The FEI is to discuss clarifying rules on when penalties are awarded for breaking frangible pins, after confusion at Burghley Horse Trials last month (4-7 September).

As the rule stands, 21 penalties are awarded if the ground jury decide that the athlete and horse “clearly did not answer the jumping question set by the course designer”.

At Burghley only two riders — Sarah Bullimore on Valentino V and the USA’s Marilyn Little (pictured) riding RF Demeter — were awarded 21 penalties, despite numerous pins being broken.

Marilyn broke the pin at the final corner of the Malting’s Bounce combination and US eventing team coach David O’Connor immediately appealed the decision.

“I don’t think it is [21 penalties],” David said after her round. “We will argue that it isn’t because the horse cleared it up front and then actually broke it behind, which is one of those things. I don’t think the mare would have fallen, so it’s not a done deal.”

Despite the appeal the penalties were still given, which resulted in Marilyn dropping 10 places to finish 20th.

Some eventing fans have suggested that all pin penalties should be removed and that the ground jury could instead give 25pens for dangerous riding if they deem it necessary.

However, the FEI maintains that it is essential that penalties remain in place.

“When the mechanism works to its full potential and prevents the rider from falling, it would be unfair and counterproductive not to penalise the rider and horse for that mistake,” said FEI eventing director Catrin Norinder.

“It would also be contrary to the current FEI vision of cross-country and the FEI eventing risk management policy if a rider was not penalised after having activated a frangible deformable fence, and could still gain a qualifying result.”

Olympian Ian Stark is concerned that the current system makes it difficult for fans to understand.

“I think that it makes matters very complicated,” Ian told H&H.

We were all confused — never mind the spectators that don’t know the system.

“I don’t know the answer but I think it needs looking at again. At the moment it is a very grey area and the rule needs to be worded definitively.”

The FEI told H&H that the topic would be on the agenda for the FEI eventing committee later this month, and that a “clarification” would be issued after that.

This news story was originally published in Horse & Hound magazine on Thursday 2 October, 2014