First use of safety jump material at Wayne DuPage Horse Trials

by Jane Braddock
United States Eventing Association

Obstacle with traditional materials.

This year, at the Wayne DuPage Horse Trials, August 17-19, outside Chicago Illinois, the organizers took a step towards addressing the safety issues experienced in the sport of eventing by using a new material in cross-country course construction.  Dan Kowalewski, the organizer, chose to implement polystyrene logs called “Prologs.”

I was competing on my horse in the Novice division, but I was able to watch competitors on the Intermediate course navigating the Prolog jumps.  I encountered Dan by the first water complex, and I was amazed at how he pioneered the use of this revolutionary new jump material in a USEA recognized Horse Trials. I followed up by interviewing him the end of August, after the show was finished and we both had time to reflect on the competition.

Q. What is the new material, Prolog?

A. These logs are made by Safer Building Materials, Inc. a manufacturer of frangible cross-country jump materials based on Expanded Polystyrene Technology. (www.saferbuildlingmaterials.com).

These logs will snap in half if they experience over 500 lbs of force, and do have some give if they are hit hard at forces less than that. With this log design, a horse may trip but is less likely to experience a dangerous rotational fall, protecting both horse and rider.

Research is being done by this firm outside Atlanta on the use of this new material with cross country obstacle design.

Dan poses as “Hercules” to show the lightness of “Prolog”.

Q: Where did the idea come from to use this new material at your competition?

Nathan Holling, Area IV Young Rider coach, was a guest at our home in July. He was in Wayne conducting the Young Rider camp. Jonathon told me about how friends near Atlanta, GA., were developing a polystyrene log that the Canadians used during their selection trials for the Olympics.

Jonathan put me on the phone with one of these developers, Mike Winter, who described their product. Mike and Prolog partner Kyle Carter were leaving the next day for the Olympics as riders on the Canadian team, so they put me in touch with their other developer and partner, Barton Aul. The same evening, Jonathan called up David O’Connor, who coached the Canadian Olympic team. I heard directly from David how the polymer logs were used at the Ocala Horse Park for the selection trials of the Canadian Team.

Dan and Erin replacing a log with “Prolog”.

Both Mike and David recommended they be used with drops, especially into water, or large oxers and anywhere a horse might tend to hit the fence or to drag their stifles over the fence. David had just ordered 10 of these logs for his new course in Florida.

Even though it was just three weeks before his horse trials, I was convinced and decided to try this new material. I ordered several 12 foot by 22 inch diameter logs for the Wayne DuPage Horse Trials.

Q: How did you implement Prologs on your courses and where?

The logs arrived from the manufacturer at our house at 6:30pm the Wednesday before the show. I was a little worried, but by 8:30pm that same evening, we had 3 logs in place on the courses for the technical delegate (TD) to inspect the next day. Their relatively light weight of around 80lbs made this task far easier than using traditional logs.

For the Intermediate level course, I initially selected a hanging log on top of a hill immediately before the first water complex. (Figure 1) This is typically where horses might hesitate and either drag their stifles on the fence or get distracted by the water and hit the fence with their front end. I replaced the large log with a Prolog and secured the ends down with moving straps and screws. The straps worked better than high tensile wire or rope because the width of the strap distributes the tension and leaves less minor dents to the Prolog. (Figure 2)

In case of a log breaking during the competition, I had to be sure I could mend the fence quickly. I timed it and in less than 10 minutes, I could replace a broken Prolog by myself using just one power drill – no other tractors or power tools needed.

For the competition (Figure 3) however, the TD was concerned about using an unproven technology on such a critical fence, and so I moved it from the location in the construction photos you see here to the fence just prior in a long galloping lane

Competitor Lisa Barry jumps over a Prolog fence. Photo courtesyof FOTOGRAHAM,
used with permission.

Q: What are the benefits of this over other ideas?  What are the drawbacks?

The advantages of Prolog are that dragged stifles and hard whacks will have some cushion and only dent the Prolog, and the horse will thank you for this. They also can be used wherever you have a hanging log type fence with very little or no change to the rest of the jump structure.

The other safety tool for cross country course construction is frangible pin technology and the Prolog is another tool to use in the course construction safety tool box. With frangible pins, these pins are used to support oxers and logs, and if hit with enough force, the log falls straight down and only the pin breaks

One drawback is that Prologs are more costly to replace when broken than are frangible pins.

I plan to attend official training in the use of frangible pins later this year. Some fences in the Wayne Forest Preserve are implementing frangible pins on course and will be in use for next year. For both the frangible pin and the Prolog, the idea is the same … if a horse hits it hard enough to cause a rotational fall, the jump will fall down instead. Then, the horse will have a better chance of getting his feet under him to recover and will avoid a rotational fall.

Q: What did you learn from its use?

The ease of installation by simply replacing existing logs in other fences. They are light and easy to maneuver. Also, use moving straps instead of high tension wire or rope to hold down the logs. Moving straps caused less indentations and less impact on the log

Most importantly, at least two horses hit the Prologs with some force and the Prolog withstood the whack well, leaving only a slight dent in the material. I was concerned that a whack of the material might uncover the whiter polymer core of the log, potentially distracting the next competitors on course, but this did not occur. However, developers are considering making the core of the log black to avoid this potential pitfall.

Authors Note: I personally saw a horse drag his stifles over this fence and saw how the fence gave just enough downward and then sprang back. At that time Dan commented “You can bet that horse will be happy about the give in that fence when he’s back in his stall. If I can save just one horse or rider even a minor injury, it is all worth it”. JEB

Q: What are your plans for the future regarding “Prologs”?

If it is up me, I will expand the use of them on all my courses, especially for drops and for fences into water to protect stifles and for safety.

****

More research is also expected as this new safety material gets wider use at other venues. So if you see a funny looking log on your next cross-country course, thank the organizer for trying innovative ideas with course construction to help make our sport as safe as possible.

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