*This statement is posted on behalf of the leaders of the USEA.
In the wake of the tragic loss of two horses at The Fork CIC3*/CIC2* and Horse Trials this weekend, all of us at the USEA would like to extend our deepest condolences to the riders, owners, and grooms of Powderhound and Conair, and to everyone else connected with those marvelous horses. We would also like to thank the organizing committee at The Fork, and the officials and veterinarians at the competition, all of whom spared nothing in attending to the care and treatment of Powderhound and Conair.
Whenever tragedies occur in this age of instant communication, they inevitably spawn a certain amount of baseless speculation into the whys and wherefores. The internet chat rooms this past weekend were, alas, rife with such chatter. Some posters went so far as to make the nonsensical suggestion that the incidents at The Fork were somehow the “fault” of the modern format of eventing competitions, or of current cross-country course design, or of some other aspect of our sport. Such uninformed commentary does no good. It serves only to increase the pain and anguish of those directly affected by these tragedies, and to unfairly cast a shadow on the sport worldwide.
The USEA, USEF and FEI all have a predominant focus, and that is the safety and welfare of horses and riders participating in the sport. All of these organizations work unceasingly to determine where improvements can be made, and then to implement those improvements. Thus, when any serious incident occurs, in addition to the various investigations that take place at the competition site, the USEA, USEF and FEI are notified immediately. The organizations’ committees responsible for safety, welfare, course design etc., are activated and a complete review of all relevant aspects of the incident is undertaken. This protocol will be followed in the case of the incidents at The Fork.
Having said that, it must be pointed out that the two incidents did not involve common facts and circumstances. Indeed, they occurred following two different phases of the competition. One followed the show jumping phase on Saturday and involved a horse that had not yet done cross-country; the other occurred a period of time after a fall on the cross-country course, and took place in the barn. It is simply unsupportable to attempt to draw any common conclusion regarding the state of the sport (or, for that matter, regarding anything else) from these unconnected events. It is even more irresponsible to attempt to do so without knowing the basic facts of the incidents in question.
Event horses are the best-cared for horses in the world. And yet it is a sad fact of life that horses, like humans, are susceptible to all sorts of health conditions and latent injuries that can crop up or become active at any time. Indeed many horses suffer serious injury or fatal aneurysms just playing in their paddocks. And sometimes, through sad coincidence, unrelated tragedies happen in the same place and at the same time. As most eventers are aware, several celebrated event horses were tragically lost this past winter, i.e. during the off season, from a variety of health issues that had nothing to do with competition or even being ridden. By comparison, during the entire 2013 American competition season, four horses were lost, three on course and one from an aneurysm suffered after completing the cross-country. Horses started in USEA/USEF competitions 42,615 times in 2013. The percentage of equine fatalities compared to that total number of starters is thus 0.01. Calculating an average of 21 jumps per start, that comes out to one equine fatality per 223,729 jumps.
Nonetheless, we will keep striving to improve those statistics. From the USEA’s standpoint, all health incidents involving our beloved horses underscore the importance of the work being done through the USEA Equine Cardiovascular Research Study. That study is directly relevant to finding the cause of—and eventually preventing—rare but often tragic equine cardiovascular events. Equally important is the new USEA Equine Welfare Research Program. Thanks to that program, $1 of every single starter fee—more than $40,000 annually--is being reserved for the financial support of studies into many other diseases and conditions affecting event horses. Thanks to the generosity of individual donors, the USEA was able to kick off the Equine Welfare Research Program in December with a contribution of $21,000 which was forwarded to the Morris Animal Foundation to support certain deserving studies already underway. http://www.useventing.com/education/research.
In short, eventers care deeply about their horses, and will do whatever it takes to keep them healthy and happy. The USEA shares that commitment. Please work with us to advance the health of our horses, and of our sport. And please think twice about posting well-meaning but uninformed speculation about sad circumstances affecting your fellow eventers.