Changes to eventing eligibility, course-design and return-to-play rules proposed

  • A shake-up of international eventing qualification, course design and safety rules are on the table for discussion.

    The first draft of FEI rules for 2022 was released on 12 July and while eventing is not having a “full” revision of its rules this time, there are some major changes proposed.

    The most influential are further tweaks to minimum eligibility requirements (MERs), return-to-play rules for horses who have spent time out of competition, and changes to course-design rules.

    MERs have been in a state of near constant flux in recent years, with the balance between safety, global growth of the sport and miles on horses’ legs at the heart of the debate.

    Currently, uncategorised or category C or D riders need to achieve qualifying results at two CCI3*-Ls and one CCI4*-S to move up to CCI4*-L – a rule that came into effect on 1 July this year.

    The New Zealand national federation has suggested that riders with no, or less, experience at higher levels have a choice of routes to get to CCI4*-L. It cites the global future of the sport as one of the key reasons why change is needed, adding that the rule as it stands “may cause major delays” for riders’ progress in certain countries.

    “This will potentially make CCI 4*-L a non-viable class for many organising committees due to small numbers of competitors, and may discourage riders from pursuing an eventing career,” it states, giving the example that there are only three CCI3*-L events in New Zealand a year, so missing any of these could cause a major delay to a rider’s progress.

    “Each country must be given equal opportunity to compete, yet CCI3*-L events are not common in many parts of the world, therefore this new requirement places further restrictions on combinations wishing to progress to CCI4*-L.”

    It adds: “We believe that the FEI has access through EquiRatings to data that will show that our recommendation is backed with a measure of statistical significance. We are trying to address the threat of adding a calendar year of qualifying into a horse’s pathway while still recognising the safety concerns being addressed.”

    “Restore the essence of cross-country”

    Horses that have been out of competition for a year or more will have to step down a level on their return, it is proposed.

    The suggestion follows work by data company EquiRatings, first publicly presented at the FEI online risk management seminar in January (news, 9 February). Their research found there is a “significant increase in horse fall risk” when a horse returns to international competition at four- and five-star level after a break of 18 months or more.

    The “return to play” recommendation would cover horses competing at three- to five-star, and one MER at the level below must be obtained within 12 months.

    Eventers may also start to see a different type of cross-country course, if proposals go ahead.

    At the FEI’s 2020 eventing risk management seminar, course-designers Mike Etherington-Smith and Mark Phillips mooted the idea that steps and ditches should not always be counted as individual jumping efforts.

    “Coffins and sunken roads have almost disappeared from our sport because at the moment a coffin is three efforts and a sunken road four – 10% of your efforts in one fence,” said Captain Phillips at the time (news, 13 February 2020).

    The current proposal, worded by Mr Etherington-Smith, would give designers flexibility to incorporate more steps and ditches. This would be agreed in advance with the technical delegate and would take into account the terrain, balance, flow and intensity of each course.

    The proposal states that changes in format over the years have “created a different sort of effort for the horse”.

    “Therefore a few more jumping efforts would help keep the course in balance if the terrain was flat,” it states.

    “This would restore the essence of cross-country: to re-introduce questions like sunken roads and coffins, which have almost disappeared from the sport as they count as additional efforts, but are important for educating horses.

    “More allowance for jumping efforts would give course-designers the ability to have more variety and to make courses on flat ground more influential.”

    Stakeholders have until 30 August to submit feedback on the changes to the FEI.

    Other proposals

    • Air jackets to be recommended for cross-country
    • Paperless dressage judging
    • The addition of an “under-25” category for eventing, as in other Olympic disciplines
    • Missing one flag (15 penalties) on an otherwise clear cross-country jumping round to still count as an MER

    Read the full first draft of eventing rule change proposals

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