Do FEI rules need a revamp? H&H investigates *H&H VIP*

  • Why can a showjumper be disqualified, and splashed all over the national news, for accidentally catching his horse with a spur when an endurance horse can bear open wounds for 20km before anything is done?

    That question is still being asked weeks after the controversial disqualification of Bertram Allen (pictured, top) from the Olympia grand prix.

    Peter Charles is the latest to weigh in (comment, 21 January) while the almost prohibitive time-frame for spotting rule breaches or protesting against field-of-play decisions — 30 minutes after the confirmation of results — was criticised by Mhairi Alexander (news, 7 January), the lawyer who tried to help Bertram.

    Inconsistencies in interpretation, clear differences in the way disciplines approach welfare rules, and the limited extent of rider involvement in creating the rulebook have all been aired.

    One further complication is that FEI General Regulations (GRs) and FEI Veterinary Regulations will always prevail over a contradictory sport-specific rule.

    This was highlighted two years ago in the successful H&H-backed protest over the CEI Sakhir, Bahrain endurance horse-beating incident, where the FEI Tribunal applied the GRs as well as FEI endurance rules to decide the rider should be disqualified, not just handed a yellow card.

    The set of rules varying most widely sport to sport is that regarding whips, in both scope and presentation. Six disciplines file whips under “saddlery and tack”. Yet FEI driving lists them under the “cruelty” heading, and eventing under “abuse”.

    The rules’ ineffectiveness was highlighted in 2010 when US showjumper Michael Morrissey hit his horse 13 times after a refusal during World Equestrian Games (WEG) selection trials.

    Four FEI judges were later reprimanded for not acting on the day. It was only after YouTube footage went viral that the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) suspended Michael for three months.

    However, joined-up thinking can have practical difficulties, despite likely public perceptions that beating a horse is wrong under any circumstances.

    An FEI spokesman said: “In driving, a whip is used to ask for forward movement of the horses, along with the voice. In reining, no whips are used, and in vaulting the whip is used to ensure steadiness of the horse rather than fast, forward movement.”

    Eventing under pressure?

    There are concerns that eventing is obliged to “borrow” too many rules from FEI dressage and showjumping.

    Mark Todd criticised the invidiousness of literal interpretations when William Fox-Pitt and Freddie Mac were eliminated from the 2013 CIC3* at Blenheim for using hind boots prohibited in jumping’s young horse classes — rules are aimed at horses under seven.

    Blenheim’s “young” competition is for eight- and nine-year olds.

    FEI eventing rules are due for a major review this year, though not a total rewrite. But for now the jumping boot rule remains.

    The only changes in eventing equipment for 2016 are alterations to ear covers and clarification over a style of bitting.

    The FEI rejects assertions that there is insufficient consultation with riders. Stakeholders can suggest changes “at any time”.

    But equally, few riders wish to get deeply involved. In 2014, just 26, drawn from 10 of the FEI’s 132 member nations, applied for eight seats on sport technical committees.

    Turnout was also poor, with only 58 of the 632 eligible riders voting for the dressage candidates, where the Italian rider Anna Campanella beat Laura Tomlinson.

    H&H asked the FEI for examples of any athlete-initiated rule-changes. It provided just one — increasing the FEI World Cup vaulting time by 20 seconds, to 1 min 20s.

    But with controversial, welfare-related rules, forcing change is less easy.

    Blood rules still differ widely between each sport, though the FEI has recently aligned reining closer to dressage, vaulting to showjumping, and driving to eventing.

    Dressage at Hickstead supremo Dane Rawlins has been involved, along with the international dressage trainers’ and riders’ clubs, in trying to ease zero tolerance for blood — another controversy headlined in 2010, when Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival (pictured, below), then the world number ones, were disqualified at WEG.

    “We make progress, but slowly,” he said.

    WEG 28.09.10. Andelinde Cornelissen on Jerich Parzival with blood in mouth.FEI dressage clarified its blood rule after Kentucky, though rejected the suggestion of top trainer Sjeff Janssen that horses could restart later if the blood cleared promptly, as in FEI reining.

    Dane said: “You have to be able to distinguish between the small accidents we all know can happen with horses, and deliberately hauling on its mouth.

    “If the blood is spotted in the arena, it should still be disqualification. But if it is not seen until the horse has finished its test, provided it clears quickly the horse should be allowed to remain in the class and for the rest of the show. This could work for other disciplines.

    “Current blood rules deal with matters historically, doing nothing to protect welfare going forward. There isn’t even a vet check, so what’s to stop the horse turning up at another show next day with no further investigation!”

    Rule-making at a glance

    Who decides FEI rules?

    National federations, the FEI Bureau, the FEI discipline directors at FEI headquarters in Lausanne and each sport’s voluntary technical committees, after a consultation process. The FEI Sports Forum, launched in 2012, provides a platform for public debate. New rules must secure a two-thirds majority vote at the FEI general assembly, to apply from 1 January the following year.

    How do riders get their say?

    Via clubs such as the Eventing Riders Association, International Dressage Riders’ Club and the International Jumping Riders’ Club. Through similar associations, trainers and officials have input. Anyone can make suggestions “at any time.” Sport technical committees now have athletes’ representatives, including British team eventer Daisy Berkeley.

    Do the disciplines liaise about rules of common interest?

    Yes, though department heads at Lausanne are the principal point of contact.

    Has any disciplines’ rules been entirely rewritten from scratch?

    No. The core rules have been revised, with all alterations viewable online.

    Can members of the public make suggestions?

    Yes, though they should approach this via their national federation.