How many dead horses are too many?
More than one hundred horses have died in eventing competitions since 2005
Two horses died during the cross-country phase of the Bramham International Horse Trials yesterday, Ms. Poppins (USA) and Ventura de la Chaule JRA (Japan). This is not an isolated event. More than one hundred horses have died in eventing competitions since 2005, according to statistics from HorseTalk NZ.
These are horrendous numbers, and if any other sport saw its athletes dying in the hundreds during competitions it would be banned, or at least forced to make changes. Yet the horse world has become so accustomed to horses (and riders) dying in eventing that these incidences are written off as tragic accidents: the riders and organizers release statements about what wonderful horses they were, the condolences pile up in the comment sections, and the competitions keep going until the next tragic accident when the cycle is repeated.
But these are not tragic accidents. Neither Ms. Poppins nor Ventura de la Chaule JRA would have died if they had been left in their fields for the day, or hacked out in the countryside. And neither would Arctic Soul (died april 2022). Or Jet Set (died august 2021). Or any of the other 117 horses that have died since 2005.
These horses died as a direct result of the competition, either of traumatic injuries or physical exertion. They didn’t die by accident; they died by design, because the cross-country courses are too difficult and dangerous.
This isn’t just common sense, it’s supported by science. Last year, a University of Bristol study by Bennet et al. (2021) looked at risk factors associated with horse falls, one main source of physical injury, during international eventing competitions. They found that the higher the competition level - i.e. the more difficult the obstacles - and the longer the cross-country course - i.e. the more physically demanding - the higher the risk that a horse will suffer a fall. '
It’s about time the horse world realizes that this is unsustainable and unethical. We cannot allow horses to die for sport. At the very least, the cross-country phase needs to be shortened significantly, and the obstacles need to be made less technical so that horses can better judge distance and depth.
But this change will not happen unless the equestrian community calls for it. Enough now. This is unacceptable. We need to hold the FEI, organizers, judges, course designers, trainers and riders accountable.
One dead horse is one too many.