The Rotational Fall at the Eventing Showcase

They say that money is the root of all evil. But in equestrian sport, money is essential to funding the endless supply of bills that go hand-in-hand with horses- vet bills, shipping, show fees, and of course the everyday costs of simply owning a horse.

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So in theory, something like the Wellington Eventing Showcase provides a rare opportunity to put our sport in front of an audience that is well known to shell out dollars for equestrianism. It’s been discussed many a time how we need to be able to educate future fans, inspire potential patrons, and draw new upper-level owners to eventing, and the showcase’s intention seems to be just that.

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But there are some differences between the polish and ponce of the Wellington event and your typical event. Instead of thousands of people lining the gallop lanes at Rolex, instead there was a sparsely populated hillock lining one of the sides of the derby field. And there were other differences, too. What I want to discuss today is the falls and near-falls of the cross country field.

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Watching the cross country, it was clear that the bogey fences were not the gimmicky, entertaining obstacles like the tent jump, or the fence at the top of the Land Rover embankment. Instead it was a massive corner coming out of the water combination, a skinny at the base of a hill, and a pair of brush fences that could either be angled or, being numbered separately, could include a circle in between to allow for a straight approach to the second element. There were some run outs, to be expected for a course of this level, and that was okay.

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What was strange to me was the difference in the way the couple falls were treated after the fact. I include the above fall sequence only as a result of both horse and rider walking away fine. The miraculous recovery of Woodge Fulton garnered the cheering and applause of a typical eventing audience. But the rotational fall of Marilyn Little and RF Demeter has been oddly swept under the rug from a media standpoint.

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The pair jumped beautifully over the cabin in front of us, out and over the water combination with the corner, and then proceeded to the angled brushes like a bat out of hell- I mean this lady was hell-bent for leather on making time, and was easily moving faster than anyone else was at that stage on course. I cannot say for sure what happened at that next combination, as it was at the opposite end of the course from me, but there was no denying seeing 4 legs in the air and a definite rotational fall. Luckily Demeter trotted away, and an ambulance came over for Marilyn, who we could see was having trouble sitting up. In the end she opted for a ride on a golf cart rather than the ambulance, all the while the announcer attempted to assure the spectators that all was well between awkward pauses.

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Trying to understand exactly what happened, my friends and I scoured the internet looking for some mention of the fall. And, nothing. The impression to us was that the fall was a stain on the showcase, and so nary to be mentioned, nor discussed, in public. The only mention I’ve seen so far of the fall has been in this article by the COTH.

There is no explanation of what happened, no mentioning that the horse went ass over teacups and landed on its human rider, who fortunately seems unscathed by the accident. Just a casual shout-out to sponsors, a week off in a paddock, and a lamentation of not being able to run the other horse.

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While I am not trying to point fingers, I must admit that for me, the whole situation leaves me wanting. Wanting to be able to understand why something as scary and dangerous to both horse and human life as a rotational fall happened at a showcase event, with one of our top riders. Wanting to be able to learn from the scenario so that the sport is made a safer discipline for future generations. And wanting to be left feeling like the showcase really is a great way to bring in the support that the sport so desperately needs.

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23 thoughts on “The Rotational Fall at the Eventing Showcase

  1. Oh heaven forbid we talk about something like this. Someone with plenty of scandal already under her belt, someone who went to Rolex last year WOEFULLY under prepared and tried to die there to, someone with financial backing and the right political alliances out ramming and jamming horses up the levels?

    Yeah definitely let’s not talk about that.

  2. A whole bunch of people narrowly escaped a rotational at the Tryon log that was at the top of a little hill off of a turn. That thing rode terribly, and several horses caught it with their knees.

  3. That’s pretty consistent with the way Marilyn Little has been treated throughout. She must have some spectacularly good blackmail on the eventing community. If another rider had 1/10 the scandal, bad decision-making, and outright poor riding that she did that rider would be run out of town on a rail.

    (for the record: I am not usually a conspiracy theory person but DAMN)

    • I do think though that it would probably be the same (regarding the silence) if any other rider had had a rotational fall. I just get the impression that something so scary just wouldn’t jive with the overall “tone” of the Eventing Showcase.

  4. this is fascinating to me. i had heard that marilyn came off her horse and was not well enough to run the second, and subsequently spent a little time sleuthing about to see what had happened. but never saw anything, and definitely had no idea it was a rotational fall.

    something that has consistently confused me about the horse world (not just eventing and not just pro levels) is the strict adherence to the ‘optics’ of the situation.

    • While I couldn’t see the approach to the fence in question, we got a pretty good view of Marilyn down, then trying to get up before laying down again. A rotational fall that makes for a rider not being able to bounce right up again (she was done for some minutes) to me should garner some attention in a sport that is recently crying out for more safety awareness.

  5. I’m pretty public about the fact that eventing pushes no lifeblood through my system. I simply don’t care for it, which I know influences my reaction to this.

    First, I don’t think it’s fair to sweep something up under the rug. I read the COTH article because I follow and read COTH consistently, and agree with you that it lacked details. I guess because I don’t follow other eventing media or much about eventing in general, I wasn’t left wanting more.

