At the conclusion of the third horse inspection at the Jersey Fresh CCI on May 15, four riders—Boyd Martin, Phillip Dutton, Buck Davidson and Will Faudree—asked for a conference with the event’s ground jury.
“There was a lot of talk throughout the whole weekend that the majority of the riders were disappointed in the ground jury—in the decisions that they made and in the way that they came across in trying to deliver their messages,” said Faudree.
Eric Smiley served as the president of the ground jury, along with Loris Henry and Gretchen Butts.
“We want Jersey Fresh to work and to be a successful event. It’s a great venue, and they’ve put a huge effort into it,” Faudree continued. “We want to continue to see Jersey Fresh be a staple event in all of our schedules. So, that’s why we wanted to take a stand to better the sport. We listened to the riders, and we wanted to come as a unified voice from the competitors to the ground jury to point out some concerns, rather than the riders just going back to the stalls and complaining about how awful it was.”
“For me, our conversation was very constructive,” said Smiley. “I think it’s much better if riders had issues and concerns—rather than having them fester and mumble and grumble as they go away from the event, that they come and talk to us.
“I would like to feel that anyone can come up to me and say ‘Look, we’re not happy with this,’ and then I can address the issue or perhaps give them some information that they didn’t know about the situation,” he continued.
Was It Dangerous?
One of the ground jury’s decisions that had not just the riders, but also spectators, asking “Why?” was the elimination of Canadian rider Jessica Phoenix after the 12th fence of cross-country. Phoenix was riding Pavarotti in the CCI** division, was in second after dressage, and had no jumping penalties to that point. They did have a sticky moment at the coffin fence at 11ABC, when Pavarotti left his right front leg behind on take-off, but they recovered quickly.
Smiley made the decision to eliminate Phoenix on course, in accordance with the FEI eventing rule 519.7.3, which states: “The ground jury and the technical delegate have the right and the duty to monitor possible cases of dangerous riding, to stop and eliminate an athlete on the cross-country course for dangerous riding, if appropriate.”
“The two questions we ask ourselves are: ‘Is the rider kicking and the horse going slower?’ and ‘Is the rider pulling and the horse going faster?’ If either of those things are happening, then something isn’t right and it’s dangerous,” Smiley said.
“In no way was she actively trying to ride in a dangerous way, and in no way was she as part of her riding trying to create what was happening. She was a victim of circumstance that led her to have a horse that was running through the bridle,” he continued.
Members of the ground jury and technical delegates were each assigned specific areas of the Jersey Fresh CCI course to monitor. “For the first part of the course, a technical delegate [Cindy DePorter] informed me that this round was looking dangerous,” said Smiley.
“As [Phoenix] came into my sector, from fence 9 to the second part of the course, the horse was continuing to run through the bridle in a way that was unsafe for her,” he continued. “So there was a decision made that she shouldn’t continue. It wasn’t just an instant decision on one person’s observation of two fences. It was a build-up of a picture that she was having a problem.”
“I strongly disagree with and am disheartened by the decision that was made at Jersey Fresh,” Phoenix said. “I am thankful for the overwhelming support from my fellow competitors, spectators and everyone involved. I really believe in this horse, and I am extremely excited for his future.”
Faudree, Martin, Dutton and Davidson mentioned Phoenix’s elimination to the ground jury in their conversation. “We didn’t see it, so we mentioned it, but we didn’t go into detail because we didn’t have the facts. We mentioned it because the word in the barn was that she had one bad fence and they pulled her up for it,” Faudree said.
FEI rules decree that elimination from the course for dangerous riding must be accompanied by an FEI yellow warning card. FEI rules also state: “Should the same Person Responsible receive one (1) more yellow warning card at the same or any other International Event within one year of the delivery of the first yellow warning card, the Person Responsible shall be automatically suspended for a period of two (2) months from the day following the Event at which the Person Responsible is competing.”
