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Push for greater safety measures to be rolled out in equestrian sector

ahead of inquests into teen deaths

Posted Sunday 14 April 2019 at 9:54 am

Mark and Juliana Waugh have been advocating for safety improvements since their daughter, Sarah, was killed by falling off a horse. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Erin Sommerville)

It has been 10 years since Sarah Waugh was killed in what her parents have described as a preventable tragedy.

She was 18 when she was thrown from a race horse hired by Dubbo TAFE for a beginners' jillaroo course.

For Sarah's mother, Juliana Waugh, it also marked the start of a new chapter advocating for safer equestrian practices.

It is work that has since seen her named as a Member of the Order of Australia.

"We know that the worst can happen and we're living with [it] every day," Mrs Waugh said.

A coronial inquest into her daughter's death saw recommendations put in place, and the family is now pushing for a national horse register.

Despite advocating for about a decade, Mrs Waugh said equestrian safety still had a long way to go in Australia.

"We've been fighting almost every minute since then just to get the few changes that we have from the recommendations that we have from the 2011 coronial inquiry into her death," she said.

"So yes I think we [Australia] do drag our feet."

Mrs Waugh has also criticised the sector's use of the term 'freak accident' to describe deaths in equestrian, and said all fatalities needed to made accountable.

Push for greater safety in the equestrian sector

In May, coronial inquests will be held into the deaths of teenage equestrian riders Caitlyn Fischer and Olivia Inglis.

They died in 2016 — just months apart — in separate Equestrian Australia events.

There is now a growing concern about the response from the sport's governing body.

"Over the last three years Equestrian Australia has done very little to improve the safety for

young riders in the sport," Maggie Dawkins, the inaugural Chair of Equestrian Inter-school in South Australia, said.

Those concerns have been echoed by the family of Caitlyn Fischer, who has contacted the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) and the Federal Minister for Sport, claiming Equestrian Australia is resistant to change.

In letters to the Minister and ASC, the Fischers outline that they are "disappointed and dismayed" by the attitude of Equestrian Australia in the aftermath of their daughter's death, and had hoped more would have been done since to improve rider safety.

The organisation is also facing criticism of its delay to updating concussion policies.

In March, Equestrian Australia announced it fully endorsed the Concussion in Sport Australia Position Statement that was released in February, and would introduce a similar protocol for all equestrian disciplines effective from July 1, 2019.

The organisation has also been criticised for failing to implement proactive safety measures, like rider fall training.

Horse rider fall safety training director Lindsay Nyland said about 2,000 riders had taken up the training since it was rolled out in 2015, and said it had helped prevent injuries.

"They're all saying the training has been incredibly helpful and teaches them how to respond in an emergency situation," he said.

Mr Nylund said the training was brought to the attention of Equestrian Australia by the late Olympic equestrian champion Gillian Rolton in February 2016, wanting them to progress this safety initiative, as well as the Scone Horse trials committee following the death of Olivia Inglis in Scone in 2016.

"Unfortunately, that's been almost three years ago now and there's been nothing done of any substantial nature to implement these measures," Mr Nylund.

Calls for independent overview

There are now calls for the establishment of a sports ombudsman or an independent body to oversee equestrian sports and the self-governed Equestrian Australia.

"This sport is a sport that is taxpayer funded and there's no oversight," Mrs Dawkins said.

Equestrian Australia and the Federal Minister for Sport, Bridget McKenzie, have declined the ABC's request to respond.

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