The question of how many horses one rider can safely compete with at a horse trial has come up repeatedly within the eventing community. This analysis is an attempt to show some of the trends and relationships that occur when a rider competes with multiple horses.
Three questions were asked:
- Do riders with more than one horse have more horse falls/rider falls and Did Not Complete (DNC) than riders with just one horse? The answer is no, riders with multiple horses had a smaller percentage of falls and DNCs than those with one horse. This data is skewed, since most amateurs are grouped in one population (one horse) and most professionals are grouped in the other (multiple horses), making the results inconclusive. There is no correlation between horse/rider falls and having two or more horses. However, there is a correlation between the number of horses ridden and falls when there are six or more horses with the data showing a change in the relationship at eight horses entered in a horse trial.
- Is there a trend between horse falls/rider falls and DNCs when the number of horses ridden increases? There is a trend from one horse ridden to seven horses ridden with decreasing percentages of falls and DNCs. With eight to twelve horses ridden at one horse trial, the results become unstable due to the small population but show a general upward trend. This suggests that there is an effect on DNCs and falls when eight or more horses are being ridden by one person in one trial.
- What is the percentage of horse falls/rider falls for the riders with the top average number of horses shown in a horse trial? Is there a trend within their own riding as the number of horses shown increases? The results were mixed. Some riders showed increasing numbers of DNCs and falls while others showed no effect. It appears to be individual, with riders that have the appropriate support crew and experience are able to safely handle larger strings of horses. With eight horses or more, it appears to be more likely to have a fall or DNC, and the level of the competition becomes very important.
In conclusion, there is little correlation between rider falls or horse falls and the number of horses being ridden when the rider has seven horses or less. An experienced rider with seven horses at a trial is still less likely to have a DNC or a fall on any one given ride than a less experienced rider with one horse. The experience of the rider and the level of the competition appear to be stronger indicators than the number of horses ridden. However, when there are eight or more horses, there is a relationship between the number of horses and the possibility of a given ride ending in a fall or DNC. These rides account for only 0.4% of the rides in 2010, with only five riders competing with eight or more horses at a horse trial in 2010.
Regulating the number of horses at a trial will most likely not result in a significant change in the overall number of falls. Only 0.4% of the population falls into the area where there is a correlation between falls and the number of horses being ridden. That aside, safety is paramount to the sport, and preventing any horse or rider falls is valuable. Capping the number of horses at seven or eight entered at a horse trial would have minimal effect on the events, as having eight or more horses is already a rare occurrence. This would also set a precedent and would prevent the rare occurrence from becoming more commonplace.
What the heck does all of that mean? It means that if they're riding seven horses or less, they're just as safe or safer than a rider with just one horse. Eight horses or more, there is an increase in the percentage of falls and DNCs, but that is pretty rare. Not even our most prolific pros show up with eight or more horses very often. Should we put a maximum number on horses at a horse trial? Eh, we can, and it's not a bad idea. Seven or eight horses per trial shouldn't put a major dent in anyone's training business. Other than a handful of occasions, no one will even notice. But it is a good idea in terms of stopping a trend before it can even get started.
I'm not surprised that a person can ride seven horses at one show and do it safer than little ol' me and my one horse. Just because I can't get around Rolex once doesn't mean that Phillip Dutton can't do it three times in a day. By the same logic, just because I can't safely show seven horses in one day, that's no reason to believe someone else couldn't. I don't have an army of grooms and working students to help me out, for one. And let's keep in mind, when they have a big string, they're not all going around at the FEI level. A lot of them are green beans working their way up. Skipping around Novice on a new horse isn't going to make a top of their game pro break a sweat.
In the end, pros know what they're doing. They aren't going to risk their bodies more than they have to because that's their business. It's how they pay the bills. I would support a cap of seven or eight horses more to take the pressure off of them. They won't have the pressure to slip one more horse in to get the extra miles, then can point at the USEA and say that it's not possible. It would also be a safety against less experienced pros overreaching. It would have little effect on entries, with only 154 rides being grouped in with a rider competing on a string of eight or more.
Will it solve world hunger and bring world peace? Not even close. There are so few rides in this category that it probably won't even make a dent in the overall statistics, but saving one horse or rider from a fall is still one fall prevented.
The full writeup is in a Word document that refuses to become a Google doc (darn charts and SPSS objects), so it has been loaded to the dear husband's website so that it can be downloaded by anyone that's geeky enough to want to see the details. It's nothing fancy, but it's an objective view of the issue. I have no say in this whatsoever, being a LL rider with no connection to any UL rider. Hopefully it will be of interest to someone.