A veteran horse collapsed and died on the cross-country track of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event Saturday, marring the competition for the second year in a row.
King Pin, a 13-year-old Irish sport horse, fell with rider Mike Winter after the 10th fence.
Winter was taken to the Georgetown Hospital and later released. The horse's exact cause of death will be determined by a necropsy, Rolex officials said.
Preliminary evidence showed bleeding in the abdomen — possibly some kind of rupture — which could be described as natural causes, said FEI veterinary delegate Catherine Kohn. It's not clear that the fence was related to the fall, except that the horse collapsed after jumping it.
Still, it was an unhappy reminder of last year's Rolex, when two horses died in the cross-country phase and one rider was critically injured. That ended a brutal year and a half for eventers — more than a dozen riders died in competitions around the world — and provoked a period of soul-searching and rule changes to make eventing safer.
Under new rules adopted by the United States Equestrian Federation, for example, any fall of a horse or rider means elimination from the event and riders must be cleared by a doctor before returning to competition. Two falls by a horse or rider within a year's period means they have to return to a lower level of eventing.
Despite Saturday's tragedy, one safety expert believes things have improved.
"There is a multi-pronged effect to get the eventing community more aware of safety issues," said Roger Haller, an Olympic course designer, trainer and eventing judge.
The number of falls has already decreased this year, Haller said, from about one fall for every 170 starts to one per 250.
"I'm pretty hopeful at this moment," he said.
Winter, King Pin's rider, has co-founded a company to develop and market breakable polystyrene logs, trademarked as Prologs, which look remarkably like the sycamore trunk fence where his horse fell.
In an interview with the Herald-Leader two weeks ago, Winter said he and his Canadian teammate, Kyle Carter, had tried to come up with an idea for safer jumps after the 2008 season.
The Prologs have been used at several lower-level events. They break apart with about 800 pounds of force and absorb much of the shock of being hit, preventing injuries to horses.
Many of the Rolex cross-country fences have a device known as "frangible pins," which means they will fall down with a certain amount of force.