Concern and confusion as FEI bans bit used by top riders

  • Stewards’ different and contradictory decisions about a certain bit at international competition have highlighted the grey areas and inconsistencies that can exist in FEI rules.

    At the Kentucky Three-Day Event in April, Canadian rider Katie Malensek was eliminated from the four-star in relation to her horse Landjaeger’s Myler combination bit. A month later, in Belgium, British showjumper Charlotte Penny was pulled up over the same bit, worn by Landown Cruise On Air.

    Katie told H&H she was eliminated because one steward judged the bit to have been modified – Charlotte told H&H she was only allowed to jump once the bit had been modified. Both said FEI stewards had previously approved the bit as it was.

    Katie appealed her elimination at Kentucky, but the FEI Tribunal ruled that her appeal was inadmissible.

    “It’s not settled in my mind,” Katie told H&H. “There were some questionable decisions made.”

    Katie said she had asked an FEI steward the previous weekend to check Landjaeger’s bit at an event and it was approved, and no issues were raised at the cross-country tack check at Kentucky. But after their showjumping, Katie was pulled up by a steward, who said she thought the bit was illegal.

    “She was holding a book of pictures from the FEI tack app,” Katie said. “The sub-category was modifications or additions to the bit, and there were pictures of bits with rope or vet wrap, crazy get-ups. There were two pictures showing Myler combinations with various things modified and she was comparing one to mine saying, ‘That’s why it’s illegal.’”

    Katie said her bit was as it was manufactured, with no adaptations. She said although other stewards disagreed the bit had been modified, the one objecting was adamant and called the president of the ground jury away from the top-20 showjumping to show him the pictures, after which he agreed to the elimination. An on-site appeal was rejected.

    “It felt like no one knew what they were doing,” Katie said, adding that other riders that day were using the same bit but not pulled up. “I explained why it was legal, it was off the shelf and had been cleared by an FEI official – but the same people look at the appeal, the president and vice-president of the ground jury.

    “I’m worried about other events and people trying to get Paris qualification, as other stewards are approving this bit. I want everyone to know – if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. It’s luck of the draw and that’s not how it should be.”

    Charlotte was allowed to jump once her bit had been modified

    Charlotte told H&H she had heard what happened to Katie, so checked with an FEI steward in Belgium and was told her bit was legal.

    “But when I was in the chute on the way into the grand prix, the steward said, ‘I can’t let you in as someone’s come over to say the bit’s illegal’. She said the rope was the issue,” she said.

    “We had to cut the bit to pieces to adapt it to how they wanted it. The rules said the bit was fine and it hadn’t been adapted, but the steward said if I wanted to use it, I had to adapt it.”

    Charlotte said she cut off the rope part of the combination bit and bought two flash straps to attach, and this was allowed.

    “That completely changed the way the bit worked,” she said. “The horse didn’t know what was going on. I was so confused. No one knows the rule and it’s ridiculous that the opinion seems to differ between stewards. Stewards in England have said it’s fine, but I’m going to Bolesworth soon and I don’t know what to do.”

    An FEI spokesperson told H&H: “The combination bit in question is not permitted at FEI competitions, as per the FEI rules/FEI tack app. It belongs to the group of bits included in the app under items or changes added to bits. This list covers bits that have been changed from their primary concept by the manufacturer and or athlete, which affect its function (i.e. leverage action, excessive pressure on sensitive areas through reduced area of contact over the nasal bone).

    “We would like to reiterate that the images in the app serve as examples of some of the tack and the list is not exhaustive. The exact bit in question may consequently not be represented among the images, but it still belongs to the same group of bits.

    “The elimination of the athlete was a field of play decision, taken by the president of the ground jury taken in line with the FEI rules/tack app. We rely on the FEI officials present to apply the FEI rules/tack app.”

    Monty Stuart-Monteith, managing director of UK Myler distributor Shaws Equestrian, told H&H the situation is very frustrating.

    “We’ve been selling this bit since 2001 and it’s extremely successful as it divides the rein pressure over several areas to relieve the horse’s tongue,” he said. “No one from the FEI appears willing to engage with Myler about how it works; if they understood, they’d realise it’s probably the kindest bit they’ve seen. The way it was used at Kentucky is exactly how it was designed; there seems to be poor communication, a lack of understanding, and an unwillingness to acquire it.”

    Olympic hopefuls Kitty King and Vendredi Biats have been affected; Kitty had ridden the 15-year-old in the bit and said at Bramham it had been a challenge to replace it.

    “We were made aware when the rider at Kentucky got eliminated but they let two others compete; clearly, they don’t even know what they’re doing,” she said. “Badminton trot-up day, at the the briefing, that’s when the riders were told if they were to run in that bridle, they’d be eliminated… it’s a bit of a shambles.”

    Kitty and Vendredi Biats won the CCI4*-S at Bramham in a different bit.

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