Broken Bones, and Engineering, Do They Go Together? Do They Explain “Breakdowns” Like Crackerjack This Weekend?

Boyd Martin and Crackerjack

First of all, before someone turns on the fire and starts a screaming diatribe, let’s clear a few things up. I am not a vet, I am not an upper level eventer, the best I have done is a few trainings, I am not a trainer, and I was not there this weekend when a horse was put down. “So then why the hell are you even talking?” Good question.

  • A.) I have a blog, it’s for talking about stuff I wanna talk about, You Don’t Know Me!

    Bees! Because this is my blog and I do what I want.
  • B.) This may actually have something to do with engineering,
  • C.) Safety is a huge part of my life in offshore as well as riding,
  • D.) All of the Above?

“God I hate multiple choice!”  Good news, you aren’t being graded.  “Whew, I was having flashbacks to the SATs.  But really, why are we here again?”  Engineering.  “Well aren’t we just enlightening today.”  Fo reals tho.  So it has been proposed that “breakdowns” among horses could be caused by running/working a horse that may have previous damage that we can’t see.  “This sounds like vet and Doctor stuff, not engineering.”  You are correct however as a person who installs pipe (you know, metal, hard, doesn’t bend) offshore

That black line is pipe and there is 7200ft between the platform and the sea floor.

in a moving environment, think waves, current, hurricanes etcetera, you have to wonder, how do those pipes survive for 20+ years with all that wind, waves, current, and sharks without breaking?  Well we design for it of course!  Fatigue is a big part of design when you have a pipe hanging off of a moving platform.  “Fatigue, a word I know, if I am fatigued, I need a nap, so does that mean your pipes need naps?”  I need a nap but pipes don’t get them, they work 24/7/365 for 20 years.  To better explain fatigue, think of the top of a Dr. Pepper can (this is my favorite but feel free to insert any soda/pop/coke type you like).  You know that tab on the top that you use to open your can that we would always remove as a kid?  “Why was there always someone collecting those?” I don’t know but when you flip that thing back and forth a bunch until it breaks off you are “fatiguing it to failure”. Yes, feel free to go out into the world and use your new found engineering vocabulary to wow your friends.

Who drinks this stuff?

So with pipe, possibly carrying thousands of gallons of oil, we do not want “Failure” but those waves, moving platform, and hurricanes are trying to fatigue the pipe by moving it back and forth sort of like your soda tab.  I won’t bore you with all the deep engineering details but the pipe itself has to pass certain tests, and checks to ensure it has no tiny cracks or holes.  When you weld pipe together, each weld has to pass inspections including x-rays to make sure there are no cracks or gaps.  There is a big focus on cracks and holes, even microscopic ones, as you wiggle, over time the cracks will become bigger and bigger, this is called “crack propagation” until one becomes big enough that the whole thing breaks.  And when in doubt, add more steel, so instead of the pipe being half inch thick we may use 1″ thick walls.  If you take a paperclip and bend it back and forth a bunch of times, you will see cracks in the paper clip, get your magnifying glass out though, they are very small.

There is a tiny crack in that circled area.


“Well this is neat and all but what the heck does it have to do with horses?”  Well, horses have bones, bones are hard, but they get fatigued as well.  The neat thing about bones is, given time and proper nutrition, they can repair themselves, pipes you have to heat up to help the pipe sort of “melt” and fill the cracks or if the cracks are very big, you have to add more material to fill them.  “Last time I checked, bending a bone back and forth really isn’t a thing.”  Correct.

I’m not going to lie, it was difficult to come up with an analogy for this.  Oddly enough, what I came up with is this.  You know, when you are in college out drinking with friends.  “I never drank in college, I am the picture of perfect college student.”  Sure you are, along with all the other college students out there, anyhow there was jerk move we used to pull where you would slam your bottle on top of someone else’s and all the sudden tons of foam would come pouring out of the top and the person had to try and drink it really fast.  It turns out, if you do this 2-3 times (yeah you find out the foam is lacking after the first one but blame the alcohol for further attempts), a bottle will break, usually the bottom one.  It will also happen if you do it too hard the first time but that’s shock loading and we covered that already.

