Two recent news items about eventing and reining caught my eye. On the face of it nothing connects them. But to me there is a common factor. Both result from the unintended consequences of governing bodies deciding to broaden their membership bases over the past 20 years or so.
First, British Eventing (BE) has just introduced a swingeing new rule requiring incompetent or dangerous riders to down-grade. It’s not expressed quite that brutally, of course, but that’s the gist. BE’s new Continuing Performance Requirement (CPR) is a simpler take on the “alert” system developed by EquiRatings, the Irish statistics gurus who carried out data analysis for BE last year.
In short, if a horse has three consecutive eliminations for refusals, run-outs and/or falls it may not re-attempt that level until a Minimum Eligibility Requirement is completed at the level immediately below.
If elimination occurs at the very lowest BE80(T) level, BE Sport Manager Debbie Pritchard will appoint a trainer to submit a written report before the horse may compete further.
Any rider involved in two CPR referrals in 12 months is subject to mandatory assessment and help, and the possibility of being blocked from BE indefinitely, until they can prove they are neither a risk or at risk.
Pritchard says: “Based on EquiRatings’ analysis it is predicted that around 2.3 per cent of horses competing with BE will be impacted by this rule, but that the number of horse falls it could prevent will be much greater.”
EquiRatings saw falls decrease by over 60 per cent in its original live trial in Ireland a couple of years ago. The company, run by WEG team silver medallist Sam Watson and Diarmuid Byrne, was then hired to work with the FEI and other national associations, though until there has been reluctance to apply down-grading rules right across the board.
BE is, of course, only the governing body of our domestic sport. But as Britain is the epicentre of global eventing, where we go the rest of the world usually follows.
Up to about 25 years ago, even BE “novice” meant jumping something quite substantial – cross country was 3ft 6in (1.065m). Riders mostly realised themselves when they needed to go back to the drawing board to regain confidence over less challenging tracks.
Of course, we’ve always had a wealth of opportunities in the UK to jump small courses though our Pony Club, Riding Club, hunter trials and “unaffiliated” structures, but somehow people seemed less inclined to over-face themselves at 2ft 9in if there was no opportunity to boast they were “doing BE.”
I rue the day BE created “pre-novice” level in a bid to recruit new members, and then more categories with jumps so small you hardly need a horse to hop over them. BE even stopped bothering to think up titles, simply labelling them by the maximum height of the fences.
Now we have removed the critical aspirational factor of our “official” eventing sport, anyone can charge round on a wing and prayer. Horses and riders learn nothing about accuracy, balance and judgement of pace, meaning the governing body must now save an irresponsible small minority from its own unrealistic ambitions.
Meanwhile, a more candid and detailed account of the American Quarter Horse Association’s take on its ejection from FEI reining has appeared in this German publication (in English). Once again we learn of AQHA’s dismay in being told only by email the same day the FEI publicly announced its severance decision.
Its clear AQHA is still smarting about the process, about being unilaterally bundled with the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) in the decision, and frustrated by FEI’s pedagogical attitude toward reining’s motherships and a lack of understanding of the Quarter Horse breed.
Though what interested me was the AQHA’s sincere belief, held right up to this day, that belonging to the FEI gave reining a live Olympic chance. For sure it has been an exhibition sport (at Sydney 2000) – but so have lots of others.
However much FEI wanted reining to bring large number of competitors into the FEI family, it was surely disingenuous to let reiners think the Olympics was really a goer, when simultaneously dressage, jumping and eventing were busting a gut and even compromising historic ideals to remain within the Olympic movement?
I have been reporting on equestrianism’s Olympic status issues since Barcelona 1992, where I interviewed IOC vice-president Dick Pound who was lobbying to eject equestrian even back then. He famously declared his pet dog could do a better job of riding a horse. In all this time it’s been made clear the only way for a new equestrian sport to join the Olympic movement is for one of the historic disciplines to leave. I can’t imagine any of the big three being thrilled to learn the FEI was already colluding with a potential replacement.
Very little of a 10-point plan for reining thrashed out in the early 2000s appears to have eventuated. Last year only 340 reining horses were registered with the FEI (compared with tens of thousands in the US national sport). Just nine have renewed so far this year.
I don’t know the ins and outs of the regulatory, welfare and anti-doping issues the FEI cites for severing its relationship with AQHA and NRHA. FEI hasn’t elaborated, and so we only know the reiners’ side of the story. The cynic could surmise, though, that it simply saves the FEI from explaining in more detail why other unrealistically raised expectations have not been delivered.