Safety Issues Need to Be Addressed Within Eventing

Editorial: May 21, 2008 by: Linda Shier/SIT

Photo by Linda Shier: Laine Ashker and Frodo Baggins Immediately after the fall

Excitement was in the air when we rolled in to Kentucky Horse Park to cover the 2008 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. As you well know, this is the only four star event in the U.S. and as such is of great importance to the competitors since this is the event that will determine the makeup of the Olympic team for this Summer. Since this great event is the pinnacle for our U.S. competitors (even though there is great international participation) everyone expects to see nothing but the best of the best.

On that Thursday April 24th we began to photograph and witness the start of the dressage competition. But as always, the excitement began on Saturday with the start of the Cross-Country competition. The morning passed by with some great rides and no major mishaps. After lunch at the media tent, we went back out to continue our coverage. At approximately 1:30 that afternoon while standing next to jump #5, (the floral basket) the reality of how dangerous this portion of the competition could be sat in on this observer. As I was watching Laine Ashker approach on the twelve year old thoroughbred Frodo Baggins a sense of something gone wrong began to overcome my psyche. Everything began occurring in slow motion as it happened. Frodo Baggins began a refusal upon approach and all of a sudden the collision between horse, rider, and the floral basket occurred. The thoroughbred hit one of the upright supports and did a somersault through the jump throwing Laine against the upright as well and both came tumbling down on the ground. The sound of the crash is one I will never forget. There was a hush over the crowd and you could have heard a pin drop. Then after what seemed to be the longest time the officials, vets, and crowd began stirring and shouting in response to this tragedy.

Photo by Linda Shier: Frodo Baggins attempting to stand after the accident

Laine was on the ground not moving at all. Poor Frodo was struggling to get up and it was apparent that this brave horse was in pain as well as disoriented. My heart was beating in panic as I witnessed another beautiful animal in pain and a poor unfortunate rider obviously injured seriously. Frodo managed to get upright despite those next to the horse attempting to keep him calm and on the ground. Frodo managed to get up, but struggled for about five seconds and then went back down on the ground. I was in tears with the trauma I was witnessing for both animal and rider. Contrary to all reports, this witness did not see the rider move at all and then the tarps went up around the crippled horse. Since I have witnessed far too many times the tarps or curtains go up, it was apparent what was going to happen next. All of us involved with the Equine scene know that when the curtains go up, the animal is put down in spite of what anyone may say.

Photo by Linda Shier: The Vets and Emergency Personell attending to Frodo Baggins after collapsing

After 1 ½ hours of delay as many riders endured the wait, the “spin-doctors” began parceling out inadequate information stating that Laine Ashker was moving and communicating with paramedics and that Frodo Baggins had been taken across the road to Hagyard Equine Medical Institute where supposedly they were working to examine the injured horse. The truth of the matter was that Laine Ashker had been taken to University of Kentucky Medical Center and was immediately put on a respirator in intensive care with serious injuries. As for poor Frodo, we were not told of anything other than the vets were working on the horse. All of the facts concerning the injuries of both horse and rider did not come out until that Monday well after the event concluded. This was done apparently to quell the witnesses’ reports of what they had seen and knew to be true. Another horse was injured and put down, as well as a rider seriously injured and in intensive care.

Photo by Linda Shier: Finally the Curtain goes up so the crowd could not see the trauma

In a separate incident, Sarah Hansel’s horse The Quiet Man sustained a serious shoulder injury as a result of a fall. The Quiet Man was euthanized Sunday morning as a result of the fall. Sarah sustained minor injuries and didn’t require hospitalization. The absence of this lovely horse is a tremendous loss to the entire sport of eventing as well. Two horses in one event are tragically euthanized.

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence and also not the only time that Laine Ashker had been involved in an injurious situation for her ride. Within the last year Laine Ashker lost not only this horse, but also her horse Eight Saint James Place staggered and then fell over and died almost instantly while being vetted after completing XC at Jersey Fresh last year under very hot and humid conditions.

To add to the support for a safer cross-country environment, Jerome and Rebecca Broussard’s gelding, La Samurai (Sparky), who sustained an injury to his near fore suspensory ligament while riden by Amy Tryon on the cross-country course at the 2007 Rolex, Kentucky Three Day Event was euthanized on May 4, 2007.

These are just four examples of injuries that resulted in the untimely deaths of gracious and noble animals in cross-country eventing. After witnessing such tragedies, one must ask if there is something that can be done to prevent such occurrences. Ask yourself, if NASCAR can implement safety features in the cars and create soft-walls at the tracks then why can’t USEF and FEI Eventing become safer?

When I showed in 3-day events some 20 years ago they had a rule that in practice all riders must wear helmets. However, for the shows they ruled no helmets should be worn with safe chin straps. I can remember a fall I took where my helmet went flying and I saw the horse’s hoof over my head. I was lucky and only sustained a broken clavicle. Since that time they enforced the helmet with chin straps for shows as well as practice. But since that time the FEI and USEF took the stance that safer is better. Well in this writer’s opinion, the FEI and USEF need to take the lead and set up better standards for the implementation of safer jumps for the horse and rider alike. It’s time that the needless injuries followed by euthanasia ceases since we all take great pride in this noble sport. It’s time that our sport takes the higher road and begins to make self-improvement where needed.

We can all show our support for changes in Eventing, especially the cross-country events by sending our comments either via letter, phone, or email to both the USEF and the FEI. We need to make changes much like other sports so that we can be more humane in the handling and treatment of such noble animals.

Please show your support for making safer changes within Eventing by sending your communications directly to:

United States Equestrian Federation, Inc.

4047 Iron Works Parkway

Lexington, KY 40511

Phone: (859) 258-2472

Fax: (859) 231-6662

David O’ConnorPresident doconnor@usef.org

Or to the FEI:

H.R.H. Princess Haya BINT AL HUSSEIN 2006 – 2010

President

Fédération Equestre Internationale

Avenue Mon-Repos 24

1005 LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND

Tel.: office (971 4) 329 2333

Fax: office (971 4) 329 2555

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