The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) has moved swiftly in Hong Kong to explain why a fence was altered at the last minute before last Monday’s Olympic cross-country and the decision to shorten the course to 8 minutes.

Course-designer Mike Etherington-Smith was angered by the decision to make the change to the course, which had not been requested by the ground jury or team managers, saying it undermined the role of the officials.

And the short optimum time for the course, 8 minutes, was criticised by teams because they didn’t know about it until they arrived in Hong Kong (see Mark Phillips, August 15).

Chris Hodson, vice-president of the FEI, said of the discussion to change fence 18, the Stone Garden: “There were boulders in the centre to direct rider to the right or left-hand side of the fence.

“One looked close to where riders might land, and the decision was taken with the course-designer to change the boulders to fir trees.

“We all accept that this was not the proper procedure, but the right people were not there [the technical delegates and ground jury] and time was running out. It has been a lesson to us about timing and communication, but I would like to think it is not a major issue.”

Princess Haya said: “This [announcement] is not a knee-jerk reaction; it is part of a transparent FEI that I was elected to deliver. The executive board wants to join me in clearing up any misunderstandings.

“I think everyone feels the eventing went wonderfully, but there are obvious issues that we need to sort out. We don’t think we’ve done things perfectly. I feel that it was unfortunate, but I don’t think safety can be part of politics and we made the right decision at the time.”

The technical delegate, Guiseppe della Chiesa, said: “I would say that an Olympics is always a bit different, but we do try to keep procedures as in a normal competition, and this situation was not normal.

“My first reaction to the requested fence change was surprise, but I found out that there were good reasons for it.”

An analysis of the circumstances surrounding the shortened course will be in Horse & Hound next week.