The FEI seems committed to three riders per team at the Olympics in future, despite overwhelming support for retaining four-man teams with a drop score.
This is a backward move for horse welfare. Riders and officials will feel extra pressure to complete, whether by pushing a tired or overfaced horse on across country or presenting an unsound one for the final trot-up, and officials will be put under unfair pressure when adjudicating on these incidents.
The new positive scoring proposal allows team riders who do not finish the cross-country to showjump and record a score. But we will reward mediocrity — reliable teams who can get three through the finish — rather than brilliance.
At the European Championships last year, only the Germans finished with four team members. A further four teams had three riders complete, so under this new format, some or all of them might have managed to get three home — if, of course, their selectors chose the “right” team member to drop.
We’re bound to end up giving medals to teams with at least one member who hasn’t completed the cross-country, which feels insane. Surely this isn’t what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wants from our sport — rewarding a lack of achievement? Teams might even gamble on not sending some riders across country and taking the hit on their score, with a fresh horse for showjumping the next day.
David O’Connor has suggested a CIC format with cross-country last, as statistics show that way more teams will manage to get three members to the finish. But we traditionalists do not feel the CIC can ever be the pinnacle of eventing or truly showcase its integral values.
Something has to give
The conflict here is a tussle between the IOC’s desire to increase the number of nations competing, the eventing community’s will to retain championships at the highest standard and the inescapable fact that eventing is a risk sport. You cannot increase the number of national flags and keep up the standard of competition without causing more injuries, possibly fatal ones. It simply isn’t possible.
Something has to give. Either we drop the competition’s requirements to meet the lowest common denominator — and can we, at this stage, even save the World Equestrian Games from that fate? Or we have to stand firm and say elite sport is for elite competitors — and we’d prefer to have more riders from fewer, dominant nations contesting a stellar event, than a greater spread from more countries competing for devalued medals.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 14 April 2016