Danger in Cross Country
Today I thought we would address a sport that currently holds the title of deadliest horse sport behind racing: Cross Country.
First, let's consider what exactly makes it so dangerous. Horses and riders jump things all the time without fatality, do they not? Heck, they jump things even bigger than these fences without batting an eye! I certainly agree with you. The trouble with cross country is threefold: the solid fences, the increased technicality, and the long length.
For the first, the addition of the frangible pin has dramatically improved statistics on rotational falls (shown above) wherein a horse catches his front legs and his momentum carries him over head first. This is the deadliest type of fall for both horse and rider for obvious reasons. The frangible pin has made a considerable difference though. Look at Badminton 2014, where a total of 15 frangible pins were triggered. That is 15 possible rotational falls that were prevented.
The second would be seemingly easy to address; make the courses less technical. The show jumping phase was intended to test technicality, and the high number of technical elements in the field is leading to poor judgement calls or mistakes in the midst of uneven footing and dauntingly dangerous fences. Unfortunately, course designers believe a lack of technical elements makes the course boring and not challenging. I would argue that something being slightly more exciting isn't worth a horse's or rider's life.
Finally, the length of the courses. For example, Phillip Dutton's time at Rolex Kentucky in 2014 was a 11:12. When was the last time you and your horse did a technical show jumping course for 11 minutes straight? You didn't. Of course cross country involves a lot of galloping, but with the technicality and solidity of fences staying steady throughout, tired horses and riders near the end of their run are more at risk for poor calls. Increasing brush fences (rather than solid ones) towards the end and decreasing technicality could help address these concerns.
Some XC stats from 2014 alone: Badminton: 7 horse falls Luhmühlen: 2 horse falls, 1 rider fatality, 1 horse fatality (Liberal, presumed aortic rupture) World Equestrian Games: 3 horse falls, 1 horse fatality (Wild Lone, cause of death not yet released) Burghley: 5 horse falls, 1 horse fatality (Orto, euthanized due to injuries sustained on course) Blenheim: 3 horse falls