Praising riders could be key to making eventing safer *H&H Plus*

  • H&H catches up with some interesting discussion at the FEI eventing risk management seminar, including looking at the role of various officials on cross-country day in relation to safety

    PRAISING riders for good horsemanship is vital for eventing safety to progress, according to leading figures in the sport.

    The message came as part of a discussion over officials’ roles on cross-country day at the FEI eventing risk management seminar (23 January).

    The forum was taken through how the course-designer, technical delegate and ground jury work together before, during and at the end of cross-country day, as well as how they could be “braver” about making proactive decisions in future.

    This season will also be the first year the course-designer has a more involved role on cross-country day in terms of working with the technical delegate and ground jury to deal with judging queries, sanctions and reviewing the course and/or specific fences in case of repetitive falls or weather-related trouble.

    “The most important thing to remember is that we are responsible for the best interests of the horse, then we are also responsible for the best interest of the athlete – and we are responsible for the actions of all of us together as a team,” said Alec Lochore, who has been technical delegate at the world’s top events and senior championships.

    “As cliche as that might sometimes sound, it’s absolutely true. Together we are all responsible for the best interest of the sport.”

    He encouraged officials to “be braver” in taking action and applying sanctions, but added that it is “absolutely important” officials “don’t only have a stick” but that they also “champion and congratulate good equine welfare, riding and horsemanship in whatever form we see it”.

    “Good horsemanship is not just the double clear inside the time on cross-country day. Good horsemanship is the guy or the girl at the second-last fence who pulled their horse up because it was tired,” he explained.

    “It’s really important that as much as we talk of riders’ responsibility, it is our responsibility also to congratulate the riders who have done a good job on the cross-country. There are lots of reasons and times where it is absolutely appropriate to say to a rider: ‘Well done.’ Maybe at the horse inspection the next day, or maybe you go to the stables after the cross-country, because we must show and respect good horsemanship in whatever form it takes.”

    The seminar discussed the importance of good communication at all times, including through any language barriers, and being “brave” enough to take tough decisions such as removing a fence or a loop of the course if necessary.

    “Don’t be afraid to make a decision,” said Mr Lochore.

    “It is important to understand what the processes are [and communicate with the other officials] as we don’t want to be pulling horses up that don’t need to be pulled up but, equally, better a jump too early than a jump too late.”

    Officials were also urged to ensure cameras, including fence judges’ capturing official footage in case of penalty or flag rule reviews, are in the best places to provide clear footage for that fence.

    FEI eventing committee chairman David O’Connor stressed the importance of being able to get hold of that footage in a timely manner during competition, while the idea of putting a penalty on the scoreboard, alongside a notice that it is “under review”, was also discussed.

    US rider and FEI risk management steering group member Jon Holling spoke in the following session on how officials can help riders to make good decisions.

    “As competitors and as coaches, we want the officials to be brave,” he said. “We want them to be the ones helping us on the day as the reality is, when you’re on the competition field, you try to make the right decisions, you try to ride well but sometimes the competitive juices get going and you don’t always make the right decisions.

    “I know I’ve been spoken to at the end of cross-country [when I thought what had happened] was fine, then you calm down and an hour or two later and you reflect on it.”

    He added it is “important the officials are brave”, explaining that, where appropriate, having a word with a rider, or even giving a yellow card, does not necessarily affect the final result

    “Just because you reprimand a competitor doesn’t always mean that’s done for the rider, so use all the tools at your disposal for that,” he said.

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