Video: USA Takes Strong Stand On Frangible Fences

Switzerland's Eveline Bodenmuller riding Waldmann at 2017 FEI European Eventing Championships
Credit : Scoopdyga

Friday 20 October - 11h13 | Ian Clayton and Lulu Kyriacou

Video: USA Takes Strong Stand On Frangible Fences

The United States Eventing Association (USEA) has come out with a strong statement in favour of the use of frangible pins on cross-country fences. 

 - Video: USA Takes Strong Stand On Frangible Fences

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Frangible (fragile, brittle) pins are essentially breakable pins integrated into obstacles which cause the obstacles to collapse if struck with sufficient weight and momentum by a horse-and-rider combination. As a USEA video below explains, the goal of frangible pins is to prevent or minimize rotational falls and make Eventing safer for both riders and horses. A rotational fall has been defined as, “a fall where the horse hits a fence with its front legs or chest and its body somersaults over the fence with the fence acting as a pivot point. ... In a worst case scenario, the horse can land on the rider.” 

See the USEA video below showing an obstacle with frangible pins — developed by Barriers International in Great Britain — giving way in an accident. Both rider and horse were uninjured in the fall. (For a British Eventing video on safe cross-country riding, see here). 

To date, the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI), whose Risk Management committee focuses on such issues, has failed to make the use of frangible pins mandatory. But in its statement, the USEA has taken a different view: “The time has come to take a stronger stance on the usage of frangible technology in the sport of Eventing. We as the leaders of the sport have the moral obligation to say that the time for use of all currently available safety technology is now. With that in mind, the USEA Cross-Country Safety Sub-Committee strongly recommends that the FEI mandates rather than strongly recommends that all open rail fences, gates, oxers and oxer corners must be built using reverse frangible technology. The time is now."

While the USEA's statement is unequivocal, it should be noted that there has been discussion over the years about the overall impact of frangible pins, as some studies have suggested that falls can be more likely at obstacles with pins. This finding could be influenced by different factors of course, including rider experience and attitudes toward obstacles (are athletes less ‘respectful’ of obstacles they know will collapse?). Companies like EquiRatings, which offers safety analysis and evaluations, are aiming to address such questions with their work. 

In addition, renowned course designer Mick Costello told Eventing Nation how frangible pins have in the past been designed to deploy mainly during a ‘slow rotational fall’ where there is a large amount of downward force on the pins. This is not always the case with an impact, however, as there can be more speed involved in the contact, and a rotational fall occuring after the pair has passed the fence.

In the cross-country phase of Eventing, obstacles can take diverse forms, including hedges, solid fences, ditches, drop fences, tables, water obstacles, banks, oxers, log piles, verticals, and triple bar obstacles. [See here for some of the quirky and emblematic obstacles designed by Sue Benson at the 2012 London Olympics, for example.]  And alongside frangible pins, some other safety initiatives proposed for various types of jumps include foam logs and collapsible tables. 

In any case, as John Thier and renowned course designer Mick Costello put it in a 2010 article for Eventing Nation,Ultimately all of this safety discussion will come down to how our sport decides to balance the ‘breakability’ of jumps with the notion of solid XC obstacles.  The extreme version of maximizing breakability would be just putting show jumps in a field.  No one wants that, but how much risk is worth the loss of a certain amount of breakability?  In my mind, the fate of cross-country rests on how we answer that question.” USEA video below the break. 

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