The FEI is set to empower judges to eliminate anyone whose riding goes against horse welfare, as efforts continue to safeguard equestrianism’s ‘social licence’ and combat growing negativity among the general public.
The FEI’s new Ethics and Wellbeing Commission (EEWB) has issued six initial recommendations to be actioned by the end of this year. The FEI board has resolved to take them forward to its General Assembly next month, as equestrian becomes more aware of its ‘social licence’ to exist.
News of two likely recommendations – the optional use of spurs in all disciplines and of double bridles in Grand Prix dressage – had already been ‘leaked’. Their inclusion in the EEWB recommendations is now confirmed, together with a new FEI General Regulation which would “allow the President of the Ground Jury (or their designee) to eliminate an Athlete/Horse combination while a round was ongoing if the President of the Ground Jury (or their designee) decided that it would be contrary to the principles of Horse Welfare to allow the combination to continue the round.”
Such an elimination can be neither protested or appealed. It will also be a catch-all rule taking precedence over each of the disciplines’ specific rules. Some, such as jumping, dressage and eventing, already have similar provisions in their bespoke rules, but there are none to date in para-dressage, driving or endurance, the discipline most beleaguered with horse welfare scandals.
Simultaneously, FEI eventing proposed to add the cross-country course designer to the list of officials (ground jury and technical delegate) obliged to watch out for and report poor riding, as of January 1.
The FEI will also take forward EEWB recommendations that noseband tightness be harmonised across FEI disciplines, ideally with an FEI-approved measuring device. It also wants to set up a focus groups to review horsemanship modules in the FEI Campus, and a research fund specifically to address evidence that will underpin welfare decisions.
The FEI board said that during its teleconference on October 4, it understood why the EEWB wanted to implement these recommendations quickly. It appears to be fast-tracking the consultation process for national federations. Normally the FEI rules revision process begins in the spring/early summer for the following year’s rulebook.
As previously reported by HorseSport.com, the spur and double bridle proposals have already been opposed by the International Dressage Riders Club and International Dressage Trainers Club. The FEI’s own Dressage committee is also not convinced, stating that in Dressage Rules the double bridle is already optional up to CDI2* but mandatory in CDI3* and above. The committee feels the existing rule “reflects a progression in the level of skills of the athlete and training of the horse from low and medium level to the highest level of performance and [the committee is] therefore are in favour of maintaining the double bridle as compulsory at Grand Prix Level.
“The Dressage committee would be ready to consider making the use of spurs optional, as the rules already allow the use of dummy spurs….but would like to point out that using spurs allows for a use of refined and discreet aids and that allowing to ride without spurs may lead to images of strong use of legs on horses, which is not in line with the general principles of the discipline (discreet aids).”
The FEI has also made its own tack-related recommendation to apply from January 1: where tack and equipment is not specifically described/approved in FEI rules, it is not allowed, unless the FEI has specifically approved it. The FEI said: “This proposal is to assist FEI Officials and Stewards to justify their decision not to allow a specific equipment at FEI events. The practice has shown that athletes, grooms and even manufacturers are challenging FEI officials’ decisions on-site, arguing that if an equipment is not specifically forbidden it should be allowed.”
All rule changes must achieve a majority vote of the national federations at the FEI General Assembly, in Cape Town on November 12.