    Instead, I’m left with “Well duh eventing is dangerous and rotational falls happen all the time no matter where and this sport will never stop claiming lives of people and horses.” I’m really glad nobody was hurt in this fall. I’m not glad that hauling ass might have caused it. Mostly, I’m glad I don’t care for eventing because I don’t see falls like this ever stopping – fancy showcase or not.

    • I just wish that the same voices who are continuously talking about how to make the sport safer (through frangible pins, course design, etc) also posed the pertinent question to riders after accidents like this- “What do you think caused the rotational fall?” Maybe Marilyn’s unfortunate experience (whether caused by speed or something else- my view was blocked upon her approach to the combination) could influence course design at next year’s showcase or other events sponsored by the Bellissimo folk, to make for a safer experience for all.

  6. Wow, I had no idea that there had been a rotational fall. It seems really biased and disingenuous of the media to sweep it under the rug :-/

  7. There is a scathing thread on the COTH forums talking about this situation: http://www.chronofhorse.com/forum/showthread.php?508835-Marylin-Little-and-the-Wellington-Showcase. Why was she marked as RF and not MR, the horse clearly fell. I looked at the video and she seemed to be really struggling. Run flat out and then yank. Also, nice addition of the black fleece to cover up any possible unsightly blood stains near the mouth …

    You do a search online for “Marilyn Little fall wellington showcase” and the only thing that comes up is the article plugging her sponsors. COTH is owned by Bellissimo and EN isn’t exactly known for hard hitting journalism.

  8. I have to add too… while she wasn’t the only one to pop off, she was the only one who’s fall you could see coming from a few fences away. ML always kind of rides the line of what is, to me, dangerous riding. We saw it at Rolex last year, the same situation with the same horse. You knew it wasn’t going to end well and it didn’t. Here we saw the exact same situation play out again. My question is, how many times are we going to let her do it? Is she going to have to kill herself or a horse? There’s a difference between being super competitive and riding to win, and being downright dangerous. In my mind this was a 100% preventable fall, definitely not a freak thing. At same point we have to discuss the rider responsibility aspect of these falls.

    • I was watching the live feed last Saturday and gasped as I saw the fall happen. I am glad that she was not severely hurt, as it looked like the horse rolled over her pelvis. For whatever reason the fall and the questionable riding has quickly swept under the rug, again. I think the sad answer is that this type of riding will finally be addressed only once the unthinkable has happened.

  9. I might be the only one that thinks this but I don’t think of that fall as a rotational fall bc Demeter got her knees up vs plowing into the jump- to me a rotational fall is doing a flip over the jump not rolling over on the other side- I watched the fall a couple times on replay and unfortunately it was a shit angle to really see what happened- but it looked like her stifles caught the jump and her front feet didn’t catch her on the landing so she rolled over ML. However, I am saying that was shit riding the whole way through on ML’s part- I either fast forwarded through the other bad riders or ML was the only one jerking the shit out of her horses mouth consistently throughout the course. I totally get a come to Jesus meeting with your horse in a certain situation bc safety is an issue but not every damn fence! If you have to jerk that much you need to go back and learn the basics again. I have nothing nice to say about anything I saw from that ride on Demi.

    I wanted to like ML so much when she first started eventing (mostly bc I knew her sister and met her mom who is such a lovely person, or at least seemed really wonderful and kind when I met her) and i just can’t find anything nice to say anymore… and that is sad 😦

    • I definitely won’t argue- as I wrote this post before going back and watching the video again. All I know is that I saw hind legs in the air, and a rider down for a long time. Even if it wasn’t a technical rotational fall it still was ugly enough to not be appropriate as a sponsor-call out opportunity.

  10. I am so glad that we are talking about these issues and accidents. We may be doing it in forums and blog posts and shared Facebook posts, but there is consistently growing pressure from the base of this sport to fix it. We are not relying on traditional media to report this for us, and that is a big step forward. I am hopeful that we can push the whole sport toward transparency and greater safety. Thanks for writing!

  11. I do want to think that a showcase like this is a good way to get more attention and add a touch of glamour to Eventing to attract new people. But I think it’s going to be hard to really bring in new people if, like you mentioned, stuff like this, especially with someone who has already been in the media a lot for varying issues, isn’t well addressed and acknowledged. I’m inclined to think that her PR people worked hard to shush this, potentially alongside Bellissimo but that really disappoints me. What disappointing me more is that ML is AGAIN in the media at all for putting her horse in danger, but that is another story.

  12. While I didn’t watch the showcase (though I did hear about and see a video of ML’s fall), I am a member of the media and having been at Jersey Fresh for last year’s tragedy, I can back up the media in that things like this are taken very seriously and handled delicately no matter the horse and rider’s outcome. A lot is taken into account as respect for the rider.

    As for sweeping it under the rug, I am surprised that COTH didn’t address it more as their reporter at JF was aggressively asking questions after XC. I do catch a bit of a “don’t talk about it so the Showcase doesn’t look bad” drift, but I don’t know if I was left wanting to hear anymore about it. On the other hand, ML isn’t known for her safe riding by any means, so it could have been a “she did it again, talking about it is redundant” type thing. I guess we will never know.

    • That’s really interesting regarding the fall from a media perspective. And while I certainly don’t want to start any kind of conspiracy theory, the fact that the COTH and the Showcase are both under the same person’s control seems to me to be a pretty solid reason for the COTH to minimize any accidents that happened. Just food for thought!

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