The rule about missing flags across country caused an unsettling furore in the spring. All are in agreement that the 2019 rule doesn’t work, but it couldn’t be changed mid-season. However, we now have time to consider the draft 2020 rules before they are ratified.
The problem with the current rule is that no part of the horse’s shoulder can pass beyond the imaginary line where the flag was originally positioned — this means any contact between the horse’s shoulder and the flag is given 15 penalties. Applying the rule as it was written has been very unpopular.
As such — after endless reviews, decisions which not even the officials imposing them believed were fair and petitions — we have reached a workable compromise for this year in which ground juries wilfully ignore the rule, using their power to “interpret” the rules as they see fit.
But it’s imperative that we get it right now for 2020. We cannot expect officials to flout the rule at an Olympics or appeals will be inevitable — so we must get this sorted in the current round of amendments.
Let the shoulder move the flag
Over the past 12 months, I’ve forensically studied the wording of this rule throughout its evolution over the past decade; the problems arose when the words “as originally flagged” were added at the start of 2019.
So long as the line that cannot be crossed is the original position of the flag (rather than the actual flag), it can only be judged with rulers on a screen showing a horse in slow motion.
In April, riders and the international officials’ club proposed two sets of wording for the 2020 rule to the FEI, an initial one and shortly after an updated version. Unfortunately the FEI have taken our first proposal, which was superseded by the second, as a basis for their rule. Even I, the author of the first proposal, do not support it!
The FEI’s proposed rule for 2020 states that the horse has missed the flag if the shoulder (to the point in front of the saddle) jumps “outside the extremities of the element or obstacle as originally flagged”. But everyone agrees that we must allow the shoulder to move the flag without penalty.
The rule therefore needs to say that the head, neck and point of the shoulder (the corner of the horse) must pass inside the flags (without any wording about “originally flagged”) and the hindquarters must jump the fence.
If a horse fails to go clear as defined above, this should be classed as a run-out for 20 penalties, not 15 for missing a flag. With more straightforward parameters applied, a rider will know if they faulted, so continuing on course without re-presenting will incur elimination.
A serious matter
This may feel like a boring discussion, but if the wording is not rectified, it could lead to Olympic medals being wrongly awarded.
The current rule also encourages backwards riding and training. Also, jumping away from flags at the widest point of the fence and holding a horse to an angled fence without allowing a necessary drift to bring the shoulder up from a deep take-off spot is dangerous.
We have a proposed rule that is supported by riders, officials and national federations, which is more straightforward to judge and provides the result it is designed for — horses are not penalised unless they clearly do not jump the fence.
After all the hard work, only the final hurdle remains — for the FEI to adopt it. We can then all move forward in unison!
Ref Horse & Hound; 18 July 2019