Over the past decade, the eventing community experienced a number of catastrophic cross-country jump-related falls that threw the sport into a most unwanted spotlight worldwide, creating a movement to develop safer fence design and employ technology in a manner appropriate for the sport to continue to grow and prosper from Beginner Novice through the CCI**** levels.
Dr. Suzanne Weaver Smith is the Donald and Gertrude Lester Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Kentucky. For the last several years, she has been involved in analysis and testing of the frangible technology that is now used on some fences in the cross-country phase of eventing, and in developing and testing new approaches to address the problem of rotational falls. Rotational falls occur when a horse hangs its front legs over a jump, resulting in the horse and rider somersaulting over the fence. Rotational falls are the most serious falls in eventing, often resulting in serious injury or even death for the horse and rider.
Frangible devices break when a precise amount of force hits the jump, allowing the jump to drop and thus preventing a rotation.
“The concern with rigid fences in cross-country is falls that convert forward momentum to rotation,” said Dr. Smith. “Frangible designs seem to work in some situations to prevent this, and designs are maturing from the original pins to current implementations.”
This begs the question: Could frangible pin technology be used in the hunt field to make coops safer? The consensus among foxhunters is “no” because of the nature of hunting—namely, a large number of horses and riders moving at high speeds and jumping one right after the other, leaving no time to reset the jumps. As Dr. Smith points out, in eventing, ground crews have two to four minutes between competitors to reset jumps that collapse. Neither the time nor the ground crews exist in the hunt field.
But according to Dr. Smith, other technologies are in development that wouldn’t require a resetting crew and might someday be useful in the hunt field. For example, deformable designs that reduce forward momentum to levels where rotation is not physically possible are being considered. “Hedge or brush designs may qualify as this approach,” she said, “but as far as I know they have not been tested to evaluate their effectiveness, or for their resilience to damage by significant contact.”
As technologies continue to develop, it might be that we see some of them make their way into the hunt field.