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Fri, 2016-12-09 18:07

Eventing Safety: The Performance-Risk Continuum with Dr. Rob Stevenson

Dr. Rob Stevenson. USEA/Shelby Allen Photo.

Equestrian Canada’s Chair of the Eventing High Performance Advisory Group and National Safety Officer Dr. Rob Stevenson joined the discussion on equestrian safety at the USEA Convention this afternoon with a seminar on The Eventing Risk Management Continuum.

As a cardiologist and a past Olympic event rider, Dr. Stevenson looks at the issue of safety in eventing from a scientific point of view. He first introduced the idea of risk in everyday life. Commonplace activities carry a certain amount of risk, which we’ve deemed as acceptable risk, like driving a car and flying on an airplane.

One example that Dr. Stevenson used was that an athlete participating in competition are 2.8 times more likely to suffer from sudden cardiac death compared to those who are not actively athletic.  Though this increases your risk of death initially, over time as you include exercise in your daily life, you lower your risk of death in the long term. He explained that part of life is simply navigating the amount of risk you are willing to accept.  

Continuing with his discussion, Dr. Stevenson identified that it is in the time that we move “from stall to stall to stall” where the risk in horse sport exists. He made this point to clarify that though cross-country is a high risk activity, it is not the only point in competition where risk exists. Further illustrating this point he added that in Canada 30% of all falls happen in jumping warmup for a competition.

As many national and international organizations strive to eliminate serious injury in the sport, Dr. Stevenson was quick to point out that, “we can’t make this sport safe. What we aspire to is an acceptable level of risk.” This is where there is not ideal answer to what is acceptable as different individuals and organizations decide what level of risk is ‘acceptable.’

While opinions differ, acceptable and unacceptable level of risk in the form of fall percentages have been outlined by the Federation Equestre International in their 2016 FEI Eventing Risk Management Programme Statistics. In this, they identify a target number of fall percentage at 5.40% and an alert level, where the Federation agreed they would be forced to take action, at 10.80% across all international competitors (*/**/***/****). These numbers have steadily decreased since the early 2000’s, especially at the four-star level.

In examining the fall percentage for national and international levels in Canada, he identified what he calls the “J Curve." At the Pre-entry (similar to the U.S. Beginner Novice) level, the percentage of falls is higher than the Entry (Novice) level. After the Pre-entry level, fall percentage continues to fall until the Preliminary level where it reaches its lowest point, which means that by this measure, Preliminary is the least risky level. After preliminary, falls increase at the one-star level, and continue to rise until they exceed the fall percentage of the Pre-entry level, and then continue to rise. The highest level of risk being at the CCI4* level.

Participants demonstrate the Swiss Cheese Theory of Risk Management. USEA/Shelby Allen Photo. 

Dr. Stevenson then explained the Swiss Cheese Model of Risk Management, which he uses to balance fall percentage.  This theory assumes slices of “cheese” separate risks from an incident taking place. These cheese slices can be riders, horses and courses. If the holes in these cheese slices get small enough, then you will never reach the incident. This means that if you have a very talented rider, the holes on the rider slice of cheese will be very small, and the same can be said for the continuing layers. For example, if the rider and horse are both under prepared for the level the risk can travel toward incident, but if they are competing on a very good course, then instead of having a fall, the course may invite a horse to run out. This means the course slice of cheese had holes small enough to prevent risk from turning into incident.

In his findings, Dr. Stevenson identifies that 50% of horse falls are a result of rider choice. He was quick to add that this does not mean riders intentionally make any mistakes, but rather that riders should take level progression more seriously. “It’s better to move up a year too late than a day too early,” he said. It is statistically proven that a rider with a lower categorization is much less likely to complete a cross-country course than a rider of a higher categorization. “When they accept that risk they are making a choice,” he added.

Going forward, Dr. Stevenson says all who have a stake in eventing have a responsibility to utilize the rules, officials, coaches and outcomes to review and repeat.

To read Dr. Stevenson’s full excerpt on this topic, click here to visit his previously written article, “Taking A Closer Look at Safety Statistics in Eventing.”   

About the USEA Annual Meeting and Convention

The USEA Annual Meeting and Convention takes place each December and brings together a large group of dedicated USEA members and supporters to discuss, learn, and enjoy being surrounded by eventing enthusiasts. The 2016 Annual Meeting and Convention is taking place at the Diplomat Resort & Spa Hollywood in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. December 7-11, 2016. 

Thank you to our amazing lineup of sponsors that make this event possible: Merck Animal HealthStandlee Hay ForageNutrenaAdequanDevoucouxCharles OwenSmartPakRebecca FarmMountain Horse, Auburn Laboratories Inc., Broadstone Equine Insurance AgencyEventing Training Online, Stackhouse SaddlesPoint Two Air JacketsGallops SaddleryProfessional’s ChoiceWorld Equestrian Brands, Bit of BritainCWDH.E. Tex Sutton Forwarding CompanyJump 4 JoyThe Fork at TIEC and more!

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