When the representatives of national federations approve new FEI sports rules for 2019 I wonder how many will ponder, even fleetingly, why there is no real holistic approach to the welfare elements?
Hot topics are usually dealt with through the prism of the discipline you happen to be involved with. I am sure that the final decision-making day of the 2018 FEI General Assembly in Bahrain (November 20) will be no different. The briefing document issued after the opening day’s bureau decisions is notable for devoting just a few sentences to items of “multi-discipline” interest.
If blood-in-mouth or blood-on-sides really was primarily regulated for welfare reasons, it would make no difference which sport the horse was involved in, with no allowances made for the horse’s participation in a “contact” sport where scrapes and lacerations are tolerated.
But if there is zero tolerance for blood in pure dressage, why not in everything else? It remains the case that the tougher stance is taken in the arena-based sports where the paying public is more likely to notice something amiss and take offence (and also take and share photographs on social media faster than the speed of light). At the other extreme, blood is not such a divisive issue in endurance, where folks can disappear into open country more or less unseen for hours.
The public relations aspect of blood, rather than the welfare emphasis, is further evidenced by one stakeholder suggestion that the jumping blood rule – which is mostly related to what might appear on the flanks – becomes known as the spur rule. This sounds less gory, of course. Its latest re-wording has caused almost as much national federation feedback as the new Olympic format rules, detail for which also has to be rubber-stamped in Bahrain.
Until recently, FEI endurance did not have a blood-specific rule at all – cuts and oozes were left to the discretion of vets at the gates. This used to mean a horse could travel 30km or more bleeding from an “orifice” – as endurance’s fledgling rule graphically puts it – without being apprehended until he finished the loop.
It will be interesting to see if the substantially beefed-up eventing blood and whip proposals are carried. The eventing technical committee began reviewing them this spring after incidents at major three-days sent social media into a frenzy. The full proposals could challenge accepted FEI legal process; a hoped-for totting-up procedure for repeat offenders would lead to a yellow card and this would have to be handed down by FEI HQ itself, which is unprecedented: to date, warning cards can only be given to a rider by the ground jury for a rule breach committed on the field of play that day.
There certainly seems more willingness nowadays to tweak FEI general regulations to facilitate the bespoke requirements of various disciplines, which is also why we had a proposal for trainers to be provisionally suspended as well the rider for doping positives in endurance only. The more the bespoke approach, the less we will see a joined-up approach to welfare that makes any sense to those looking in to our world from outside.
Bridles and bits are garnering a lot of confused attention right now, too. Bitting rules in dressage and eventing are so detailed it takes almost longer to absorb them than the infamous Brexit agreement which has exercised us this side of the pond this past week!
At the other extreme, endurance and jumping rules set out relatively few paragraphs about tack. Suitability in jumping is down to the discretion of the stewards who check tack in the warm-up arena, case by case. The FEI endurance department told me a couple of years ago they were going to review their bitting rules, after another social media furore. There is no sign the previous endurance technical committee went ahead with this, though I believe the “temporary” endurance committee charged with reinventing that troubled sport’s rulebook yet again does indeed have bitting in its sights.
However, the greatest evidence of the disconnect between disciplines has come in the past week or so, following the picture of popular Italian jumper Lorenzo de Luca adorning the cover of French magazine Grand Prix. I am certain no one in jumping thought anything untoward about what his lovely grey was wearing, but the international dressage community is far from thrilled.
In dressage, after all, people can be yellow-carded if a judge’s bony digit does not fit under a cavesson noseband. Yet here we have a global jumping star sporting a double noseband which, it has to be said, does in this picture look like its indenting the nose; a Pelham with double reins; bit guards with bristles; and even discreet blinders. The fact that another picture from the same sequence shows the noseband looking well-adjusted has done nothing to mollify the outrage.
Jumping’s regulators seem to be more fixated with limbs – pinch boots and hypersensitisation. It is taken for granted that in elite jumping, riders are skilled and nuanced enough to use their horses’ elaborate headwear solely to make minute adjustments of pace and stride. When you are about to set sail down a 1.60m line choc-full of related distances and oblique turns you’ll do everything you can to correct a horse that hangs even slightly one side or the other, for his own good as well as that of your score.
Try telling that to dressage, though! The FEI, Time to Act Facebook page has gone nuts about Lorenzo. In the end, page administrator Pammy Hutton – a very distinguished figure in UK equestrianism – had to disable comments
This influential FB group was originally set up to lobby against rollkur but has evolved to share information on other undesirable practices, with over 9,000 members worldwide. Among them are a lot of industry professionals – Time to Act is by no means an echo chamber for novice riders or the serial poster who weighs in without reading what started the debate in the first place. Nonetheless, many experienced dressage riders are despairing “why isn’t the FEI applying the rules?” over Lorenzo. Well, he hasn’t broken them because there aren’t many jumping tack rules available to break, that’s why!
See what I mean about disconnect? If horse people themselves don’t know why what is bad for one is good for another, the paying public has not got a chance.