The FEI is under pressure to suspend its new 15-penalty eventing rule for dislodging a flag on cross-country, following dozens of disputes at two major spring CICs in the UK alone.
Hundreds of riders and their supporters are now scrambling to sign a petition on www.change.org. The petition was launched last night (Sunday, April 21) by Kate Walls, whose Cooleys Lands – ridden by Australian Olympian Christopher Burton – was among the affected horses in the CIC*** Bicton event in the UK over the Easter weekend.
Under the old rule, the horse’s shoulder had to pass between the white and red flags, but the status of hindquarters/hindlegs which had never really taken off, or passed the wrong side of the flag, was ambiguous.
Under the new rule, the horse’s entire trunk must pass within the original line of the flags. Any contact, even a slight dislodge, is penalised.
At Bicton, many riders argued successfully for their penalty to be extinguished, but Burton and GB WEG 2018 team gold medallist Tom McEwen are still showing 15 penalties on the unratified results.
Kate Walls told Horse-Canada.com: “I was aware of this rule when it came in to action and wondered how it would affect us all. I watched Harry Meade’s horse clearly jump the fence at Belton a few weeks ago and he was awarded 15 penalties.
“At Bicton, I watched a lot of horses be awarded 15 jumping penalties just to see them be removed several hours later by the ground jury. Christopher Burton, one of the best cross-country riders in the world, was awarded 15 penalties on three of his four rides, only to have two of them removed some hours later.
“This is a mockery. I have official video of my own horse clearly jumping the fence, with no intention not to jump and was still awarded 15 penalties. There is huge dissatisfaction among riders, owners and even ground juries and it is going to ruin the sport.
“I know that some influential senior riders have already tried to make a difference to no avail and after talking to them I started the petition to suspend the rule immediately. With Kentucky and Badminton about to start, this rule needs reviewing immediately.”
After Belton, Meade described his surprise at being allocated 15 penalties. They dropped off the electronic scoreboard while he was discussing it with the judges, so he set off home, only for friend to alert him they’d been reinstated. Meade drove back to Belton, but the relevant officials had left. His ride over the disputed fence can be viewed here.
Apart from the growing chaos, Meade described this sort of penalty as against the spirit of the sport, when the horse has made an honest attempt to jump. He also claimed 75% of horses jumping the Lake at Badminton 2018 would have been affected, had the rule applied last year.
The frequent amendment of scoreboards also contradicts the FEI’s stated ambition to make eventing easier for the general public to understand.
Badminton director Hugh Thomas told Horse-Canada.com this was a bad new rule. In the absence of any available sensor technology for the fences themselves, during Badminton’s cross-country 15 people will stand head-on at the fences most likely to be affected and film them on iPhones.
Thomas said the new rule did not pass his “Guatemala principle” – meaning that regulations must be capable of fair application in developing equestrian nations as well at majors events which are well resourced.
The International Eventing Officials Club last month submitted a proposal to scrap the 15 penalties altogether and instead count it as a clean jump if all parts of the horse in front of the saddle pass the correct side of the flag. If the shoulders drift, or the hinds never attempt to jump, the rider must re-present and failure to do so results in elimination.
The reliance on much privately shot footage in flag disputes this spring also comes at a time when the FEI itself is reviewing the legal admissibility of privately shot video. At the moment, only imagery captured by the event’s official broadcaster is supposedly allowable.
This was a topic at last week’s FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne. Interestingly, Badminton winner and Event Riders Masters series director Paul Tapner was the only participant in a multi-discipline debate who spoke strongly in favour of use of phone footage. Tapner cited examples of 4* events where fences subject to judging disputes had not in fact been covered by the official broadcast cameras.