Factors Contributing to Cross-Country Falls Evaluated

The only variable researchers could link with the likelihood of falling was the horse and rider’s competitive rank going into cross-country.
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When you're in the lead going into the cross-country phase of a horse trial or three-day event, your goal is to ride hard and bring home the blue, right? If so, you might want to think about taking it just a tad easier: Recent study results—presented at the 2014 International Society for Equitation Science conference, held Aug. 6-9 in Bredsten, Denmark—suggest that heading into cross-country in a top-ranking position puts those horses and riders at a significantly higher risk of falling on course than lower-ranking riders. Which, in all senses of the term, can be a real downer.

Heather Cameron-Whytock, BSc (Hons), and Charlotte Brigden, MSc, BSc (Hons), both of Myerscough College in Preston, United Kingdom, reviewed 2,002 horse-and-rider teams participating in randomly selected one-day events (novice, intermediate, and advanced levels) in the U.K. The group investigated a long list of factors that might be related to an increased risk of horse falls in cross-country, including competition level, horse age, horse gender, rider gender, month, year, and event, trying to find associations with falls. But in the end, there was only one variable that seemed to have a connection with the likelihood of falling: the competitive rank of the horse and rider as they entered the cross-country phase.

In fact, there seemed to be a real distinction within the top three “podium” spots, Cameron-Whytock said. Horses in positions four through 10 were half as likely to fall as those in the top three.

“Riders in a more competitive position upon commencement of the cross-country test may have a tendency to take more risks or ride in a faster or more intense manner,” Cameron-Whytock said. This might have been related to an apparent increase in falls occurred after riders “pushed” their horses, through aggressive aids or increased speeds, to take jumps, she added. However, for the moment that’s “just a thought,” and further research should give more insight into the rider’s behavior

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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