Initially, I wanted to provide more data than I am going to. There are a few problems though, schooling horse trials scores can be difficult to find as they are removed from websites after a certain amount of time, if they are even posted at all. Some of the riders that have died in schooling accidents, the name of the horse they were riding is not always posted or mentioned in articles. This means, even if you can find show records, there is no way to know if any of the horses listed on the records are the horses in schooling accidents. This isn't ideal for accuracy.
In an effort to locate additional information for these fatal incidents I have spent hours reading through forum posts, news articles, and press releases, trying to find the missing pieces I was looking for. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes not. That is why it took me so long to get this posted. So to show what I'm getting at, I narrowed it down to a few accidents.
First, let me put a disclaimer that this is in no way, shape, or form an attempt to smear, criticize, or victim blame. I would never claim to have even an inkling of education on how to ride an upper level course. The information below are mostly objective findings.
Philippa Humphreys, Jersey Fresh 2016
The horse she was riding that day was Rich N Famous. A horse that only had ONE double clear xc run on his record. Every single other xc at that level had rails in showjumping and/or time on xc. This makes me wonder immediately if this horse was fit for the level? It could never make the time on xc. Was fatigue setting in that day? This was a pretty big Warmblood. After the accident, Megan O'Donoghue evented Rich N Famous seven times after Philippa's death, at multiple levels and guess what? The horse NEVER made the cross country time. Not at Prelim, not at Intermediate, not at the 2* level, not at the 3* level and not even at Training level the one time she took him Training. He then went to a different rider that evented him at Novice, and guess what? He still was getting XC time penalties. The fact that another upper level rider took this horse out at multiple levels and the horse still wasn't making XC time, EVER should say something loud and clear.
Dr. Melanie Tallent, Schooling Cross Country, 2019
Melanie Tallent, was schooling with her trainer present. She had two horses and I could not find any information about which horse she was riding the day of her accident, though from what I have found, it appears to be Dunlin, the one in the video and photo links below. I have found nothing but wonderful things posted about Melanie Tallent. She sounds like a very kind person, who was very dedicated to her horses. On a very sad note, there is a post out there on a forum where a family member of hers is looking for answers and having a rough time coming to terms (as anyone would) with what happened.
There is not much in the way of a USEA record for her. There is a post in the forums saying that she had recently competed at HTs and was 1st and 2nd in her division, it was a schooling horse trials because her last recognized USEA event was at the Horse Park of NJ in June 2019. So what I was able to pull is very limited in scope as far as information.
In the posts on the forum the family member says they wished there was video of the accident to help understand what happened. Another poster says if there was a video they hope no one would watch it because it wouldn't change things. No, it wouldn't, but it could educate. And I would hope that people WOULD watch it to understand. You can find HOURS and HOURS of cockpit voice recordings of aircraft accidents as well as video of the impact, in some of those videos you are witnessing HUNDREDS of people die at once and most people have no problem watching those.
Melanie's short record is telling, there are two horses on it. Despite that fact, there are many photos and some video of Melanie and Dunlin missing distances and hanging a knee here and there. There is no disputing the fact that this is a recipe for disaster in front of solid fences. In the video below, they are on a BN course having to trot a lot of the last part of the course, she stops him and turns him around after one jump as well.
Here are two photo galleries from shows:
Radnor recognized HT: https://akdragoophoto.zenfolio.com/p95654858
Plantation Field jumper show: https://akdragoophoto.zenfolio.com/p982079085
There are many photos and some video of Melanie and Dunlin missing distances and hanging a knee here and there. There is no disputing the fact that this is a recipe for disaster in front of solid fences. In the video above, they are on a BN course having to trot a lot of the last part of the course, she stops him and turns him around after one jump as well.
Two things come to mind with this type of stuff, once I was taking a lesson with a Jeffray Ryding at her farm in Santa Fe, NM. A friend was there with me with her Trakehner mare. Jeffray made a comment that the mare needed to seriously fix her habit of let her legs kind of dangle in the air over fences. The mare just did not have tight knees. Jeffray recommended gymnastics to help her snap her knees up. The reason for this, Jeffray said, is that a horse that jumps like that is dangerous because those dangling legs are opening her up for hanging a knee and causing a serious accident.
Another time I was at Doug Payne's barn and he was saying that one of the horses he had in for training didn't seem to really care where his feet went and that he would really like him to be more aware of where his feet where or care more where his feet went.
A family member made a statement that Melanie had won her last horse trial before her death. I believe it was about two weeks before her death. It was a schooling horse trial, I don't know which one. However, her family and friends stated she was an expert rider who was very successful. This information translates into online posts and articles where they are interviewed. But, we all know, schooling horse trials are not recognized horse trials. There are less jumps, there are a significant number of jumps that are not maxed out, slower time requirements, shorter cross country courses, shorter stadium courses, sometimes cross country is completely untimed at schooling horse trials. Sometimes, the judges don't eliminate people for things they would be instantly eliminated for at a recognized horse trial. Sometimes there are only a few people in the division, it could only be three and one of them could get eliminated for coming off on cross country, and the other may have had some rails or time. Someone can easily leave these details out to friends and family.
