The top four showjumpers in the world championships will no longer ride each other’s horses to determine the overall winner, the FEI has ruled.

At its general assembly in Tokyo last month (19-22 November), it was decided that the final phase to determine the world champion would be dropped entirely, as part of updated showjumping rules for 2017.

The old format, which had been in operation since 1978, involved each of the top four individual riders in the competition jumping a shorter course on each other’s horses, with the warm-up inside the main arena so preparation is visible to the audience.

But from the 2018 World Equestrian Games (WEG), to be held in Tryon, America, the overall individual winner will be the rider who has incurred the fewest penalties from the team and individual competitions.

Should there be a tie in penalties for first place, there will be a timed jump-off to determine the world champion.

H&H reported in 2014 that the four-rider final was set to stay, despite the fact it has always provoked debate.

The FEI said at the time that “the final four was very much appreciated by the public and viewers watching on television,” adding that there were no plans at that point to change the format, although it was “always prepared to study suggestions from the national federations”.

Questions were raised at the time as to whether jumping four rounds was too much for the horses but 2014 winner Jeroen Dubbeldam (pictured) said: “All the horses are very well-schooled and fit — if you don’t want to [swap horses], you shouldn’t be here.”

The change was one of a number of decisions made at the general assembly, including the introduction of three-rider Olympic teams, with no drop score, and running the WEG eventing cross-country at three-star instead of four-star level, also from 2018.

“We all agree that we have the greatest sport on earth and this is for many reasons”, FEI president Ingmar De Vossaid as he opened the assembly. “We excel when it comes to gender equality, but what makes our sport so great is the unique bond between human and animal, between man and horse. But it is this same unique value which makes our sport vulnerable.

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“With the growth of our sport grows also our responsibility to continuously ensure the welfare of our athletes in order to safeguard the integrity of the sport at all times.

“We need to insist on a strict application of our rules. They need to be transparent, clear and not open for interpretation.