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Last minute rule change allows Carl Hester to compete in Florida

A crisis that could have prevented Carl Hester from riding in the Palm Beach leg of the World Dressage Masters was averted on Thursday night (26 January) – when competitors agreed to having it downgraded from a 5-star to a 4-star, to avoid the disqualification of Carl and two other riders.

A few hours after the horse inspection, it was brought to the attention of the ground jury that Carl had not qualified according to the rules. He had not ridden Fiona Bigwood’s Wie Atlantico in two CDIs and achieved a score of at least 64% – the requirement for competing in a 5-star.

Carl has only had the horse on his yard for a few weeks. He took over the ride as Fiona is expecting her third child.

Two other riders were also ineligible. Yvonne Losos de Mu ±iz of the Dominican Republic, aboard Carl’s former mount, Liebling II and Heather Blitz of the US – who rode Paragon in his first CDI grand prix on Thursday afternoon – would both have been ruled out were it not for the last-minute change.

Carl said he knew of the rule, but had thought it was superseded by a wild card invitation.

“My federation entered me,” he said.

Thomas Bauer, an FEI dressage committee member said: “The rule says the national federations are responsible” for insuring that entries meet the criteria.

“They made a mistake,” said Bauer, referring to Great Britain and the Dominican Republic. The US federation was not involved because Heather qualified via her Thursday grand prix ride.

Stephen Clarke of Great Britain, who spoke for the ground jury, said the situation “left us with a dilemma”.

“I as a foreign judge am here to uphold the FEI rules,” he added.

He spoke with the FEI’s director of dressage, Trond Asmyr, seeking a solution, “but due to situations that have happened previously, it was impossible to make an exception for these riders here.”

Totilas was not allowed to compete in the Munich WDM last year with his new rider, Matthias Alexander Rath, for the same reason.

“So we had to look for alternative solutions,” said Mr Clarke. “The only solution we could find without breaking the rules was to alter the status of the competition from 5-star to 4-star (which does not have the two-ride, 64% requirement) – thereby allowing the competition to go ahead with the same high-level and calibre of riders.”

All the riders involved had to agree with the plan, which they did. The only downside for them was losing 5-star bonus points to be added to their rankings.

Carl was grateful, saying the riders acted “as we would if it happened in our country.”

“It was very nice to hear how all the riders supported each other,” said Mr Clarke. “This was a prime example of officials and riders cooperating to insure the well-being of the sport.”

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