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Jill Headford

Posted 10 November 2014
by Jill Headford

Accidents at horse shows – the finger of blame

Another claim has been brought by someone injured in a collecting ring collision. This time the accident occurred at a Show jumping Association of Ireland event. An unfortunate lady who was both spectating and helping in the collecting ring was knocked down by a young horse which, since its rider was unable to avert the collision, must be presumed to have been out of control. The victim is suing:

  • the rider of the horse for failing to keep the horse under control and failing to avoid the collision;
  • the organisers of the event, i.e.. the show centre, for failing to implement a safe system in the collecting ring and failing to remove the horse when it first became apparent that it was a danger, and
  • Show jumping Ireland for failing to enforce a safe collecting ring system for the protection of those attending.

So how should the law respond?

It is a mixed negligence and health and safety issue. The key principle is whether the incident and injury were foreseeable. Most of those with experience of collecting rings will have a view. While not in a position to make observations about the facts of this particular case, I myself have over many years competed at show jumping events and have spent time in collecting rings both on foot and in the saddle. My impression from those many hours of personal experience is that competitors and helpers are not infrequently put at unacceptable risk by the inadequate size of warm up areas, the unhelpful placement of jumps (sometimes necessitated by surfaces so patchy that only certain small areas can safely be jumped on) and the absence of any meaningful supervision. I am only surprised that there are not more serious accidents.

The problem is obviously one of cost – affiliated shows are expensive enough to run as it is and show centres expect to break even at the very least. However if economies are made which result in serious, and in some cases life altering, injuries to even a small number of individuals that cannot be acceptable. The courts will readily agree that competitors and ground helpers voluntarily accept some risk around moving horses but are unlikely to accept that it is legitimate to put people at risk of foreseeable serious harm in order to keep costs down.

Taking a more positive approach, thanks must go to those show centres who do provide safe warm up areas and I have had a great many happier experiences at such venues. Responsible centres will erect safety barriers, ensure adequate space and keep an eye on collecting ring behaviour so that dangerous situations can be avoided. I suggest that no less will be expected of them by the courts.

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About the author

Jill Headford

Jill Headford

Partner and Solicitor

A partner in the firm since 1994 and an experienced Court and Tribunal advocate, Jill specialises in resolving disputes and is a member of the Property Litigation Association