Spectators gasped and expected the worst when the horse ridden by Karim Florent Laghouag somersaulted over a fence and fell on top of him at a prestigious equestrian competition last September in France.
Laghouag had taken a so-called rotational fall, a dreaded spill in the Olympic sport of eventing. At least 13 riders in the past four years were killed and several others were seriously injured in such tumbles.
But soon after his horse jumped to its feet, Laghouag stood up too. He had a dislocated elbow but no broken bones. He attributed his good fortune to an air bag vest, a simple safety innovation that was virtually unheard of in the equestrian world until last year and now is standard issue for the world’s top riders.
“Today, I wear it all the time — even when I’m training,” Laghouag, 35, said in French during a recent telephone interview.
Leaders in eventing — a three-phase competition involving dressage, show jumping and a cross-country obstacle course — have long expressed frustration over attempts to make the cross-country portion safer. They have tried imposing stricter rules on riders and building fences designed to break apart more easily on impact.
But the arrival of the air bag vests has generated the most excitement, even though some caution that the technology is too new to be wholly embraced.