Again, this is NOT to criticize, this is just an attempt to provide another view, and promote a different line of thinking.
Ashley Stout, Schooling Cross Country, 2019
We do know Ashley was riding Avant Garde when her accident happened. Both she and her horse were killed. Ashley has a pretty outstanding record, and we know her horse was trained by Holly Payne-Caravella, so he had a great education.
Both Avant Garde and Ashley had a stellar record. In 15 recognized horse trials they had one cross country run with a small amount of time penalties (5.20) and no jumping penalties. Out of those stadium rounds, four had rails. Three of those rounds had one rail, and one of them had two rails. This may actually be your freak accident that everyone wants to believe all these accident are. But not every horse and rider are Ashley Stout and Avant Garde. I can't find any mention of what type of fence Ashley was schooling when they had the rotational fall. Was it a table?
Katharine Morel, Rocking Horse Recognized HT, 2020
The video below has caused some uproar as Katherine Morel was the latest eventing fatality at a recognized Rocking Horse HT this past February. Watch from 1:15 to 1:40. No penalty of any kind was applied for that. And yes, I get it, you can have a crappy ride. Kerry On didn't do this everytime out on cross country. The point is, a penalty of some kind (some are saying a yellow card should have been issued) would have sent some kind of message. Now, will the rider always get that message? No, but it's worth a try. You can YouTube some of her other rides, and you WILL see a common trend with this horse as well that most likely created some issues.
Jennifer Chapin, GMHA Recognized HT, 2019
13 Stadium rounds on her recognized record with Joinem, the horse she was riding the day of the fatal accident, all with at least a rail, one with as many as 6 rails. The horse's last three events prior to the fatal accident were at Preliminary. The fatal accident was at Preliminary as well. The three events prior were one with 6 rails, the next one with 3 rails, and the next one Jeffie came off on cross country. The following event was the fatal accident that occurred at a fence in the warm up.
Joinem has since went to a new owner in Pennsylvania. He has been evented once at a recognized event since the fatal accident, about a month and a half after it happened. His next event was at Training level, where he had 2 rails.
Out of the incidents I've summarized here, I think we have a few problems present. The main theme being, just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Should coaches look harder at the horses their students are on? Should the riders, be more honest with themselves about their level of comfort and not doing something because their friends are and their coach is telling to stop being such a wuss? It's a slippery slope for coaches/trainers because in today's participation trophy culture, the minute you're honest with someone you may very well lose their business, which means lost income. I know for sure there are coaches/trainers out there that are going to keep telling their students they're the greatest thing ever because they need to pay their bills.
One scary trend I see, that I am not a fan of, is people that say they take Xanax or other prescription drugs to be able to calm their nerves while riding whether they are schooling at home or at a show. It seems to be pretty acceptable now and (insert unpopular opinion here) I think it's completely unacceptable. If you have to medicate yourself to participate in a voluntary hobby, is it really the hobby for you? Is it fair to your horse? Your family? Yourself? It almost seems cool to say how you have to medicate yourself, like it's normal. It shouldn't be normal, it's not normal. It's not cool.
On that note I am NOT talking about being low level nervous. I think everyone has some level of nerves, if you don't, that may be a red flag for a different issue. I'm talking about nerves to the point where you have to medicate yourself prior to riding no matter if it is schooling or showing or trail riding or whatever. There is a difference, and if you say there isn't, time to be honest with yourself.
What is the problem? Is it you, is it your particular horse? Know when to say when. It's ok to know when maybe you don't have the right horse, for whatever reason. It could be personality conflict, the horse doesn't seem interested in what you want to do as far as discipline, too much horse, not enough horse, there could be a lot of potential reasons that it's not a good match.
This was not to take a jab at anyone that legitimately needs medication for mental health reasons. I am talking SPECIFICALLY about people that are so nervous to ride, or afraid of their horse, that they SPECIFICALLY take their medication to be able to get on the horse and go school, show, etc...
The other issues are things I have already covered in previous posts. I do think frangible technology needs to be employed on a lot more cross country fences. However, again, these are not freak accidents when they keep occurring. Death in eventing is a trend that needs to decline. The powers that be need to do something. Safety needs to improve at events, think back to the story I told you in a previous post about the footing request being denied. THOROUGH accident investigations need to take place, and findings need to be publicly presented so that trends can be identified and preventative measures developed from actual investigative facts.
But, can the riders mitigate the risks as well? Yes, 1,000 times yes, instead of just being like "Well, my chances are higher that I die in a wreck hauling to the event." Take some personal accountability and while you're at it, get pissed off that your fellow riders are dying. Everyone says they care, offer empty comments about thoughts and prayers, and then blindly go off like it never happened thinking it could NEVER happen to them. You are participating in a sport where death is a trend, if that doesn't make you care more, well, good luck to you.