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New rules regarding qualification for four-star events have sparked debate within the eventing community.

The FEI released updated rules for 2016 last week (3 December), and they come into force on 29 June 2016.

The main change involves the qualification process for four-star level, which becomes more stringent.

The current rules state that one CCI3* and two CIC3* completions, plus National Federation requirements, are needed for all categories of rider except those in category A.

As it stands, category A riders can take any horse that has completed a CCI3* and ride it at a CCI4*. However, this will change when the new ruling comes in.

Riders are grouped on a sliding scale of experience from the least so (uncategorised) to the most (category A).

Under new rules, uncategorised, category C and category D riders must contest two CCI3*s and two additional CIC3*s. Category B riders must ride in one CCI3* and three additional CIC3*s, alongside National Federation requirements.

Category A riders must qualify for four-star level by completing a CCI3* as a pair with the horse, thus ruling out catch rides.

In the recent review of fences in the sport by Charles Barnett, formerly of Aintree and Ascot racecourses, it emerged that cross-country falls are more likely to occur at four-star events, and to involve less experienced riders.

“Better riders are half as likely to fall as uncategorised riders. Are we allowing riders who are not proficient enough to take part in three- and four-star events?” Charles asked.

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These rules could go some way to addressing that. However, there is concern that they go too far.

Lucy Wiegersma questioned the reasoning behind the changes.

“It’s all very well tweaking the rules, but it doesn’t seem a problem area,” she said.

“You wouldn’t want a lower category rider doing a four-star without three-star experience, but no top rider would walk into a four-star if they couldn’t do the horse justice.”

Bruce Haskell, president of the Eventing Riders Association, said it was “a very difficult situation”.

“Increasing the number of three-star runs would mean that combinations are more confident and competent, so I do support the motivation behind it,” he said.

“However, it heavily penalises the higher category riders. It will mean the horse has to do more runs. If it was restricted to short format that would make more sense, but I don’t think the mileage on the horses’ legs is justified.”

Lucy agreed. “If an older horse has to do more CCIs it does seem a little excessive and could be asking a lot of them at that stage,” she added.

“It could also affect their resale value or future career if they had to requalify with a new rider. There would be a lot of pressure on them in the twilight of their careers.”

Bruce also said the timeframe is not long enough for people to alter their plans.

“I’d like to see it come in in 2017 so it is not interrupting people’s campaigns at this late stage,” he said.

The new rules will affect Pau, Burghley and Adelaide in 2016 and all CCI4*s from 2017 onwards.

No more catch rides

A significant consequence of this rule change is that catch rides would be abolished — as even experienced riders need to contest a CCI3* with the specific horse before taking part in a CCI4*.

This something that H&H eventing editor Pippa Roome laments, while acknowledging it is a sensible safety measure.

Lucy Wiegersma questions this too.

“Mark Todd would not have won Badminton on Horton Point but I can’t see what bad incident the rule would have prevented. I can’t see the logic.”

Chris Burton would also not have won at Adelaide 2013 under the new rules.

H&H 10 December 2015