Florida-based Canadian eventing rider Katie Malensek is urging fellow riders to scupulously monitor and keep a record of all tack checks at FEI competitions following her surprise elimination from last month’s Kentucky CCI4*-S over a disputed bit.

Dr. Malensek, 41, originally from Burlinton, Ontario, is a small animal veterinarian, not a full-time rider, and had especially looked forward to Lexington. But after 10-year-old Landjaeger jumped clean cross-country, rising to 25th place, her weekend turned sour. She was eliminated at the show jumping stadium because her previously allowable Myler combination bit was deemed illegal by one of the three stewards.

A Myler bit.

The Myler bit in question.

Malensek says she uses an as-purchased Myler combination bit, in which a narrow noseband coupled to the bit rings gives an extra point of control, although only when the extreme point of leverage is reached. It had not been modified, and Landjaeger has previously worn it in competition without being called up by officials.

“As it’s been cleared in the past, I never thought there would be a problem with it,” she said. “No rules had changed in the past week.

“When I went over to the show jumping, they checked the boots, my spurs, looked at the bridle and cleared me into the warm-up. But while two [stewards] said I was good to go, a third steward then held me up and said the bit was illegal. Eventually we went to the president of the ground jury, who had to be distracted from watching the jumping, and he agreed with the third steward.”

Malensek told HorseSport.com she sensed that some of the officials were simply not minded to look into it further. She lodged an unsuccessful protest on the day (“I’m not even sure the president of the ground jury read what I wrote”) and then escalated an appeal to the FEI.

The FEI’s independent Tribunal considered it quickly, but ruled the appeal inadmissible on May 7.  Only an operative decision has been released so far, but this was always the likely outcome. It is a general principle in all sport that “field of play decisions” are inviolable (even when the judge or official later admits he might have got it wrong.) This principle has been upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport several times, making any further appeal over Landjaeger’s elimination a costly and high-risk exercise.

Malensek feel the incident raises other questions, too, such as ambiguity over process. She says the stewards themselves were at odds over a piece of equipment that is widely used in FEI eventing all over the world; they compared pictures of other Myler bits with each other on their cellphones, but not with the bit Landjager was himself wearing; and there was inconsistency, she alleges, with higher profile riders not stopped from using it.

She is frustrated by the absence of any possibility for redress on the day. She also noted that by applying one set of welfare rules, the officials set in train other horse-unfriendly consequences. Landjaeger had a needlessly “wasted” run in search of his 4* qualifications, and was obliged to stand around in the heat for 30 minutes with no shade or access to water while the bit was debated. “I said, if its about the bit, then let’s just take the bridle off and get him out of here,” Malensek observed, apparently to no avail.

She said the elimination “really feels like a kick in the gut for how hard he tried for me that weekend.”

Malensek added, “They [the officials] were so adamant they were right. To them the decision seemed like nothing, but it was a big deal for me. It was my childhood dream to ride at Kentucky. I also had some people there who were interested in buying a horse in the future. They found all this quite shocking. So there were other dominoes that fell afterwards, too.”

Initially she posted an alert on Facebook to fellow riders. She later removed it, feeling that awareness had now spread to those who needed to know; discussion apparently reached last weekend’s Badminton Horse Trials in the UK.

“My Facebook post was causing too much drama, which is not what I’d intended,” said Malensek. “I wanted to ensure no-one else gets caught out in the same way, especially thinking of those still trying to get their qualifications for the Paris Olympics. If the stewards don’t know, how are the riders supposed to figure this out?

“I have definitely learned my lesson. In future I will show every single bit and I will videotape the checks. If they can over-rule something that’s never been questioned previously, just like that, then I will have proof that someone before has told me I can move forward with it. But its disheartening to feel you have to do this.”

Landjaeger has since obtained his 4* qualifications when finishing fifth at Tryon last weekend ‒ in a different bit.