Phoenix was given a yellow card for “dangerous riding/riding too fast” at the 2010 Bromont CCI*** (Que.), where she was competing her 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games mount, Exponential. Since that first yellow card was awarded in June 2010, she is now suspended for 60 days.
There Needs To Be Discussion
The rider representatives also addressed discrepancies in the dressage judging. For example, Carl Bouckaert scored a 59.23, 65.38 and 67.31 percent in the CCI*** division. In the same division, Danica Moore scored a 56.92, a 56.54, and a 46.92 percent. There were at least three instances in each division where two different judges’ scores were at least 6 percentage points apart.
“We’re not saying you need to give everyone a 10,” Faudree said. “But there needed to be conversations amongst the ground jury that, ‘Hey, we’re 10 percentage points different; what are we missing?’
“It wasn’t that we’re trying to say, ‘We want better dressage scores’ and crying like whiney children. You have to be able to understand your dressage mark so you can improve it. When you’re getting told by one judge that you’re doing well and by another judge that you’re not even deserving of a qualifying score, there’s something wrong,” he continued.
Smiley admitted a few scores were out of sync with other scores for the same ride. “You try really hard as a member of the ground jury to not have large discrepancies. If it’s over a certain percentage difference, like 8 or 9 percent, we talk about it and start to say ‘Why did we have a difference?’ But you can’t change people’s judging mid-event, because then you get even more inconsistencies,” he explained.
“All you can comment on is that maybe you were a little bit too generous on that, or maybe you were a little bit too hard on that, and try very hard to present a better judging performance next time. We’re all aware that there were a few marks that were greater than was acceptable. We try to address that as judges, and it was right of the riders to voice their concerns,” he added.
Some of the other concerns expressed to the ground jury were the hard footing on cross-country and the elimination of two competitors from the dressage for lameness.
In regards to footing, Smiley pointed out that Jersey Fresh eliminated much of the roping of galloping lanes, which was a change made because of rider concerns after last year’s event. But without defined galloping lanes, it was more difficult to decide where to aerovate the course.
“The riders were taking lines that weren’t where the machine had been. We tried really hard as an organizing committee to run the machine over the ground that was likely to be galloped over. It’s not a big machine, and it was running over as much of the ground as it possibly could,” Smiley said.
They were also restricted because the machine they used can’t be run over the same ground twice without loosening the top soil excessively.
Organizers and course designer John Williams made aerovating the course a priority, but since rain was predicted for Saturday, they wanted to avoid creating a possible muddy situation as well.
“All these little issues were discussed as this was going on—with the ground jury, the organizing committee and the course designer. It was good that we were able to tell the riders these issues and give them the solution that we’d thought of for next year—Fair Hill has a slightly better machine, and the Jersey Fresh organizers are going to try and borrow that for next year,” Smiley said.
Two riders—one from the CIC** and one from the CCI** division—were eliminated in dressage for lameness. “I assured them that it wasn’t just a snap decision that was made as the horse trots in,” Smiley said. “We had the FEI vet look at those horses in the 10-minute warm-up area, and a technical delegate watching the 10-minute warm-up had alerted me that there might be a problem. There was a 10 to 15-minute period for which we had a heads up on a horse that looked off. If the horse then comes in and is lame or showing signs that it’s not fit to continue, we make that decision based on what we see and the background information we have. It’s a cumulative process.”
“As riders, we have a responsibility to our horses, to our owners, and to all our sponsors and supporters. It’s hard when you don’t have an explanation for being eliminated. As an outsider looking in, we don’t know what goes on in the box, but it was good to hear their explanation,” said Faudree.
“I think the ground jury appreciated the conversation. On the whole, Jersey Fresh did a great job. They really made a great effort to make it enjoyable for the riders and owners. They had a great trade fair. The cross-country course was excellent, and the conditions were super. But there were minor details from the officiating side that people were very unhappy with, so we wanted to go forward on behalf of the riders so that we had explanations, so that we could leave with a great feeling for Jersey Fresh,” Faudree concluded.