Following another death in the sport of eventing this year, this time of Liz Halliday-Sharp’ horse HHS Cooley when competing in the CIC*** at Burgham Horse Trials, UK, on 31st July, calls for a serious discussion into the safety of the sport are again being made. More than just discussion, we need action and implementation. It was raised in a conversation I was having just yesterday the opinion that courses are being designed to “trick” the riders, but not taking into account how horses see or perceive depth. While riders have multiple chances to walk and analyse the course, it’s often forgotten that our beloved horses are expected to jump everything we point them at the first time they see it, at speed. Here’s what Liz has said after her tragic accident.
I’m sitting in hospital after my second night here and although I’m still so so sad, I am feeling amazed and overwhelmed by the incredible amount of love and support that I have received from everyone – thank you all so much and I’m so glad that Cooley was so well known and loved by many.
I’m looking forward to going home soon with Al who has been here supporting me, and to start repairing my body and soul, and while I am recovering I will of course be watching and cheering for everyone in Rio!
I have been thinking a lot while I have been here, and I want to put something out there about why this tragedy happened to my wonderful horse, and I’m hoping that it might trigger some consideration and maybe some change for the future from the FEI and National Federations. I also want to say that in no way at all am I blaming the Burgham Event itself as they have all been very helpful and supportive throughout this terrible situation.
Where we fell was at a very wide, but not very tall, open rail oxer off a turn. When I walked the course I remember thinking it was one of the widest I had seen in an advanced competition and that it would demand respect and proper riding, and I was concerned that a horse could possibly misread it as a bounce. I went out on Blackie first and he jumped it well, and when I went out on Cooley I planned to give it the same amount of respect. I arrived at the fence with the correct pace and a good shot (confirmed by people who saw) and plenty of leg on, and as Cooley jumped he must have suddenly thought it was a bounce, and he came down in the middle of the fence, just in front of the back rail. The fence was pinned, but I do not remember if it released and no one seems to be able to answer that [update: I have since been told that at least one side of the back rail did activate, and it no doubt saved my life] – anyone I ask says they weren’t paying attending to the fence as they were all apparently attending to me since I had hit the ground so hard and was unconscious, and of course my horse was injured. Cooley was the bravest, best cross country horse I have ever had, with more scope and heart then any horse I have ever sat on, and there is no way that he would have jumped into that fence unless he thought that he was supposed to and had just misread it.
This is not the first time this year that an experienced, talented horse has misread and jumped into one of these open oxers and that the horse and rider have both been seriously injured. Sadly, on this occasion my wonderful Cooley had to pay the price with his life. I feel that perhaps the FEI and National federations need to think about how wide an open rail oxer can and should be, and perhaps beyond a certain width they should be made as a table or be ascending? Just because a fence is pinned does not mean that it should be pushing the boundaries of what horses can understand. Just one honest and experienced horse misunderstanding and losing his life is too many in my opinion.
I hope that I am not alone in feeling this way, and perhaps if anything can come of this horrible tragedy, it can been some change and some consideration of these particular fences. My broken heart hurts so much more then my broken neck and I cannot imagine going home and not seeing my gorgeous grey boy over the door 😓 #RIPCooley
UPDATE: 2 August 2016
I have since been informed by British eventing that the fence had the highest level of frangible pin technology and the pin on the back rail did deploy and it no doubt saved my life. This does not, how ever, change the fact that my horse completely misread the fence and that he is gone forever. It is worth clarifying that the pin did deploy.
HHS Cooley was an experienced and reliable 12 year old 4 star horse, who completed Rolex Kentucky CCI**** earlier this year and was being prepared for Burghley CCI**** later this year.
Liz Halliday-Sharp is a unique sportswoman. Originally from California, she is now primarily based in East Sussex, England, and has dedicated her life to the pursuit of two international sporting careers- eventing and race car driving. We wish her a speedy and full recovery from her own injuries.
Photo Credit John Waugh Photography.