Following a heavy fall at the World Young Horse Championships in France last week, British eventer William Fox-Pitt is reportedly in a stable condition in hospital. The former world number one is in a sedated state after suffering a head trauma after becoming unseated from his horse Reinstated. The shocking incident has reverberated around both the equestrian community and sporting world as a whole and has seen a flood of support for the injured 46-year-old. Perhaps, however, this shock has only been so great due to the perceived nature of eventing.
Unlike its rough and tumble brother, racing, which rampages about the house, smashing windows and jumping on furniture; eventing sits quietly in the corner, listening to Classic FM’s greatest symphonies on repeat. But does it really deserve its reputation as a safe and gentile sport?
There is no doubt that equestrian-related events are generally associated with the more refined aspects of society: fancy hats, pitchers of Pimms, and such high concentrations of tweed that they can be seen from space. But even within this arena there are divisions, with eventing receiving an even larger proportion of the polite clapping and appreciative “mmmm”s. It is seen as a refined sport, and how could such a sport ever be considered unsafe, or even worse, dangerous?
But dangerous it can be. Helmets and body armour are generally associated with sports such as mountain biking but they are just as prevalent at equestrian events, ready to inflate should a rider be unlucky enough to fall from their mount. Falls are a common enough sight and we are perhaps lucky that injuries as severe as Fox-Pitt’s are still seen as abnormal, but is eventing unique in this aspect?
There are plenty of sports where physical punishment and risk of injury are part of their inherent make ups. Rugby can’t be played without one unstoppable force running at another immovable object, Formula One sees cars travelling at ridiculous speeds mere inches apart, and boxing, well, it’s literally knocking the living daylights out of one another until one has no more living daylights to get knocked out of them.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are sports that perhaps could not be made any safer without forcing the participants to take antibiotics halfway through, just to make sure they do not develop a case of the sniffles. Snooker, bowls, and darts hold little risk, apart from potential repetitive strain disorder.
So what of the middle ground? Football for example is widely regarded as a sport for the slightly more delicate, especially when compared to rugby, however it would be unfair to dismiss it quite so lightly. Potential dangerous tackles can break legs, constant pushing and shoving in boxes has resulted in any number of black eyes and broken noses, while goalkeepers regularly sacrifice common sense and safety by throwing themselves at the feet of oncoming attackers.
There is more; diving is often seen as a combination of dazzling twists and turns, coupled with excellent body control and a ridiculous head for heights. Surely the most dangerous aspect of diving is looking directly at the crotch of a male diver? Diving not only sees its athletes plunge from great heights, which could easily result in an awkward landing, but slippery conditions on the board could also see uncomfortable falls. Furthermore, performing a somersault just inches from solid concrete boards leaves little room for error.
It is fair to say that no sport is entirely safe, for how can they be? Obviously those requiring less strenuous physical activity are bound to result in fewer injuries, but that does not mean to say that they are ‘risk free’.
This is not to put anyone off participating in sport – after all, what is life without a bit of danger – but Fox-Pitt’s injury serves as a reminder that we should cherish the health of our sporting heroes, for it only takes one incident to end a career. Hopefully he will be back on the horse in no time.