Equestrian sports are set for a major safety overhaul following an inquest into the deaths of two teenagers who died while taking part in separate eventing competitions three years ago.
- A coroner issues 31 recommendations following the deaths of two equestrian riders in 2016
- The riders’ families raised concerns about safety and the handling of the deaths by the sport’s peak body
- Equestrian Australia says it is working to strengthen safety and risk mitigation in the sport
Eventing consists of a rider and their horse completing three phases — dressage, show jumping and cross country.
Olivia Inglis was just two minutes into competing at the Scone Horse Trials cross-country course in March 2016 when she and her horse Togha fell at a jump.
Almost two months later, the equestrian community was again rocked by the death of Caitlyn Fischer.
The 19-year-old and her horse Ralphie fell in the cross-country phase of an eventing competition at the Sydney International Horse Trials in Horsley Park.
She died instantly from head injuries.
Caitlyn Fischer was 19 when she died while competing during a cross-country event. (Supplied)
An inquest into the incidents was held after the riders’ families raised concerns about equestrian safety and the handling of the deaths by the sport’s peak body.
The Fischer family had contacted the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) and the then federal minister for sport, claiming Equestrian Australia was resistant to change.
They said they were “disappointed and dismayed” by the attitude of Equestrian Australia in the aftermath of their daughter’s death, and hoped more would have been done since to improve rider safety.
Findings to help make the sport safer
On Friday, the Coroner’s Court of New South Wales handed down 31 consolidated recommendations.
The inquiry, chaired by Deputy State Coroner Derek Lee, considered whether safety procedures at NSW equestrian events were adequate to minimise unnecessary risk of serious injury or death of riders.
It also focused on concerns that equestrian sports heavily relied upon volunteers, who often lacked the necessary skills and training to ensure safety.
One recommendation was that rules should be changed to mandate that at each event there must be at least one medical response team consisting of a minimum of two medical providers, who have the minimum skills to administer vital first aid relevant to horse riding injuries.
Concerns were raised by Olivia’s mother, Charlotte Inglis, during the inquest that an on-site medic assisting her daughter appeared “very, very nervous”.
Recommendations also called for vital medical equipment to be available.
The inquest heard that key equipment to clear Olivia’s airways was not working effectively; a laryngeal mask airway and an endotracheal tube that was required to offer her advanced medical support were not stored in an ambulance on site.
Endotracheal tubes and laryngoscopes were also not available on the day of Ms Fischer’s death.
Further recommendations could also see:
- all fence judges view a critical incident training video prior to an event
- a national safety manager appointed on a full-time basis
- course designs be adequately tested for safety purposes
- a robust process developed for the review of serious incidents requiring a medical response
- a reporting system be implemented to allow competitors to confidentially communicate safety-related concerns
Equestrian Australia responds
In a statement, Equestrian Australia said it was working to strengthen safety and risk mitigation in the sport.
“Improving safety is our number-one priority,” it said.
“Equestrian Australia is steadfast in its commitment to making Australia a world leader in equestrian safety and risk mitigation.
“With a view to implementing the recommendations, EA will now commence a period of consultation with key stakeholders across the country.”
It said it had already implemented, or was in the process of delivering, a range of safety measures.
These included adding more specific requirements to the rules around medical coverage, including the minimum skillsets and equipment.
It was also appointing a full-time national safety manager to lead safety and risk mitigation in all aspects of equestrian sports and activities, and would introduce an eventing incident review policy.
The response also involved mandating the use of frangible devices in cross-country for two-star and above, and would apply a risk rating to each horse based on past performances.
“We understand the responsibility we have to riders, their families and our much-valued volunteers to learn from and implement, where practical, the recommendations of the final report.”