Final push to keep dressage top hats thrown out by FEI

  • A push to upend the ban on top hats in international dressage that came into force this year has been squashed by the FEI’s medical committee.

    The ban came into force on 1 January this year, following a vote at the 2019 FEI general assembly.

    The decision divided opinions, with some welcoming the move while others were in favour of riders having freedom to choose. A 150-strong petition asking FEI for riders (over-25s) to have the option of wearing top hats in international competition was dismissed in November 2020.

    The topic has now arisen again, with several national federations and other corners of the sport calling for riders to have the choice of top hat or protective helmet ahead of the first draft of 2022 rule proposals. This garnered mixed reactions from the FEI dressage committee, ultimately receiving a hard no from the medical committee and the FEI board.

    “The traditional dress code with an elegant hat is a world-renowned recognition feature of dressage sport,” said a joint statement from the German and Austrian national federations, plus the International Dressage Riders Club (IDRC) and Association of International Dressage Event Organisers.

    It added they “do not want to give the impression” that dressage has become dangerous.

    “We acknowledge the aspect of safety, however we are not aware of any head injuries that have ever occurred to top athletes during a high-level dressage competition.

    “Therefore, athletes of the age category U25 and older should have the freedom to decide for themselves whether they want to wear a top hat or a helmet in the competition.

    “This freedom of choice should only apply to CDI4*, CDI5*, championships and Games [at] grand prix level. For awards ceremonies and at all other times when mounted, the use of protective headgear shall remain mandatory.”

    The European Equestrian Federation put forward a similar suggestion, adding that it proposes to “re-open the discussion”, as a survey among European national federations “has shown a preference for altered rules”.

    The dressage committee supported the proposal, for riders with a minimum age of 26, “but not unanimously”.

    The committee’s response said the idea was “not supported by the [FEI] medical committee” and the proposal was reviewed at the FEI board’s June meeting.

    “The board unanimously agreed not to support the proposal and, therefore, it is not included in the proposed rule changes,” it stated. “The board noted that this topic was subject to a specific vote at the 2019 general assembly and that vote should be respected.”

    Scoring, corrections and tack inspections

    A further shake-up of some key points on dressage scoring has been mooted as part of the rules revision.

    All proposals presented in the first draft are just suggestions and stakeholders have until 30 August to provide feedback. Final drafts are voted on at the FEI general assembly in November, and become rules next year.

    The axing of collective marks in 2018 caused spicy debate and a new proposal is tabled for 2022. In broad terms, this would split the current single collective mark in two, giving a mark each for horse and rider.

    The joint proposal, put forward by the Austrian and German national federations and the IDRC, said this would force the judge to give an “evaluation of the principles of dressage” at the end of a test.

    “Nowadays, everything is supposed to go faster and faster, to be simplified and made as equal as possible. We think that this is not the right way to improve our sport in terms of riding and judging,” it states.

    “For some time now, it has been apparent that some principles of riding are no longer really taken into account in the tests. In our opinion, these collective marks are missing which have served the judges as tools to illustrate the principles of dressage training.”

    It adds: “Since there is a collective mark for the rider, it is the logical consequence to also give a collective mark for the horse or its training status.”

    The FEI dressage committee has supported the change and has sought the expertise of the FEI Judges Advisory Group on the exact wording.

    Other key proposals include safety improvements for the tack inspection, with the recommendation that this takes place in a fenced area and that the rider or groom is the one responsible for removing a horse’s ear bonnet, if he is wearing one.

    There is also a suggestion to automatically correct judges’ final scores for a combination, if a mark varies by more than 5% from the average of the other judges’ scores. The outlying mark would be changed to be the same as the closest score.

    What else should I know?

    • A proposal to allow equine “body bandages” in the warm-up, to protect from accidental spur marks, was dismissed as a “gadget”
    • The FEI is seeking to define an “amateur” category, across the Olympic disciplines
    • The short grand prix test to be used at all World Cup final qualifiers
    • Suggestion to ban fly masks in training areas (already banned in competition)
    • A proposal to forbid using “any type of white substance around the horse’s mouth to imitate foaming”, as it is considered cheating and may also hide lip injuries

    Read the full first draft of FEI dressage rule revisions

    What do you think about the proposals? Send your thoughts to hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, and you could win a bottle of Champagne Taittinger

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