I’ve been baffled by aspects of the public indignation over Scott Brash’s disqualification after winning a Global Champions League event in Portugal for microscopic/alleged blood on the flanks of Hello Forever.
I completely agree it’s shameful that some of the wider, uneducated public have been allowed to assume Scott knocks his horses about when he is the most stylish and sympathetic rider of his generation.
The subsequent handling of blood elimination decisions and how they are conveyed to the public is so often cack-handed. It’s all very well the FEI stating they are not implying Scott had “any intent to injure the horse.” That in itself plants a seed of doubt amongst the ill-informed. The reputational damage is done, albeit in the eyes of the hundreds of serial joiners-in who comment on social media without having actually read any detailed articles on the subject.
But the high profile (as well as low profile) calls for the FEI to change blood rules because of Scott and others before him are also confusing. Do people mean change the existing rules, or the new ones likely to be in force from January 2018? Or don’t they realise the latter revision is already in train.
On July 6th, the FEI circulated all its proposed rule changes for all sports for 2018. If adopted they will give jumping officials more wiggle room to make a distinction between minor, unintentional marks and those more clearly resulting from excessive use of whip and spurs, plus circumstances that will lead to elimination from a single class or disqualification from the whole show. You can find them under Articles 241 and 242.
The International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) and the North American Riders Group (NARG) have worked hard to get the FEI jumping committee to review blood at all – see pages 41 and 45 of this – so given the FEI’s previous intransigence, it’s a good start. There are bound to be some who feel these revisions don’t go far enough. If so, don’t moan and groan around the warm-up ring or on Facebook. Provide your views to your national federation. Their deadline for feedback to the FEI is September 18th.
I appear to be standing up for the FEI for reacting to rider demands. But only a tiny bit. The people to whom FEI rule-changes apply are often the last to know. The FEI disciplines have no uniform approach to categorising rules or providing a handy executive summary so you invariably have to wade through each sport’s weighty tome page by page to find to find the red bits highlighting the alterations.
New and unchanged blood rules still vary wildly from discipline to discipline. It’s always argued that variations are unavoidable due to the “contact” nature of some equestrian sports, but it’s specious to keep insisting that blood rules are primarily welfare-led when some vehemently promote zero tolerance and others allow an oozing horse to keep going.
It’s a fact that the toughest stances are taken in the top two arena-based sports, jumping and dressage in which the audience is most likely to contain at least one person of bionic vision who will notice the horse that has blood and plaster pictures all over Instagram.
Conversely in endurance, which is usually staged in the middle of nowhere, the chances of there being many paying spectators (never mind standing in the right place at the right time to film bad sights) are massively reduced. That is why riders can crash along unchallenged in desert endurance for 20-odd miles with a horse looking like this.
Current FEI endurance rules only require vets to assess blood when the horse arrives at a gate, note it down and even allow him to continue if it won’t “seriously aggravate” the wound. So, I was pleased to see a brand new rule for any blood spotted during the loops, gorily worded as it is: elimination for “free-flowing blood from an injury or from an orifice.” Though judging from the comments to the picture link above, the chances of desert endurance supporters bothering to report a bloody orifice to the ground jury seem very small.
Eventing has also reviewed its blood rules for 2018. Already discretionary, these take the view that blood “may be an indication of abuse” – a turn of phrase other disciplines mostly try to avoid. As before, blood must also “be reviewed case by case by the Ground Jury.” A new statement says that “not all cases of blood will lead to elimination;” that looks a weeny bit like a riposte to the repeat social media storms about a particular rider who some feel has been let off lightly more than once.
Vaulting will change too, and will eliminate “horses bleeding on the flank(s), in the mouth or nose or marks indicating excessive use of the whip anywhere on the Horse (in minor cases of blood in the mouth, such as where a Horse appears to have bitten its tongue or lip – officials may authorize the rinsing or wiping of the mouth and allow the lunger to continue – any further evidence of blood in the mouth will result in elimination [sic].”
This revision is said to align it with other disciplines, though vaulting doesn’t illuminate us as to the discipline/s or the vintage the rule is borrowed from. They’d have been better to re-write their own bespoke rule. As it reads now, if the lunger is so whip-happy he’s managed to mark the horse while standing in the middle of the ring the vaulters themselves will surely have been caught in the crossfire too.
Confused? So am I. This topic will always be a bloody mess.