The lead story of the Chronicle’s Sept. 26 & Oct. 3 issue, the Olympic Analysis issue, is “Re-Examining The Blood Rule After Rio.” We talked to officials and riders about whether the Fédération Equestre Internationale’s rule article 243.3.1—the so-called “blood rule”—is working.
In-gates at top international horse shows have been awash with chatter about the blood rule. The conversation started gaining traction after Ireland’s Bertram Allen was disqualified after winning the Olympia Grand Prix (Great Britain) last December, and it intensified after four show jumping horses were disqualified from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
The rule dictates mandatory disqualification for: “Horses bleeding on the flank(s), in the mouth or nose or marks indicating excessive use of spurs or of the whip anywhere on the Horse. In minor cases of blood in the mouth, such as where a Horse appears to have bitten its tongue or lip, Officials may authorize the rinsing or wiping of the mouth and allow the rider Athlete to continue; any further evidence of blood in the mouth will result in Disqualification.”
The Chronicle delved deeper into the topic with our feature story in our Olympic Analysis issue, and at the Longines Masters of Los Angeles we also checked in with more top show jumpers and one high-level steward about their thoughts.
From the riders on the blood rule…
Kent Farrington: The Longines FEI World No. 2 and 2016 Olympic U.S. team silver medalist strongly disagreed with automatic disqualification dictated by the blood rule. He also advocates for different language for the rule, and some sort of warning system.
“Nobody wants any horse to get injured. That’s No. 1.
“I think it’s unfortunate the way that the rule is worded when they want to promote our sport. And I think words like [abuse] are very damaging to the general public that doesn’t understand the sport.
“You have people being labeled a horse abuser. ‘Oh you’re eliminated for horse abuse, for an accident.’ Accidents are going to happen; it’s a sport. If my horse knocks a rail down and has a bump on its leg you label me a horse abuser? Then every rider in the world sooner or later is going to be a horse abuser.
No one wants to see a horse hurt or any kind of blood obviously; that’s not good. But I think that also it depends how thing are presented: either in their best light or worst light.
“Unfortunately they’ve chosen to promote things in their worst light. There should be some kind of balance to it, rather than just a bad label and being deemed something that they’re not. If they want us to not have the sport anymore then just shut the sport down. Because then nobody should ride with any spur—and can we use a metal bit?
“I’ve always left the hair a little bit longer on the horses. I think for me it hasn’t been an issue because the types of horses that I ride are so hot and light, and I’m trying to make them slow down not make them go.
“All of us involved, whether it’s people in the press, people putting on events, riders or their grooms, we’re all ambassadors of some kind for the sport. I think that a lot of thought should be put into what kind of image we want to portray to the public. I think unfortunately the image that they’re very quick to throw out doesn’t make any sense.
“I think you could do a bunch of things to put a rule in place where there’s a yellow card or a warning, or a second infraction within a short period of time then that’s means for elimination, and then the horse should be eliminated due to being unfit to compete or due to involuntary injury or whatever wording.”
Steve Guerdat: top Swiss rider, 2012 Olympic individual gold medalist; two-time FEI World Cup champion
“Of course we don’t want to allow blood on the horses, but for sure I’d say 90 or 95 percent of the cases that have happened, the ones I know that I’ve been there, have definitely not been abuse.
In this situation, I think the judges have been following the rules, but I think a little bit of interpretation should be in the game as well, and they should be able to judge by what happened in the class, in the warm-up before and after, how the horse has been treated, [to determine] if there has been abuse or not.
“Sometimes pulling on the mouth or [using] a whip is way worse. I agree it’s not easy to find the right [balance] because if you find someone who’s going to decide ‘disqualify this one and don’t disqualify that one,’ but even if things aren’t right, I’d still prefer that people have a little bit more power to see if they’re educated rides, then decide the outcome of the blood.
“You’ve got the riders on one side and the stewards on the other side, and the riders are quite strong against the officials, but that’s probably also not right, because things happen, and they’re just doing their job. The problem is with the rules, not the officials. And now I’m feeling that the officials are kind of overreacting, because now they’re looking for it.
“I did change my spurs. I had spurs I’ve been riding in since I was 15. I’ve always used the same hammer spurs. Sometimes if your leg really slips they could be a problem. I can’t remember ever cutting a horse with them. But one time in Madrid this year, one time in 15 years, after riding 99 percent of my horses with those spurs [I had a problem]. I did change. It wasn’t easy because of course you like your spurs, and you don’t want to change them, but I did change.”
Guerdat was disqualified from a class at the Global Champions Tour of Madrid CSI***** (Spain) when Albfuehren’s Happiness had blood on her side after exiting the ring.
“I had one down, and my horse was really strong at the water, and I really had to kick. [When I came out of the ring] there was blood. It was the rule. The judge didn’t make a mistake. There was really nothing obvious when you watch the grand prix.”
You can watch that round by clicking here, then pushing the play icon next to Guerdat’s name.
Nayel Nassar: California-based Egyptian rider, winner of the Longines Speed Challenge at the Longines Masters of Los Angeles and the 2013 Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix (N.Y.).
“I was in New York a few weeks ago for the [Saugerties $1 Million Grand Prix]. I got there the first day and didn’t even put spurs on. It was so humid, I gave my horse a little rub. It wasn’t bleeding or anything. I didn’t even have spurs on when I did it!
