MODERN pentathlon is in a “dangerous” position, and will have to be clever to stay in the Olympics, according to a former medallist, who believes sport leaders have let horses and riders down with “systemic, constant downgrading” of the riding.
Kate Allenby, who won bronze at the 2000 Games, told H&H she believes the damage to the riding, which culminated in distressing scenes in Tokyo, dates back to the 1990s.
“In 1996, they changed the sport from five days to a one-day format,” she said. “To qualify for the final at major championships, you had to be in the top 32, and in 1994, they removed the riding from the semi-final because of costs. Until then, everyone rode, so the message was that the other events are more important.
“But also, that means you have athletes who went to major competitions but never ride until the Olympics.”
Kate added that when she competed, the top-ranked athletes rode first, so horses were more likely to have a better experience with their first riders. Had this been the case in Tokyo, the German Annika Schleu would have ridden Saint Boy earlier, and her experience might have been different.
“I’m quite angry with [world pentathlon governing body] UIPM,” she said. “Every rule change has downgraded the riding so Tokyo became the perfect storm. It’s not new [to have criticism of pentathlon riding]; Beijing, London, Rio – the UIPM hasn’t regulated riding standards. It’s given to the national federations to set standards.
“I think the UIPM needs to be held to account and bring in some big changes.”
On 12 August, the UIPM announced measures to “urgently protect horse welfare”.
These include a riding working group to review the Tokyo Games and make recommendations and “assess the need” for changes to the UIPM code of ethics for horse welfare.
Kate said this group is made up of good people, but that they “need as broad a scope as possible to effect change, as [UIPM has] gradually reduced the importance of riding”.
Kate got into pentathlon through the Pony Club, as did 2021 British gold medallist Kate French. British men’s gold medallist Joe Choong did not, but Kate said he “is a real flagship for what can be achieved” when the right attention is given to riding standards.
“The UIPM is sanctioning A- and B-grade competitions where the horses aren’t of a standard to jump 1.20m so the course is set at 1.10m; the athletes aren’t prepared to the right standard,” Kate said.
“The UIPM needs to be accountable, and someone needs to be checking that they’re making changes and taking things on board for horse welfare and rider safety. Riding is part of the modern pentathlon vision, but we need to protect our sport and move forward, and make sure the leadership is leading.”
A spokesman for UIPM told H&H: “The working group is still working on the improvement and changes proposals that cover a wide range of topics, including actions linked to animal welfare, education and competition rules.
“Once the group concludes its mission, we will certainly inform the community and the media.”
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