‘It’s going to be tough’: riders react to teams of three proposal *H&H VIP*

  • Riders and industry figures are worried that limiting an eventing team to three members could have welfare implications for horses.

    There are concerns that a lack of a discard score could also affect safety for riders, with tired horses being pushed on to complete, which could lead to falls.

    “It would be very tough,” Olympic rider Mary King told H&H, “both to be selected and also for welfare and safety reasons.”

    The idea was frowned upon by several nations — including Britain, Germany, Holland and the USA — when the proposal was put forward at the FEI general assembly earlier this month (12 November).

    “Harmonising” Olympic equestrian sport with a cap of three team members across the three disciplines has the aim of increasing the number of nations competing at the Games.

    Separating individual and team events and removing team drop scores were also put forward in the proposal.

    Although three in a team would be across the board, eventing would be most heavily affected.

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    In a proposal by the European Equestrian Federation (news, 12 November) a group led by Mike Etherington-Smith suggested that the team competition ran in CIC format — dressage taking place on one day, the showjumping phase as it is now and the cross-country to be between eight and 10 minutes long to ensure time is influential.

    The medals come after the team cross-country, with the top 20/25 going through to a final showjumping decider for individual honours.

    Regarding numbers, the EEF proposed four per team with three to count.

    “Horse welfare is taken care of, the time required for the two medal competitions is a maximum of three and a half to four days although if it can be condensed into three days this would be better, and the logistical issues are manageable and do not interfere with the pure dressage and jumping competitions,” read the proposal.

    However, the FEI proposal at the general assembly stated that a CCI format would still be followed, but with the dressage phase condensed to a single day using a shorter five-minute dressage test.

    The traditional order of dressage, cross-country and showjumping would be kept to “retain the essence of the discipline, protect horse welfare and ensure reliable, immediate results”.

    The individual showjumping phase would be used as the qualifier for the top six or seven teams to go through to the team final, with the potential of having all three team members in the arena together, jumping one after another, so that a team result would be instantly available.

    Addressing Agenda 2020

    The suggestion came from the FEI eventing committee’s proposals to fall in line with the Olympic Agenda 2020 — to entice a new audience to the sport.

    “Agenda 2020 is a driving force in this process, but even prior to that we already knew that changes needed to be made to our formats and the presentation of our sport,” said FEI president Ingmar De Vos.

    “But why do we want to change our formats and the way our sport is presented? The answer is simple — because we want to remain relevant in today’s ever-changing sporting landscape and gain the exposure and visibility our sport deserves.

    “We need to take advantage of the excitement and drama of our sport, make it easier to understand, attract young and larger audiences, be broadcast friendly and see more nations represented.”

    Sparking debate

    The British Eventing (BE) Olympic Agenda 2020 working group was formed in July, consisting of all the key stakeholders in the sport including organisers, riders and owners, and is meeting next week
    (2 December).

    David Holmes of BE told H&H: “The working group first met on 29 July and produced a paper outlining the various options that the group felt were possible. In looking at these options the group considered carefully the strengths and weaknesses of each against the headings of format — CCI, CIC, universality, presentation and cost, all of which are key for the Agenda.

    “Based on our discussions at our first working group meeting, and also on the feedback from members of the working group immediately prior to the FEI general assembly, it was felt much further discussion and consultation, both in Great Britain and with other national federations involved in eventing, was required over the proposed three rider team — ie, no drop score.”

    H&H’s eventing editor Pippa Roome has concerns about the plans: “Teams of three is detrimental to horse welfare because riders, vets and team officials will be more inclined to push a horse to complete if there is no discard score, whether that means continuing on a tired horse across country — which is also a safety concern — or trying to get an unsound horse through the final trot-up.

    “From a sport point of view, teams of three worries me because it rewards mediocrity. A team with three average or even poor completions would win a medal over one with two great results and an unlucky fall. That doesn’t seem right.”

    Eventer Alex Hua Tian said having only three riders for the big team nations at the Olympics is “going to be tough, especially without the drop score”.

    “It will certainly change the dynamics of team selection and will make the cross-country phase more influential without making it more difficult,” he said.

    Eventer Bruce Haskell told H&H that many riders oppose the three-in-a-team idea and it could be a horse welfare issue.

    “Once this is all ironed out, though, we all have to get behind one concept and make it work,” he said

    Name change?

    A new name — “equestrian triathlon” — was also suggested to improve understanding of the sport for a mainstream audience.

    “I don’t have a problem with a name change, but they’d be better off simplifying confusing things like CIC and CCI first,” said eventer Paul Tapner when the idea was first mooted in April.

    Detailed format changes based on feedback from the session will be taken to the FEI sport forum in April, and they will be voted on at next year’s general assembly

    H&H 26 November ’15