A return to teams of four with no drop score is the unanimous plea to the FEI from countries feeding back on the controversial Olympic format used at Tokyo. There is also a call for more “authentic” qualifying standards, after it became clear that some riders who attained their MERs (competence certificate) at specially arranged or “closed” competitions were over-faced, notably in the first round of the jumping.

To increase countries represented at the 2020 Olympic Games to around 55 within the normal 200 overall starter limit, the FEI reduced team sizes from four to three riders, with no drop score. However, because of the risk of too many teams failing to complete, teams were allowed to bring a spare horse and rider for potential substitution during the competition, which in itself caused problems.

It remains to be see whether the FEI views the responses as representative of the whole horse community. The FEI has 136 member countries, yet just 17 responded to the consultation on both future Olympic format and other Paris 2024 related matters. Only two stakeholder groups responded, the Pan American Equestrian Confederation (PAEC) and the International Dressage Riders Club.

Canada was among notable absentees, as was Great Britain which has indicated it will comment later. There is no published submission to date from the International Jumping Riders Club, whose sport was most affected by the no drop score scenario in Tokyo, and which had continued to lobby against it long after the 2016 FEI General Assembly approved the changes.

Here are some typical comments. The whole consultation can be read here.

USEF: Teams of four with a discard are essential for the good of the sport and horse welfare, especially in jumping and eventing. We believe this actually benefits weaker Nations.

France: We are forced to recognize that there have been more drifts with horse welfare issues than in previous [Olympic Games] : riders overstraining their horses, a combination’s level below safety standards. By underestimating the singular animal factor we are threatening the place of our sport in the Olympic movement and in society. We support more flags as long as it is not compromising horse welfare and that all participants qualify on fair worldwide procedures to ensure safety and to have the best of our sport at the Olympics.

Germany: [Four to a team] is kinder to the horses because it puts less pressure on a rider if the combination makes a mistake or the rider feels he should not continue a bad round. In a team of 3, riders are at risk to overstrain their horses if they know they must complete the round because otherwise their country will be out. We must not compromise Horse Welfare for the sake of having more flags.

Ireland: [In eventing] the team of three and a P(substitute) athlete was not well received by Owners, Athletes and Chef d’Equipes. It caused problems for several Federations around selection and managing the position of the P-Athlete, which asks a lot to be on standby the whole time while also being excluded from the Olympic Village, and not to be called an Olympian. In this time of mental health awareness it is a step in the wrong direction. An example is the withdrawal of Piggy March’s horse by the owners from selection as the P-athlete (for Great Britain.)

The allocation of individual places is only for countries which have not qualified a team. This generally means the standard of individual athletes [in eventing] is very low [and we should] take into consideration the standard of riding and the safety of these athletes with minimum experience at CCl4*L and no experience at CCI5*L.

Italy: The qualification competitions should be of the same level and technical difficulty for all combinations, throughout MERs, with no facilitated MER or qualification possibilities to ensure a fair and level playing field for all.