Harry Meade: A baffling proposal that could endanger us all *H&H VIP*

  • The FEI has proposed that knocking down a flag from a cross-country fence could result in five penalties, although they are yet to debate the issue formally.

    It would be good for all involved if the stakeholders from every nation provide feedback at the earliest opportunity, rather than reacting to a rule that has been passed, retrospectively debating and amending, which has happened in the past.

    For this rule change to work, presumably an FEI standard flag and holder would need to be introduced. The position and height of the flag and holder would also have to be specified. Fence judges would be under pressure to reposition a flag properly to make it fair for the next rider, and more frequent holds on course would follow.

    Aside from these technical hurdles, most do not see the penalising of a knocked flag as in keeping with the spirit of the sport — it would be like penalising horses for tapping fences across country. It would change the nature of cross-country riding for the worse, encouraging cautious, backward riding which is ultimately considered less safe; it would further complicate the scoring, put pressure on officials and increase the chances of appeals, which everyone is keen to avoid.

    Last week a meeting was held at Osberton, with UK-based riders of all nationalities, as well as owners, officials and organisers present. There was overwhelming opposition to any plans to penalise knocked flags and I gather similar consultations, with similar opposition, took place in the US.

    It is surprising that this issue — which was first raised in the spring and we all thought had gone away — has resurfaced. Maybe there is a line of thinking that today’s riders do not respect fences and deliberately aim for the flag? After all, skinnies are a relatively new question.

    Having heard the view of many riders recently, I would say we all aim to jump cleanly every time, and a flag coming down does not represent a fence being jumped badly — just a stray foot or the wisp of a tail can do it.

    It is good that there is open communication between the FEI and member nations over issues; hopefully this one will pass and we can concentrate on more important developments to progress the sport.

    Owner generosity

    The top end of eventing has scope to provide increasing prize-funds through large ticket sales, media coverage and sponsorship, while the bottom end has to be funded mostly through entries, and there is a ceiling on what this can generate.

    Two stalwart owners gave a much-improved prize-fund at Dauntsey — £2,500 across the top five places in the open intermediate. Paul Ridgeon — owner of Armada and several of Andrew Nicholson’s horses — put in a significant proportion and another added to it.

    While all riders and owners want bigger prize-funds, the money has to come from somewhere. The generosity of these owners is testament to how much they care about eventing.

    New Zealand vs Japan

    This may sound like a rugby World Cup fixture, but this week the two nations will be going head-to-head at Boekelo to secure the remaining team slot at next year’s Olympics.

    New Zealand are obviously the firm favourites, but in eventing you can never count your chickens. In reality, the outcome is not absolute since New Zealand could, and likely would, still qualify a full quota of four individuals through the rider world rankings, and be able to make up a team that way.

    The Japanese will be giving their all to secure a late ticket and overturn the formbook.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 8 October 2015