“He was just a little dead in the heat and humidity, and he got sweaty, and my boot just kept rubbing on the right side. So we put the [belly band] on, and he was great in it. He jumped clean in the million and by the next week [the rub] was gone, and we took the belly band off, and he’s been fine ever since. Those things are just freak incidents and sad. I don’t think the riders ever mean to do that. It’s never like that.”
“But I do think if it happens, the steward should have them just put a belly band on, so it’s not out in the public, and make sure they’re putting baby powder and cream and all those things to stimulate the hair growth.
“I understand [the FEI’s] perspective. They don’t want to see these kinds of things on TV. Now that the sport is getting so much mainstream attention that’s the last thing that they want. The fix is easy: put a belly band on, and even if there is a rub on there no one will know.”
Frances Hesketh-Jones Triulzi: FEI Honorary Steward General, chief steward at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and chief steward at the 2012 London Olympic Games
“What happens is that when a horse comes out of the ring, and it comes to the boot check, one of the things we do is to check for marks or blood.
“But what I would like to make clear is this is absolutely not a witch hunt. We are not out there to get riders. We’re not evil.
“The role of the steward is to see what happens. At no time does the steward have any role in the disqualification of the horse. A steward or a chief steward cannot ever disqualify a horse. We are the people who see what’s happened, and we pass that up to the ground jury who then makes the decision.
“It’s not for us to say, ‘This should be sanctioned; this shouldn’t be sanctioned.’ This is what it is, you see what it is, and you say, ‘OK this is something to pass up to the ground jury.’
“Something else that I would like to make very, very clear is that 99.9 percent of the time that this happens it’s completely unintentional.
“There’s no intention to punish the horse. There is no intention to mis-treat the horse. It just happens because some spurs can wound more easily than others, and perhaps in the heat of the competition the rider just might have used his legs a little bit more—it can happen. At no time when it is unintentional does the ground jury ever say, ‘This is your fault. You shouldn’t have done it. You’ve done it on purpose.’
“The other thing is that when it does happen, especially if it’s a high profile person or at a high profile event, it gets a lot of coverage, and it seems like this is happening all the time.
“It’s not. The vast majority of horses and riders coming out of the ring come out in exactly the same state in which they went in—maybe a little hotter or breathing a little heavier, but there is never a problem whatsoever.
“All of the hype around it makes it seem as though this is something that happens a lot. It doesn’t, it really doesn’t. Most riders, more and more so, take great care that the saddlery—tack and everything—will not harm the horse even if there is not the intention to harm the horse. They take great care—maybe some start using body bandages, some might use rounder, blunter spurs. Some are now taping the rowels and taping the hammer spurs.
“They are aware that there is potentially a risk, and they’re taking great care to prevent this from happening. Ninety-nine percent of the time this is something that happens because it just happens. It’s unusual for a rider to intend to hurt his horse. Why would they do it? Why would they do that—especially at the top level of the sport? They know they’ll be disqualified.
“It’s very unfortunate that it does happen unintentionally from time to time, but I really think it is from time to time. “
Simone Delestre: top French show jumper, former world No. 1, member of winning French team at 2013 FEI Nations Cup Final
“For me it’s very difficult to judge—sometimes you scratch them, but it’s not because you are aggressive. It’s just because the [rider’s] leg is moving. It’s not because you want to hurt them, but sometimes you have the leg moving because you cannot be completely still for every jump, especially when you go for a jump-off or something like that, and you push them a little.
“When you have a gray horse or a chestnut horse who’s very sensitive, with skin like cigarette paper, it’s a problem. The horses are more and more careful and more and more quality, so they are more and more sensitive. [On Ryan des Hayettes] I have to put lambswool everywhere on the bridle.
“I think they have to adapt the rule for some situations. I saw some riders have an amazing round, it’s perfect, and [if the stewards find a mark on the horse] they say they cannot go in the jump-off. Or you have one stop, and maybe the rider kicks him one time, and OK you can discuss that. But you have to check the round and see if the rider had a super round and was aggressive or not. But if it wasn’t [the result of] aggressive [riding] it’s totally wrong.
Daniel Deusser: winner of 2014 Longines FEI World Cup Final, member of World Equestrian Games and Olympic Games teams for Germany
“[The automatic disqualification] destroys the sport first of all. Second of all it’s always a different judge, so it always depends on the opinion of the steward, who is standing outside, who is not even watching the class, who most of the time has no idea what really happened in the ring.
“Where does the blood rule start? If the horse has an old injury under the girth for example, and the girth rubs it open it’s blood. Maybe it’s only one drop of blood, but it’s nothing special.
“Especially with the gray horses, we don’t clip them anymore on the sides. For the rest I’m not really a rider who rides with really big spurs, but I also have long legs so it’s a little bit different.
“There are a lot of other points. Even if the hair is a little bit gone and a little bit red, and you ride the horse the next day, it’s not really more sensitive on the leg. If the horse has a little bit of a cut on the leg maybe it’s a little bit more sensitive the next day, but nobody cares if they’re cut on the legs, if they’re open or bleeding or not.”
“In the ring, on that level, we all try to do the best. We all try to perform well. It’s not that we’re doing it against the horses. In my opinion it’s absolutely a difficult rule, and they should really think about changing something.”