Equestrianism: Riders recall lost friends

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MANY RIDERS will be grieving for one or more lost friends when they compete in the Blenheim Petplan International Horse Trials this week. Simon Long's death - the fourth fatality at British events this year - caused much distress in the horse-box park at Burghley last Saturday.

"After it happened we all wondered what was the point in carrying on," Lucinda Fredericks, who is riding two horses at Blenheim, said. "But then Princess Anne gave an incredible speech. She pointed out the enormous number of horses competing in the sport and the relatively few bad accidents that had occurred over the years."

Fredericks and her Australian husband, Clayton, lost a good friend when Robert Slade (whom they had taken in their lorry to several three-day events this year) sustained fatal injuries in June. They will have a particular reason to remember him during Blenheim, since Lucinda is riding one of his former mounts, the 10-year-old mare Beauford Miss Dior, at the Oxfordshire event.

Though upset by the deaths, Fredericks has no intention of giving up. "We know it's a risky sport but we all love it; it's an addiction," she said. "I feel terribly sorry for the organisers, they must feel dreadful although no one is to blame."

Working parties are investigating the accidents in which two top British riders, Peta Beckett and Polly Phillipps, also lost their lives. Mike Tucker, the chairman of the British Horse Trials Association's Standing Committee, met with members on 2 September to study the facts behind the accident to Polly Phillipps on 22 August. Little did they realise that they would have another fatality to investigate three days later.

The committee found no fault in the design or construction of the fence where Phillipps lost her life. The international Working Group, which looked into Long's fatal accident at Burghley, came to similar conclusions about the obstacle where his horse somersaulted and fell on top of him. "The fence was deemed to be within the rules for the level of competition and inviting in its design and construction," their report stated.

The Dutch Equestrian Federation, which has carried out a two-year study on the use of breakable material for cross-country fences, will deliver its findings at an open forum in Boekelo on 6 October. The Boekelo three- day event, which begins the following day, will make use of the breakable material in the construction of two of its cross-country fences.

Meanwhile the riders at Blenheim will do their best to follow Mark Todd's maxim: "It's tremendously sad, but we have to go on and be positive." The New Zealander, the recent victor at both Gatcombe and Burghley, will be riding Just a Mission this week.

The nine-year-old is part of a reduced string of horses being ridden by Todd, who recently sold one of his favourite horses, Regal Scot, to Karen O'Connor of the United States. Just a Mission was lying fourth after the dressage at Bramham in June, before he had to be withdrawn with a bruised foot.

Ian Stark, already chosen for the British squad competing in next week's European Three-Day Event Championships in Germany, has an exciting prospect in Lady Vestey's grey gelding, Rangitoto, at Blenheim. The eight-year- old was previously ridden for New Zealand by the Olympic and world champion, Blyth Tait.

Stark is representing the riders on the BHTA Standing Committee, which is looking into all safety aspects of eventing. "It's a fantastic sport, we all do it because we love it," he said. "We know the risks too, and we have to minimise them although we can never eliminate them completely."