Rider, horse injured in fall at Rolex Three-Day Event
By Linda B. Blackford firstname.lastname@example.org
» Rolex Three-Day Event special section
Officials at the Rolex Three-Day Event had hoped a smooth cross-country day would help end a recent controversy over safety in their sport.
But a horrific crash near the end of the day in which 24-year-old rider Laine Ashker was evacuated by helicopter, while her injured horse was taken out by horse ambulance will keep the discussion going.
Rolex officials said Ashker was in stable condition at the University of Kentucky Hospital and was conscious and able to move her extremities.
The furor over safety started last month when veteran event rider Darren Chiacchia was nearly killed at a fence at a Florida three-day event. An April 9 front page article in the New York Times highlighted 12 deaths worldwide in the sport last year, igniting an online debate.
On Friday, David O’Connor, an Olympic event rider and the current president of the United States Equestrian Federation, addressed safety at Rolex, saying there needs to be more fundamental education about riding cross-country.
“We have to realize that the sport of eventing has exploded in popularity and we have many more riders competing at many more levels,” O’Connor said. “We recognize that we’re going to need more requirements for different levels of competitions, and we need to build more bridges between the levels. The USEF and USEA (United States Eventing Association) will continue to look for ways to educate trainers and coaches so that they, in turn, can educate and teach their students about the fundamentals of cross-country riding.”
Ashker fell at the 5th jump, a relatively straightforward obstacle known as the Flower Basket. Jumping at a high speed, her horse, Frodo Baggins, apparently caught his front feet on the fence, causing it to flip over, slamming himself and his rider on the ground. Rolex officials said the horse was stabilized and taken to Hagyard Medical Institute. Earlier in the day, another jump, called the Footbridge, caused two falls. One of the horses, The Quiet Man, sustained an injury to his right front leg, Rolex officials said. Both of the riders —Dornin Anne North, daughter of Iran Contra figure and political commentator Oliver North, and Sarah Hansel — avoided serious injury.
In 30 years of the Rolex Three-Day Event, only one rider has died during competition, in 1983. At least three horses have died during eventing competition at the Horse Park. And an international equestrian tribunal found a prominent rider, Amy Tryon, guilty of unpremeditated abuse at the 2007 Rolex Kentucky for forcing her horse over a jump while it was apparently lame.
A 12-year-old girl was killed in 2001 when her horse fell during a jumping event at the Horse Park that was not connected with the Rolex.
Roger Haller designed the cross country courses at the Horse Park for the World Championship in 1978 and at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He agrees with O’Connor that many event riders no longer come from a rural background, where they may grow up fox hunting, trail riding, or just “playing cowboys and indians” to learn the basics.
“Most of our riders are coming from suburbia, they’re taught in an arena and they aren’t getting a background in riding cross country,” Haller said. “They have to be taught that, and it’s more difficult.”
Eventing is divided into skill levels, and some riders might try to get to the next level before they should.
“Course design is undoubtedly making the jumps safer,” Haller said. “They’re rounder and much friendlier.”
Haller said in the 1980’s, a spate of accidents led to much safer helmets, which has greatly decreased the number of head injuries. In the 1990s, more courses added frangible pins, devices that allow fences to fall more easily.
This latest discussion of safety has not led to an obvious solution, like the need for better helmets.
“This may lead to some healthy changes,” he said. “But it’s hard to forecast.” Morgan Randall, an 18-year-old event rider from Louisville, said the complexity used to challenge the top riders is increasingly moving to lower levels.
“They’re making everything so complex, your time has to be so fast,” she said. “It’s hard for people who really aren’t ready for that technical level.”
But Cara Carne, 18 of Goochland, Va., said she thinks eventing is safe at every level. “The people who design these courses have tons of experience,” she said. “I think the key is knowing when to go to the next level,” added her friend, Jessica Bowen, 29, also of Goochland.
As Carne and many others point out, getting on a 1,000- pound animal and riding top speed over big jumps is inherently risky, and the actual accident rate is very low. But when the accidents do occur, under the eyes of thousands of spectators, they leave a big impression.
Liz Johnson of St. Louis doesn’t worry about her daughter eventing because she knows she always wears a safety helmet and is always under the supervision of a trainer. “Every sport has dangers, but what are you going to do, sit inside and do nothing?”