‘Why not?’: rider is the first to compete at top level dressage without spurs

  • A rider, understood to be the first to compete in a top level international dressage competition without spurs, has spoken out in favour of riders now having the choice – and is pleased to have “shown that it can be done”.

    Lithuanian rider Justina Vanagaite opted to compete 11-year-old gelding Nabab at the Doha CDI5* without spurs, as is now allowed under FEI rules.

    Justina and Nabab, who have represented Lithuania as individuals at three major championships, scored 69.78% on Friday (23 February) for seventh in the grand prix, and the following day the pair were third in the freestyle on 75.75%.

    “Doha CDI5* marks so many personal milestones and achievements, that even the thought of it makes this whole experience look surreal,” said Justina, adding that Nabab gave 110% and that they had an “amazing time” in the arena.

    During the past two years H&H reported extensively on the FEI’s proposed rule changes to make spurs – and double bridles – optional in international competition. The proposals were met with mixed views from the dressage community, but ultimately riders were given the green light to compete without spurs in FEI competitions from 1 January 2024. The proposal to make double bridles optional at CDI3* level and above was rejected.

    Justina told H&H she is “very happy” that spurs are now optional, adding that some horses are more sensitive than others, so “it’s good that riders can choose” what suits the individual horse. She said there were a number of reasons for her decision in Doha.

    “Firstly, dressage is in a dark shadow at the moment, so I think that it’s very important to show that there are a lot of good and positive riders, who really have a true relationship with their horses,” she said, adding that Nabab had a winter break from competition, during which time she was riding without spurs, which led to her thinking she would try to compete without.

    “I said to myself that it could be an interesting experiment. Some people might say that you can experiment, but not in a CDI5* competition, but I know my horse better than anyone else, so I thought why not try?

    “And then the main reason I chose not to wear spurs; because I can!”

    Justina said she “didn’t feel a huge difference” during her tests, but added that she is not opposed to wearing spurs in the future.

    “I don’t think it matters if a rider is riding with spurs or without if they are using them correctly,” she said.

    Justina received positive feedback for her choice in Doha.

    “I got lots of good comments from my social media followers, stewards at the show, my friends and other riders,” she said.

    “My goal was to show that it can be done. But I’m not saying that I will never use spurs again. If I feel that I need them, I will put them on again. All in all, I was happy to ride a nice, motivated and easy test with a happy horse.”

    An FEI spokesman told H&H it “welcomes the supportive remarks from Justina” on the rule change.

    “It is important to note that this was a direct result of the early recommendations made by the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission in August 2022, just several months into their mandate,” he said.

    “While dummy spurs were permitted previously, the new rule clarifies the choice for dressage athletes who wish to compete without spurs. The FEI fully embraced the recommendation and rationale to provide that choice. As a result, it went through the customary rules revision process and it was approved at the FEI General Assembly 2023 in Mexico City.”

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