Our sport is full of rules and regulations, designed to protect riders and horses.
Every so often these regulations are brought to our attention through the misfortune of others, but it was a recent round from a now infamous Austrian rider Bernhard Maier that has had everyone in uproar.
At a small international show in Austria, his round resulted in a yellow card and suspension from his national federation, not to mention complete humiliation on social media.
As a rider, but perhaps more importantly as a trainer, there are many factors that can result in having a bad round. I’m not familiar with the history of either horse or rider, but I saw the video, which has spread like wildfire over social media. Unlike most people, my first reaction was to recognise how sweet this horse was for trying to continue jumping the course, which seemed outside its scope. It’s clear that the rider wasn’t making things easy for the horse, but didn’t look dangerous; it certainly was not worth all the uproar. Yes, the round was embarrassing and yes, it probably wasn’t fair to ask this horse to jump that height, but it was far from horse abuse.
Riders never go into the ring with the intention of embarrassing themselves. We also aren’t going to deliberately enter a class if we know we will knock down the entire course and not make it through the finish. But sometimes, we make mistakes. At some point in our careers we have all entered a horse in a class he or she wasn’t ready for, amateurs maybe more so than professionals. Mistakes can happen and people shouldn’t be so quick to point fingers and criticise.
The Austrian Equestrian Federation’s suspension seemed to be an effort to shift all the responsibility to the rider. Ultimately riders need to be responsible for their actions, but the Federation is equally responsible when they allow entry to the show.
It is proof that many of our federations actually have no idea about most of the riders and horses under their umbrella — they can only tell you about the top few.
Should there be a system where people have licences to be able to jump at FEI shows? I’m not talking about five-star shows — these are already only accessible to the best in the world — but a two-star show is basically first come, first served, allowing anyone to try to jump a 1.45m class. There is no quality control. Maybe something like this could have diverted the situation
What’s most ironic is that I have seen many worse things happen at shows which I would consider worth a yellow card. I have seen stupidity, which is the most common cause of wrongdoing, overlooked and unpenalised. In this case, the result was not good; the round looked terrible, with social media igniting a wildfire, and it resulted in a yellow card and suspension.
There will always be decisions made by officials that we, wrongly or rightly, don’t all agree with, and it is heavily dependent on which stewards and judges are present. With more international shows than ever, knowledgeable stewards are few and far between, which makes it tough for rules to be regulated equally throughout — but that’s another story for another time.