Another issue to consider is eccentric loading.  “Electric loading?  Are we doing shock therapy on our horses now?”  Eccentric, essentially it means off center, think about your old crooked legged horse.  Usually Old Crooked Leg has trouble staying sound, because the joints and bones are not

For the love of Pete, Stahp!

getting used how they were designed.  We have all been there when we hit a nail and it bends.  “I’m lucky if I even actually hit the nail.”  Well if you do actually hit the nail, and it bends, that means either it is a super crappy nail, or you didn’t hit it in the middle of the nail.  You hit it off to one side “eccentrically”, and it bent instead of driving deeper into the fence board you are nailing up on the coldest day of the year just before you go catch the 10 horses running around like idiots.  Sometimes you can bend it back but if its a cheap nail aka lower grade materials that will break sooner, it will never hammer straight.  God forbid you hit it twice and it bends both times, you are probably screwed and should go get bailing twine or duct tape.

So, did Crackerjack have an unfortunate misstep or was it brought on by fatigue, I don’t know if that is something they can figure out or not, and we may never find out.

Now for my safety soapbox.  “Here. We. Go.”  So I have worked offshore, it’s dangerous, things happen, the seas are unpredictable, the weather can be as well.  On top of that, people can be unpredictable, maybe someone didn’t sleep well last night, they have drama at home, or they are inexperienced.  These can all cause bad decisions to be made which can put people’s lives at risk.  “If it’s so unsafe, then why do you do it?”  I like the job, I like the money, and maybe I like the risk a bit?  I mean, I do ride, it’s not like I took up knitting for a hobby.  “Dude, those needles are huge.”  Do you know, in my almost 400days of working on boats or in yards with heavy equipment, I have witnessed no major injuries and no deaths at all.    Why is that?  Well first of all, I think I am a bit lucky, I know people who have died but it was from a heart attack.  Do you know, even after those deaths, there were 2, the company decided that yearly physicals were mandatory to work offshore.  They could have said, “Not our problem those people didn’t take care of themselves.”  Instead, they said, you know, this has caused a major upset on the vessels, you live with these people every day, when they die right in front of you, it will mess you up, BAD. They realize it cost them time and money, and NO ONE wants to make the call to the family.  To them, it’s worth the time and energy to make a change.

One trip offshore, we had some cargo break loose and start moving while

Back before longsleeves were required.

lots of people were on deck, had someone gotten hit by it, it would have badly injured and maybe killed someone.  Why didn’t it though?  Well, we had all had lots of training (I had a week of safety training the week after I started), everyone immediately went to a safe area until the movement stopped and then the cargo was secured.  “Well that wasn’t so bad.  Slowed you down a few minutes.”  Well, one would think that but because it was an incident, the second the deck was secured, tons of pictures were taken and we sailed the half day back to the dock for an incident investigation which took 2 days with a team of 4 guys.  3 days of work time blown and those 4 guys got nothing done in those 2 days as well.  That gets expensive for a company, I estimate $250k-$500k in lost revenue alone.  “No bonus for you this year.”  No joke.

Horizon Drill Rig on Fire.

Lets just not even go into the Horizon/Macondo oil spill.  No, I have not seen the movie, and truthfully, I really don’t want to.

A guy I know that has been working in the oilfield for about 40 years told me when he started, there were no hardhats, you could wear shorts and sneakers, and if you got killed on deck, they just threw you in the freezer and kept going.  It’s not like that anymore.  Any death at all is highly investigated, and generally shared with the entire industry.  Recently an object was dropped from a crane on a boat, no one was hurt, I don’t even think there was major damage, the incident report was about 200 pages. Where are the in-depth reports on what has happened to horses and riders that are injured or die on course?  Someone may say this is too expensive to do, I say when you are losing a $100k horse, it’s too expensive not to.  Let’s not even try and put a dollar amount on a human life.  Maybe we put it back on the companies that insure the horses?  Make their reports public.  Just food for thought.

My proposal would be for any rotational fall, horse death, or rider death, a team of 4 people consisting of a vet, a course designer (not the one that designed the course that the incident occurred), an upper level rider and maybe someone who works for the governing association, work together, find out what really happened, why there was an incident, and make a report that everyone can read and share.  This shouldn’t just be for eventing, any death of horse or rider should be investigated, it may unearth a number of problems that are completely solvable.  Cracker’s may not have gotten hurt because of the course or fatigue of some form, maybe he had a genetic defect in the leg that just finally failed.  Maybe rotational falls are more caused by bad footing on the front side of the jump than by the jump itself.  Maybe that person died because they had an un-diagnosed heart defect and the horse landing on him/her stressed it.  It’s not always clear, but 4 people is all it takes.

Disclaimer: I am not a Veterinarian, I am not a trainer, I am not an upper level event rider, I am not a Doctor.  I have had some training in incident investigation but I am not a professional.

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