After all the excitement (and tragedy) at Vegas and then Rolex the next week, it’s pretty quiet out there in the public domain of equestrian sport – unless you are either UK-based or rich and freewheeling enough to have attended Badminton this weekend. I of course do have a few things to share with you, because I never, ever run out of things to say. The first is the answer I finally received from the FEI about the web broadcast debacle during the Nations Cup in Wellington at the end of February. Why do I say ‘finally’? Because I asked the question for the first time on March 3. About three weeks later I received a sparse reply from Richard Johnson (FEI Director of Communications) saying that there were ‘technical issues’ between HorseTV and the FEI which resulted in HorseTV not being allowed to broadcast the competition. I didn’t care all that much about it at the end of the day, so I dropped the issue and I don’t think I even mentioned it on my blog. So imagine my surprise this week when I received an email from another member of the communications team at Mission Control with quite a bit more detail on what had caused the puddle on the carpet. It turns out that HorseTV was being naughty and had items on their website that were exclusive FEI property. The footage in question has apparently now been removed, but at the time that HorseTV was forbidden from broadcasting the Nations Cup the infraction was in full swing – so the FEI said ‘no way Jose’ to HorseTV providing the live webcast for Mark and the gang at WEF.
I should be both grateful and pleased that my question was answered, but I’m actually puzzled. I have in the last month sent a growing list of questions to Mr. Johnson (some of them thinly veiled complaints and criticisms) regarding FEI TV. I had been promised a meeting with someone from FEI TV in Vegas, but not only did that person not materialize, I have not been invited to contact him by email, nor have my questions been answered. Not a single one. You know, silly little questions like: why didn’t they warn potential subscribers in the US in an obvious place on the site that they would not be able to watch the WC Final, why was the dressage Grand Prix not shown at all in spite of so-called comprehensive coverage, and why only 7 out of the 11 freestyles are available now on line? Comprehensive coverage? I think not. They didn’t even put poor Briar up there, and it was his last competitive appearance for jeebus’ sake.
So why am I suddenly getting an answer to a question I asked ages ago and lost interest in, but continue to wait for replies to questions which I think matter a great deal, not only to me but to others who have slapped down the bucks an for FEI TV subscription? By the way, if you watched the WC on that NBC cable station that had exclusive rights in the US, it sounds like you got the exact same footage (including the commentary from the articulate Mr. Dover and overzoomed video of horses’ legs) that the rest of the world watched on FEI TV. Rolex CCI4* was unavailable to viewers in Canada, the US and Mexico. The term used was ‘geo-blocked’. If I were an American who had signed up for FEI TV this year, I’d be feeling a little peeved about being ‘geo-blocked’ twice already in a single month. ‘Shafted’ is probably a better term for it.
So while I wait and wait and wait for my questions to finally make their way to the top of an in-tray at Mission Control and get an answer, or even a non-answer that pretends to be an answer, let’s talk about drugs. The FEI has assigned a few upstanding members of society to form an ethics panel “to assess and further investigate practices among members of the German equestrian team.” Read: German show jumpers. The ethics panel includes a Lord (former Brit police commissioner Lord Stevens), a DOC (David O’Connor, the man who seems to spend the time most of humanity sleeps to do multiple good deeds in the equestrian world), and a couple of FEI heavy weights: Ken Lalo, the FEI Tribunal chair, and John Roche, FEI Director of Jumping. Their mission is to figure out where the moral bankruptcy;originated and recommend ways to steer the sport clear of the slippery doping slope that has so badly tainted cycling and other sports.
Another recent announcement came from the Irish federation, whose jumpers have done their best to be as distinguished by doping infractions as the Germans. Ireland is adopting a new drug testing scheme which will require riders to keep log books of all things administered to their horses. The riders will have to show their little drug diaries to the proper authorities before going to big gigs like the Olympics. Cian O’Connor, the Irish show jumper who went from hero to villain in a flash when his horse tested positive in Athens (stripping him of his Olympic show jumping gold medal), was quoted as having said he was “surprised that those of us who have had positive medication cases were not consulted.” Is this an example of Irish humour or has Cian been smoking something? Gee, Cian. Would you advise law enforcement agencies to consult with criminals on how to catch them?
Not to be left off the drug-busting band wagon, Equine Canada announced in April that it will test all riders competing at this year’s NAJYRC. The press release says: “The intent of the new program is an educational opportunity for all Canadian juniors and young riders, as well, it is an occasion for all up and coming riders to experience the testing procedures at an event prior to a major international competition such as the Olympics, World Equestrian Games or Pan American Games. Normally, testing is conducted without advance notice to the riders; however, Equine Canada aims to make this a positive experience for young and junior riders as they are transitioning into international level competition.” I happen to think this is an excellent idea, and apart from the comma splice, the press release bears a good message that promotes responsible athletes.
Finally, on this sunny Mother’s Day (I’ll call in a minute, Mom), here is a little levity that one of my freestyle pals thoughtfully forwarded the other day. I have argued almost to the blue-in-the-face point with various anthropomorphizing riders that HORSES DO NOT PICK UP THE RHYTHM OF A SONG AND MATCH THEIR FOOTFALLS TO IT. Horses can’t dance, but if we match the music to the horse’s gaits (and not the other way around), we can create the illusion of dancing. Here is a link to a wonderful bit of proof that one of God’s creatures besides humans can actually dance. Snowball the cockatoo has a better sense of rhythm than some dressage judges I know, too. Note the text of the article that supports my argument about animals not understanding rhythm…