Former Olympic champion David O’Connor chairs the FEI Eventing Risk Management Steering Group ©FEI

The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Eventing Risk Management Steering Group has held its first meeting in Lausanne, a little over a month after a young international event rider suffered a fatal accident while competing at the Ratomka Horse Trials in Minsk.

Chaired by Sydney 2000 Olympic eventing champion David O’Connor of the United States, the group has been set up to look at ways to minimise risk factors in the equestrian event with a focus on coordinating risk management initiatives on a global basis.

It comes on the back of Russian Nikita Sotskov dying after he and his horse had a rotational fall at the second-last cross-country fence of the CIC3* course in the Belarus’ capital.

The FEI claimed medics were immediately on the scene following the accident, "but sadly the rider could not be saved".

Nikita, 21, whose horse suffered a minor leg injury, is the fourth rider to have died as the result of a cross-country fall in recent months.

The 17-year-old Australian showjumper Olivia Inglis died while competing at the Scone Horse Trials in New South Wales in March.

The following month, compatriot Caitlyn Fischer died at the age of 19 following a fatal accident while competing at the Sydney International Horse Trials.

In May, 33-year-old Briton Philippa Humphreys died as a result of injuries sustained in a fall on the CCI3* cross-country course at the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event in New Jersey in the US.

Australian equestrian rider Caitlyn Fischer died earlier this year after suffering a fatal accident while competing at the Sydney International Horse Trials ©Lykkebo's Honey/Facebook
Australian equestrian rider Caitlyn Fischer died earlier this year after suffering a fatal accident while competing at the Sydney International Horse Trials ©Lykkebo's Honey/Facebook

Held at the FEI’s headquarters in the Olympic Capital, the meeting of the Eventing Risk Management Steering Group established the framework for its work, including investigating new ways to reduce horse falls and identifying factors to decrease the number of serious injuries to athletes and horses using research studies from around the world relating to risk management.

Other key areas for the group are the evaluation of statistical analysis gathered to date, including athlete qualifications and performance history, and a review of fence design.

Safety equipment, the education of athletes and officials, and the roles and responsibilities of officials will also be reviewed.

It is hoped the group will ensure worldwide communication and sharing of information, with the FEI as the point of contact for research ideas.

"The meeting was a great starting point for the group," said O’Connor, a former FEI Bureau member.

"There are a tremendous amount of questions to be asked and we are all very serious about trying to find answers to those questions."

The FEI has conducted and continues to conduct research into ways to reduce the level of risk in the sport, it has claimed. 

This include last year’s eventing risk management audit by Charles Barnett, as well as data collection and evaluation completed on an annual basis, the appointment of National Safety Officers (NSOs) in all countries where eventing competitions are held, education and training, course design and cross-country guidelines.

"I think it is a good forward step for the FEI, building on the extensive work that has been done over the last 16 years since the Hartington report through to the recent Charles Barnett report and recommendations," added O’Connor. 

"We all love this sport and acknowledge that it carries inherent risks, but we owe it to everyone in the eventing community to do everything we can to make it as safe as possible for our athletes and for our horses."

Eventing has long featured on the Olympic programme ©Getty Images
Eventing has long featured on the Olympic programme ©Getty Images

The Steering Group will aim to build on the existing work already done on risk management by the FEI Eventing Committee, National Federations and external parties.

It intends to produce a list of recommendations to the FEI Eventing Committee by the end of February 2017, during which a risk management summit will be held in an attempt to build on the annual meeting of NSOs to also include athletes, coaches, course designers and technical delegates.

A presentation of the group’s findings is also due to be made at the FEI Sports Forum in April of next year.

"The first meeting of the FEI Eventing Risk Management Steering Group this week marks an important point in the acceleration of our efforts on safety," said FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez.

"The sport has suffered such terrible losses this year and these affect us all very deeply.

"The wide-ranging expertise of the members of this group will play a crucial part in our ongoing work to make the sport as safe as possible."

The FEI claimed it is committed to ensure that, at each level, responsible athletes are participating with progressively trained horses in order not to be exposed to a higher risk than what is strictly inherent to the nature of the competition.

Also on the Steering Group are Mike Etherington-Smith, an international cross-country course designer and equestrian consultant, and fellow Briton Daisy Berkeley, an FEI Eventing athlete representative and international athlete.

They are joined by Canada’s Rob Stevenson, a former Olympic athlete, cardiologist and Canadian National Safety Officer; Australia’s Geoff Sinclair, an FEI Eventing technical delegate and former President of the Australian Equestrian Federation; and Sweden’s Staffan Lidbeck, an FEI veterinarian and Swedish Eventing team coach.

Completing the line-up are France’s Laurent Bousquet, an international eventing athlete and coach of the Japanese equestrian team, and Germany’s Philine Ganders, an FEI level three eventing steward and member of the German National Federation.