What is really hard for me to swallow is that she said both horses looked in balance of sound-mind and body coming to the fence. The horse and rider just misjudged the fences. It was a split second and the riders were down and not getting back up. Maybe the horses' depth perception was squewed, maybe they were confused as to what they were supposed to be jumping. These horses only have moments to come around a corner at a high rate of speed, assess the footing, the lighting, what they are supposed to jump over or off, and then balance, find the distance, shuffle their feet and power off the ground. A LOT can go wrong in those few moments! Sometimes they don't have the time they need to do all of those things. They get to the fence and can't get their legs out of the way in time to clear the fence, their forearms catch the fence instead and that power that was supposed to power them OFF the ground, is now slamming them and their rider INTO the ground.
The chance of this happening at my level, Novice or Training, is minimal. The fences are small enough for my horse to clear without too much of an effort, and with MY horse, if she has a question, she rather stop instead of jumping dangerously! It makes me think of what we eventers talk a lot about - developing a 5th leg. We want our horses to be able to figure things out for themselves, to develop an athletic confidence and independence that will help the rider out of a sticky situation. It has been said that as the demand for more sophisiticated dressage work is asked of our event horses, that they will sacrifice that independent spirit that helps them and their rider navagate cross country. In dressage, when we ask for a flying change, we want a quick "yes ma'm" and a submissive response. Then, when we gallop through the woods and around a corner into a clearing with a sunken road, we expect our horses to quickly figure out where they are and how to jump through it with little help from us. We say to our horses during cross country, "You needed to put a stride in that bounce? OK! I trusted you!" or "I almost fell off when we pecked hard into the water, but you kept cantering and jumped up the bank and over the coop while I struggled to regain my balance. Thank you!" But what about when the horse's eyes are still adjusting to the light and the gate comes too quickly and the rider is kick, kick, kicking to get him to jump and he is just not ready? Should the horse jump regardless? Or should that 5th leg self-preservation we value so much tell them "I can't do this! STOP!" It's a lot to ask of an animal. That's why these 3 and 4 star horses are amazing. More often than not, they jump regardless and rely on their raw athleticism to get them out of trouble. Rarely do they say no. Most likely, if they run out or stop, they simply didn't understand the question being asked of them. Are they perfect? No! Are we? No! Is there risk? Yes! What sets these upper lever horses apart is that they are smart, trusting, independent AND submissive. They are everything they need to be WHEN they need to be it. They prove themselves time and time and time again. They have risen through the levels by being consistant and becoming more secure in making the right decision. They are not robots, neither are the riders. Mistakes happen. Unfortunately, as you progress in this sport, so do the consequences of those mistakes. This is why they train. This is why they face fear straight on and don't back down or become paralyzed by it. Not everyone makes it to the upper levels, only the best pass the test. What makes this level of rider special is that they ride and teach these talented horses well enough to foster the confidence they need to master the sport. They don't get in the way. They teach the horse they tools they need to do their job and then they remind and guide. They polish with lots and lots of elbow grease and let the horses SHINE.