.
In December, the USEA leadership conducted a full day workshop, called the "G10 Summit", solely on the issue of safety in the sport. Another meeting later this week in Leesburg, Virginia will also address the subject.
Baumgardner wrote, "....the USEA will immediately investigate avenues to work with veterinarians and equine research professionals to find ways to reduce the stressors on our horses and explore the mechanisms of equine cardiovascular failure. If it makes sense to do so, I will ask the USEA Board of Governors to commit funding to this effort. We reaffirm the USEA's commitment to ensuring the well-being of our equine partners as well as the safety of our riders."
Please read the complete letter on the US Eventing web site.