Some enjoyable light reading plopped into my mail box from several dressage friends this week.
It was a copy of the very detailed new “one finger rule” protocol for testing noseband tightness at CDIs. It highlights “the importance of horsemanship when performing the task” – a nod, I wonder, to Aachen where a horse’s bridle accidentally came off during the tack check and he galloped back, riderless, to the stables?
Though, what I particularly enjoyed was this: “Ideally the finger size of stewards appointed for the noseband check at different competitions throughout the event shall be of similar size.”
How will this work, exactly? After a lifetime of being hauled around by horses, many of us have enlarged, knobbly-jointed mitts. It would be a shame to restrict the duties of high calibre unfortunates who happen to be manually challenged.
Who will decide the ideal size? Must the tack check steward first insert his digit to into a test gauge? Can we expect a new Facebook group to be formed for the purpose of flagging up the shows that use fat-fingered stewards, so that you can avoid them if you like your noseband really snug?
I am sorry if I am trivialising an important subject which has exercised the dressage community for some while now. All things – especially the interpretation of horse welfare in competition – re relative. (I plead forgiveness, as would you if advised daily of the relentless stream of abominations in another sport governed by the same international body as dressage).
This frivolity did not last long, though, for I then noticed that re-presenting a second time with an over-tight noseband should result in a yellow warning card. Is this really warranted? Why not just dock some marks from the test?
After all, at the recent under 21s world endurance championship in Italy, one rider received a yellow card for abuse of the horse – rather more serious than maladjusted tack. He rode so fast he broke his horse’s leg.
Yes, all things are relative, and so I’ve been prodded again to contemplate the yellow card system and the crazily wide range of offences that receive one. It is surely long overdue for all FEI disciplines be on the same page about offences and their order of heinousness, maybe introducing a red card with more serious consequences for the worst excesses? Especially now that two yellow cards within a year means automatic suspension for two months.
In eventing, people have been yellow-carded for failing to fasten the chinstrap of their safety helmet properly. Unlike their fellow horse sports, FEI eventing provides some detail about why a rider has been yellow carded, though still not enough to explain why two or three similar instances can occur at exactly the same competition and nowhere else. Warning cards to two riders for “dangerous riding” at the same British three-day event for not staying inside the ropes might suggest it was simply a mistake, as were the two also dished out for jumping a fence more difficult than the one in their course.
No yellow cards have been handed out in para dressage for over a year. The jumpers and dressage riders are also well behaved, it seems, not having any cards recorded since July and August respectively. Ironically, the jumpers almost certainly WOULD like a yellow card as an alternative to elimination for blood – though let’s not get going on that topic…
In days gone by, the worst sort of tantrum was hurling your whip to the ground in a fit of pique after falling off. A warning card system based on one-size-fits-all is a relic of that more gentlemanly time.
Nowadays, equestrian sport is ever more sophisticated in its technical requirements and so much money is at stake, whether prize pots or the sum you hope to sell your horse for. This can provoke stressful situations, but that does not excuse bully-boy behaviour towards horses or one’s fellow human beings. Even the British Equestrian Federation is currently under scrutiny for alleged bullying, in a so-far confidential independent investigation.
At the extreme is endurance, with 14 yellow cards alone in the past year for “incorrect behaviour” – endurance-speak for lambasting the officials and vets who have the effrontery to decide that an exhausted or hopping-lame horse can’t continue.
In a recent case before the FEI Tribunal, French endurance rider Vincent Gaudriot unsuccessfully appealed against his automatic suspension after being handed two cards not so much within 12 months of each other as 12 minutes.
This occurred at Pisa in Italy, one of the European summer rides backed by Dubai, which paid appearance money to all, plus around $2,000 each to all completions. No wonder the prospect of disqualification resulted in more tension at the vet gates than usual.
The gist is that Guadriot protested vehemently when his horse was eliminated for heart rate, and was told he would be yellow-carded if he didn’t calm down. He refused to sign the card initially, and returned to the gate about 15 minutes later to remonstrate further, for which he was then given a second warning card.
Gaudriot argued this was in essence the same incident and that two punishments had been meted out for the same set of facts.
There was a near identical case, also in endurance, last year. Is it a symptom of worsening behaviour? Or simply that FEI regulations do not give officials sufficient armoury to deal with the growing excesses, forcing the ground jury to apply imagination to the yellow cards totting-up procedure so as to fashion an appropriate sanction on the spot?
Either way, looking at this afresh is long overdue.