Cuckson Report

It’s Time for Equestrians to Get Clearer Rules About Rules

Most riders rely on equestrian judges and officials to know the rules, but with so many discipline, general and veterinary regulations, it gets confusing.

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By: Cuckson Report

No one reads a rule book from cover to cover until they fall foul of it; sometimes, not even then. By competing, you agree to abide by a sport’s rules but in reality, sitting down to immerse yourself in hundreds of pages of convoluted bumph is not appealing, especially when English is not even our native language. You rely on equestrian judges and officials to know them.

What’s more, FEI General Regulations and Veterinary Regulations always supersede the rules of your particular discipline, so ideally you should tackle those mighty tomes as well. If you go eventing, it’s even more onerous, for FEI Jumping Rules and Dressage Rules also apply in those phases.

FEI Eventing has “guidelines” about rule interpretation, but that memo also says that where said guidelines are inconsistent or contradictory the original rules should prevail! No wonder the eventers keep asking the FEI to re-do the lot from scratch…

So I am guessing that Romanian eventer Viorel Bubau is chuffed with himself for doing his homework, after being disqualified for “illegal” legwear at the spring 4* in Strzegom, Poland, premier horse trials in eastern Europe. In a landmark case, the FEI let him appeal to its Tribunal – because the boot “rule” cited did not actually exist. (Ground jury decisions are normally immune from being over-turned by FEI HQ, even when the decision is bad.)

Bubau was reinstated in 22nd place. That’s a very important qualifying result for anyone, and especially someone who doesn’t get the chance to ride at 4* very often.

You can read the whole decision here. The gist is that the ground jury felt the horse was wearing over-long front boots. The rider argued that FEI Eventing Rules only refer to weight, not dimensions, and that the FEI Show Jumping rule only applied to specialist classes – such as young horses and children. Looks like riders are not the only people needing to read-up!

FEI rule-making idiosyncrasies have been in focus for various reasons in recent weeks.

On the one hand is the well-reported ruckus over the new “missed flag” rule in eventing. During all that debate, it emerged that riders a) had little idea it was coming in this season, or if they did know, the ramifications were not understood; and b) no idea that FEI rules can only be changed once a year.

When I mentioned this on social media, several senior riders contacted me to say surely I’m wrong, and that of course the FEI must be able to change something straight away if it’s turns out to be nuts.

Alas, I’m not wrong. There’s now a promised review of missed flags, but January is the earliest any revision can be enforced. There are rare exceptions for mid-season rule changes in eventing if safety is at stake, though that isn’t the issue here. So meanwhile, officials have been told to apply extreme leniency for the rest of 2019. If not, probably half the Badminton field would have been docked 15 penalties.

The Eventing Riders Association and International Eventing Officials Club made written representations in ample time last year, but a summary was not published alongside all the other consultee suggestions, unusually, just before the annual FEI General Assembly. In fact, only five national federations – GB, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany and Switzerland – commented on the new missed flag rule at all! More awareness before that rule was rubber-stamped last November could have saved so much angst.

At the other extreme, riders in FEI endurance are currently being given unprecedented access to the discussion about the mere principles guiding their sport. A whole day was devoted to it at the FEI Sports Forum in April – the first time they’ve done that for any FEI sport.

The FEI even agreed to the not-yet-functioning True Endurance International Riders Association (TEIRA) sending out lengthy surveys about the new rules. The latest has been completed by over 500 people, with responses discussed by the FEI committee last week.

I am (clearly) all for more consultation. Yet while endurance is in a strange place right now, fighting for survival with the FEI “family” – there should be moderation in all things. I don’t believe athletes in any sport can or should have the final say about rule-wording.

So I hope expectations are not being raised unrealistically. Even if the endurance proposals are watered down before they reach the General Assembly, it is still quite feasible National Federations will reject at least some of them; lobbying against change by the pro-desert racing lobby is underway behind the scenes.

Practitioners of “traditional” endurance will feel let down if it all goes south – yet rejection would be surprise to anyone conversant with the FEI rule-making process.

Anybody, even a mere spectator, can suggest rule changes via their national federation – but I suspect most people don’t know how to go about it. The FEI system also provides for a long period of consultation, but anyone interested is at the mercy of their national federation – some of whom less keen than others to pass the rule proposals around.

For this reason, I confidently predict that one of next year’s major hoo-hahs will involve the pony world, 90% of whom probably have no idea this is being considered: a drastic change height-measuring procedure.

Instead of measuring in the convenient but stressful environment of a competition, everyone – even those living in remote parts – everyone would have travel to a dedicated location in each country for a non-show day, official pony-measuring event.

You read it here first – but will you read it anywhere else before January 1, 2020?

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