The first thing I would like to do is congratulate Derek di Grazia and his team of Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day course builders led by Mick Costello. They haven’t had nearly the credit they deserve for creating a cross-country course that was both a rider frightener and a true test of training without causing horses to misread the questions being asked. Bravo to all of them; it was a tremendous achievement.
I just turned 39 last month, and I rode in my first Kentucky in 1999. Thankfully, I have learned a huge amount since then. I hope in another 19 years I shall still be riding at the level and be a better rider and horseman than I am today. I adore my sport.
Since a lot has been said online about blood in the mouth, I would like to start this opinion by saying that I have never seen Marilyn Little ride cross-country like she did at Land Rover Kentucky. It was beautiful. Obviously her show jumping has been at world-class level since her teens, and she is very competitive on the flat. I mention this because I do not disagree that at Kentucky she, the ground jury, and all the hard working officials followed the rules.
The problem is that the way our rules are currently written leaves too big of a loophole in regards to repeat offenders. Officials cannot think of past issues on the day, nor should they. The ground jury has to rule on what they see in front of them. Most give the rider the benefit of the doubt, which I agree with.
For all of you who are upset about the social media circus that has erupted around this issue, the reason it has is because this is not the first, second or third time this has been heavily documented with this one rider on multiple horses. Full stop, the only reason this situation has garnered such global attention.
While I unequivocally deplore the nastiness that too many have stooped to, I equally deplore talking down to genuine outrage and concern over the direction our sport is heading. That is irresponsible and reckless. Our sport belongs just as much, in fact in many ways more, to its fans and our grassroots riders. It is time that we lead from the top instead of being forced into change by our own inertia. This scrutiny isn’t going away in our modern sport, nor should it. Checks and balances are vital to keep us all honest.
So having said that, what to do? I say make it black and white: yellow card for blood. No excuses.
This is the only way I can see that ensures multiple offenses can be policed. That is what we are missing currently: consequences. If you are issued two Fédération Equestre Internationale yellow cards within a 12-month period, you are automatically suspended by the FEI for two months, and the USEF reciprocates. If you receive three USEF yellow warning cards within 16 months, you are subject to a fine or a formal USEF charge. This takes the decision out of the ground jury’s hands on the day, which I’m sure will be a relief to them. Of course, it is still up to them to eliminate if they feel that is warranted.
If that does not happen, I believe we are inevitably headed towards a no blood rule in eventing. I don’t think you’ll find an upper-level rider who isn’t horrified by that eventuality. Why? Galloping 11 minutes over varied terrain and solid obstacles is very different than a 90-second show jumping round or any length dressage test. Horses can overreach; they can have a mark from stiff brush on course; they can lose their footing sometimes. Things do happen.
So my idea is to yellow card when blood appears in an area where we have equipment. Whether this is the girth area, spur area or mouth, doesn’t matter. Yellow card for it. If I were to list the instances where yellow cards have been given, it would seem a no brainer to do this. We yellow card for frankly quite silly things sometimes. Surely this is an appropriate moment to use it?
In conclusion, let’s all please debate this and throw around ideas respectfully. Educated and well thought out arguments are welcome regardless of whether you trail ride or compete currently at the four-star level.
Most importantly, do not stay silent out of fear of what others may say or do. One of my favorite sayings of all time is “To sin by silence makes cowards out of men.” Now is the time to come together and hash out what is to be done. It is not the time to look the other way. The sport we all love is at risk, so let’s figure out what to do. Doing nothing is not an option.