Though some other “real” horse publications may have already published details from last month’s release of Australia’s Eventing Safety study, ONLY Citizen Horse has the real dirt on the who’s, why’s, and how’s behind the research.
Ms Denzil O’Brien, former CEO of the Equestrian Federation of Australia (EFA) and now with the Research Centre for Injury Studies at Flinders University, joined us last week for a Q & A session about the details of the report.
Ms O’Brien, how did this study come about?
- Dr. Raymond Cripps approached me in 1999, when I was the CEO of the Equestrian Federation of Australia (EFA), to see if we could set up a collaborative study to look at horse-related injury among EFA members. Information on this topic is fragmented and difficult to synthesise.
We started of with a survey of EFA members, about their injury history, their riding history, etc., but unfortunately, there were some coding errors, and while the data still exists, it has never been analysed.
Around that time, there was a sudden (apparent) increase in the number of riders killed in eventing, and Dr. Cripps, who has worked in injury studies at Flinders University for many years, became interested in doing specific [research] on eventing.
Funding was obtained from the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation (RIRDC) to see if it was possible to set up a surveillance program here in Australia, to collect data on falls and injuries to riders and horses in the cross-country phase of eventing.
After the pilot study, the RIRDC provided more funding to extend the surveillance program for a 2 year period (02 – 04). By this time I had left the EFA, but retained an interest in the project, and over the following years, gradually spent more and more time on [the study], using funding from the EFA. For the final year (05/06), we obtained a small grant to trial our data collection and analysis system in two other [equestrian] Federations.
Dr Cripps was the grant-holder for this project, and I wrote the report.
Expand a bit on why this study was performed?
- The study was performed initially because it provided a focus for a study on horse-related injury in one specific sport, something which had not been done before, and because of the rider deaths in the late 1990s and 2000.
The project did change direction a bit in its final year. While we continued to collect falls and injuries data, we used the final grant funding to demonstrate the flexibility and capabilities of our database, rather than just reporting the facts. Therefore, in the report, not all aspects of the data are reported on – we tended to use specific aspects of the data which showed the (SHARE) database’s capacities.
Did the study start with a hypothesis?
- We did not start with a hypothesis. The general view of Eventing, from outside, is that it is a risky sport, that people fall off all the time and are injured, but no other work had, in our opinion, developed an accurate way to actually measure risk.
Dr. Cripps devised a measure of risk per 1000 jumping efforts, a more accurate measure, we believe, than falls per number of starters – after all, the risk in Eventing is associated with jumping, not with starting.
“When we looked at injury rate, we found that only 0.2 eventing riders are injured for every 1,000 jumping efforts.”
Out of all possible athletic study groups, why pick eventing?
- Eventing was selected because it is the equestrian sport which is perceived as the most risky, there was no information whatsoever on what the actual risks were, and we believed that with the cooperation of the EFA, we could obtain full data on the sport (an ambition not totally realised, unfortunately!)
What conclusions about eventing did you and the researchers draw? Any surprises?
- We were able to demonstrate that the actual risks in eventing are low. Using the method of falls per number of starters, we showed that the rate is 3 eventing cross country rider falls for every 100 starters, with some variations across States and across years.
Using the measure of falls per 1,000 jumping efforts, we showed that there are 1.2 falls for every 1,000 eventing cross country jumping efforts.
When we looked at injury rate, we found that only 0.2 eventing riders are injured for every 1,000 jumping efforts. On the face of it, this represents a very low risk of falling, and an even lower risk of injury. However, in eventing, the possibility of an injury being catastrophic is always there, and our system can differentiate between injuries incurred as a result of a rider fall, or a horse and rider fall, and (if the information is provided) whether that horse fall was rotational or not.
During the course of the study, we knew of 35 riders who sustained serious injuries as a result of a rotational horse fall, and 2 of these riders between them spent more than 100 days in hospital.
In relation to rotational horse falls, you would be aware that it is this type of fall which is contributing to the alarming number of recent rider deaths around the world. Our data on rider deaths only covers until September 2007, and there have been at least 4 more rider deaths since then, as well as a number of very serous injuries.
How does eventing safety rank in terms of other sports evaluated?
- It is difficult to make such a comparison using our methods, as there is no measure similar to falls per number of jumping efforts. One researcher (see Paix, in bibliography), estimated that eventing was more dangerous than motorcycle racing, but his study used injuries/starters. I think that while statistical comparisons may not be possible, it is always worth mentioning that most sports do not include the possibility of being squashed by a 500kg horse …
What is the Australian government’s role in equine sport oversight?
- The Australian Government has no direct role in sport oversight, except through their funding body, the Australian Sports Commission, which sets governance standards for national sports and provides funds to sporting federations on the basis of international/top-level success (eg, Olympic Games, World Championships, etc.)
“[Out] of 35 riders who sustained serious injuries as a result of an eventing rotational horse fall, 2 of these riders between them spent more than 100 days in hospital.
What qualitative effects have come from the report (if any)?
- Hhhmmm, too soon to say, I think! I know that the EFA is looking at some of our recommendations, and the timing of the report’s publication coincides with the international body, the FEI [Federation Equestrian International], paying very close attention to safety in the sport, as are a number of the larger national federations, particularly the USA. There have been rule changes regarding rider and horse falls, to be introduced before the Games in August.
In your mind, what is next to increase eventing safety?
- I really don’t know. Everyone involved in the sport is deeply concerned about the rider and horse deaths in recent months, and are looking at every aspect of the sport in the hope that changes will reduce the number of falls and injuries. I am not privy to the moves in this area, being quite ‘outside the loop’ in a way.
What research is next for you, professionally?
- I am currently working on an unrelated injury data project relating to traffic accidents. However, I am involved in a small group of researchers who are keen to develop a research project in the equine/equestrian area, with a focus on safety.
What’s next for you, personally, in the world of horses?
- I have just taken up riding again after a 3 year break. My horse was very old (28) and eventually died, and I drifted away from riding, but have resumed with enormous enthusiasm! I am in my late 50s, and it is very gratifying to know that even after a prolonged period off the horse, my first experience back on was as though I had ridden just the day before!
I have been riding horses since I was a child, and now intend to go on doing it until I’m too old to get onto a chair to mount!!!
I have done a bit of everything in horse sport – Dressage, Show Jumping, Eventing, Showing, and Western, and I describe my skill level as ‘about one foot 6 inches’, in that this represents my jumping/eventing experience!
- – *Safety for Horses and Riders in Eventing .pdf
– ** Safety for Horses and Riders in Eventing Summary