Peter Charles: What lengths will people go to? *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Some hot topics were discussed at the International Jumping Riders’ Club’s (IJRC) general assembly in Sweden, but one of the most controversial is the FEI’s proposal to ban most back boots by 2021.

    Our horses’ boots are checked before we enter the ring, so a boot rule is easy to police. The fact that the FEI now needs to bring in a ban on all “performance-enhancing” boots suggests that they’ve become victims of their own lack of scrutiny.

    The idea behind the boots, sometimes known as “flick” boots, is that they encourage the horse to open up behind. One well-known brand make a soft boot that has an elastic strap that does up to a popper and cannot be over-tightened. They fit nicely on the leg and don’t distress the horse or change its balance.

    Some horses’ technique behind is flawed — they pull the back end towards themselves and the right boots help improve this without abuse.

    Nick Skelton told me that his best three horses — Carlo, Arko and Big Star — competed and trained in these soft boots. Nick is probably the greatest rider we’ve ever had and the horses were beautiful to watch. There certainly wasn’t a welfare issue.

    Unfortunately, there are other brands of boots creeping in that act on the back of the fetlock, not the front, and they can be brutal. There are also “crank” boots that allow the strap to be overtightened — in the wrong hands, these can certainly create problems for the horse.

    With a blanket ban on this training aid, what methods will people use to change the way their horse jumps? We don’t want to see riders jumping higher and wider at practice fences to make their horses use their back ends more, or encouraging their horses to crash on to the back rail.

    Banning boots also makes horses with a good natural technique very expensive.

    I wonder where it will end. The FEI says the boots “affect the performance of the horse” but doesn’t a double bridle also change a horse’s outline and way of going? Feedback from federations is expected this month — I’ve heard the Irish are putting in a recommendation that the soft version of the boots should be permitted and I expect others will do the same.

    Finalists by default

    Pay cards also came up at the meeting . We still need the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) — who have ultimate approval over the schedule — to increase the number of home riders invited to five-star shows in the UK. The Hamburg Global Champions Tour had 14 German riders in the five-star classes, whereas London had only eight Brits.

    Only one rider from each nation was in the top 15 of the rankings, who receive automatic invites. It’s time the BEF backed home athletes as strongly as the European federations do.

    In an earlier column, I said we’d need to send our strongest team to the Nations Cup in Gijon — our last “counting” round before the final in Barcelona. As it transpired, our two main competitors, Denmark and Luxemburg, withdrew, handing us automatic qualification. While it’s encouraging to be in the final, it’s a shame we got there by default.

    Ben Maher was the star and I would expect to see him, Scott Brash and William Whitaker in Barcelona. As a fourth rider, it would be good to see our leading lady Laura Renwick; she’s one of the only Brits to have won a four-star grand prix this season.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 7 September 2017