OUDKARSPEL – The Dutch eventing season started last weekend with the Holland Dutch Horse Trials on the grounds around the home of the Beukers family in Oudkarspel. At the same time, there was a retraining course for Dutch cross builders, KWPN Noord-Holland and KNHS together organised a clinic run by former team veterinarian Jan Greve about breeding and eventing where cross was viewed.
One of the many questions that is often asked is whether safety in eventing is sufficiently guaranteed by KNHS. And whether the KNHS is actually doing anything about it at all! “Yes, of course! We are and continue to be concerned with safety for both man and horse. And with the training of our cross builders and inspectors. The so-called break tree hasn’t been renamed the ‘Dutch Pole’ for nothing”, says Gert Naber. Naber, himself a former international in eventing, is the only internationally-trained FEI technical delegate level 3 eventing in the Netherlands, and is a member of the Eventing Risk Management Steering Group of the FEI.
The history of the “Dutch Pole”, better known in the Netherlands as the ‘Break Tree’ goes back to 1998. That year, two horses were killed in an accident in the cross country in Boekelo, an event that was held for the first time in 1971. The investigative committee that was formed as a result, whose members included Jacob Melissen, Gert Naber and Teun Platenkamp, made various recommendations. The most important: adjust obstacle construction, get rid of the steeple in the endurance test, and adjust the mandatory pace and distances.
Preventing Rotational Fall
The result of research into safer fixed obstacles was the development of the “Dutch Pole”.
Gert Naber explains: “The most dangerous thing when a horse hits a fixed obstacle is the so-called ‘rotational fall’ – a fall where the horse goes head over heels over the obstacle, sometimes even fatally ending up on top of the rider. A Dutch Pole on top of an obstacle is designed to bounce a little if the horse hits it. If it is hit hard, the tree breaks, which gives the horse an ‘escape’ and allows it to fold its forelegs under itself again.”
The Dutch pole has a diameter of about 25 to 40 cm and is made from a compressed cardboard tube, surrounded by a watertight coating that can be painted in any colour. The application of Dutch Poles in the Netherlands led to further research by the international association FEI into obstacles that are deformable and frangible (which means removable).
The increasing number of accidents in the international Eventing sport has also led other official international horsesport unions such as British Eventing and the American USET to develop safety systems for cross hills.
In the meantime, a Swedish international course builder has invested a great deal through their own company in the development of the so-called “MIM clip”. This system snaps obstacle bars together and, when touched, gives a little and rolls away. It is currently used in almost all eventing competitions worldwide. Dutch competition organizations can be reimbursed for MIM Clips by the KNHS. The MIM clip, like the English “break pin” is certified by FEI.
The Dutch Pole is now used extensively at all KNHS eventing competitions, as is the MIM clip in the Z class. The KNHS has however decided not to offer the Dutch Pole for further international certification.
Gert Naber says: “Internationally, penalty points are awarded when the Dutch Pole breaks. But because Dutch Poles travel from competition to competition, they eventually become weakened by the various impacts and weather influences. Thus there will always be a discussion with the rider as to whether the pole was broken by too hard an impact, or whether it had already been weakened by time and frequent use. That risks being an endless discussion. Given that at the national level penalty points aren’t calculated when the pole is broken, this discussion doesn’t happen at KNHS competitions.”
Has safety really improved with the removal of the steeple, the introduction of shorter competitions and the adaptations to obstacle construction?
Gert Naber: “The biggest improvement is and will remain increasing knowledge of both course builders and riders. Both can influence each other in a positive way! Most accidents are at their heart due to the lack of skill of the rider. One has to start eventing somewhere and that’s at a lower level. At the same time, the KNHS does advise every eventing competition in the Netherlands to hire an experienced rider as an advisor and for support. Riders want more influence on what is being built. That’s only a good thing! I always say: if you’re a cross-builder, don’t just look to stalwarts like Boekelo or Badminton when designing a basic competition! For me, a basic course needs to be wide: narrow and with too many combinations close to each other is simply out of the question. Being able to ride at the right distance in balance at the right pace, that makes galloping and jumping the course so beautiful. We have competitions with enormous potential in the Netherlands. And this year we even have a European Championship for the first time for juniors and YR in Maarsbergen. I’m very proud of that. Eventing, which allows you to be both versatile and concerned with the nature of the horse, is in a very positive space at the moment. As participants and fans we should take advantage of that, and enjoy it. This sport is so great!”
Postscript: Gert Naber is the husband of ACSI team member Alice Naber-Lozeman.
Thierry van Reine with ACSI Harry Belafonte, the best Dutch pair in CCI3*-S in Oudkarspel. In the foreground, the red MIM clip for the jumped obstacle is clearly visible.