Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023

From The Magazine: Fair Hill Blood Incident Incites Frustrations



Marilyn Little’s win at the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCI***, Oct. 13-16 in Elkton, Md., was overshadowed by reports that her national champion RF Scandalous was bleeding from her mouth on cross-country, and photos of the pair began circulating around the Internet.

President of the ground jury Christian Landolt said the first radio report of blood coming from the mare’s mouth occurred at fence 20, and the first member of the ground jury to see it was stationed at fence 22.

Landolt said the blood at fence 22, “wasn’t something unduly worrying and fresh and pouring like some people might have said. The two [technical delegates] who were at fence 23 and fence 24 confirmed that yes, it was red, but it was nothing running or gushing.”

Because Little only had about a minute and a half left on course, Landolt felt she should be allowed to finish instead of interrupting her round.

“If I see something like that, and it’s just pink, personally I will not take action,” he said. “If there’s blood really pouring out of the mouth, then obviously you have a very severe case, and you will act. You’re not going to stop the horse there and say, ‘Oh it’s nothing, start again.’ You have to use common sense. If it’s a major injury, and the blood is pouring, then you will stop the horse, but there was nothing dripping violently out of the mouth on to the horse’s body as far as I was told, so I said finish, and we’ll see what is what then.”

Had Little been excessively pulling on her horse’s mouth or riding roughly with blood spotted, said Landolt, he would have pulled her up for abusive riding, which can result in an FEI yellow card.

“If you hear that the horse is really strong, and they’re fighting, and the rider is struggling to have control, then you think there is an issue, but there was no report of that,” he added. “Marilyn rides very smoothly and normally quite forward to the fences, so since there was no report of bad riding, and what was seen of the blood was minimal, there was no reason we felt to stop her there and then.”


FEI veterinary commission president Debbie Williamson inspected the horse at the finish line, but she found no wound or blood.

And Little said she didn’t realize there was any blood while on course. “When I got off the horse, the vets were there and were taking her temperature. There wasn’t anything evident at that time by the time she pulled up,” she said.

Little rides “Kitty” in a smooth straight bar Pelham and a plain leather noseband. “It’s essentially what the horses are going dressage in, [but the dressage bit] just happens to have a snaffle ring. I ride the first half of the course on a snaffle rein, and then in the CCIs, I used it at Morven [Park (Va.)] as well, and she seems to like it very well. There’s nothing on it that can cut her, so it’s quite wide and smooth,” she said. 

“I want her to absolutely be as comfortable as she possibly can, that’s why I had chosen that bit. It allows me to balance her, and yet it’s a very smooth mouthpiece and a nice soft leather noseband,” Little added. “I think she goes well in it. She bit her tongue, and it can happen at any time, but maybe I can look into some ways to keep that from happening in the future. It didn’t seem to alter her performance, and I hope it doesn’t happen again.” 

A Recurring Problem

But this incident wasn’t the first time—or the only horse—with which Little’s had blood in the mouth on cross-country at an FEI event.

Photos circulated online from the 2015 Boekelo CCIO*** (the Netherlands), of Kitty with blood on the corners of her mouth, and at Fair Hill later that month RF West Indie was spotted with blood on her mouth. Then in November RF Demeter reportedly had blood on her mouth after Little retired her on course at the CCI*** course at Galway Downs (Calif.).

Little released a statement after Fair Hill last year, explaining that RF West Indie had pinched her cheek and that FEI veterinarians agreed she was fit to continue. Officials confirmed that fact.


After Galway she released another statement saying that a change in bitting hadn’t worked out the way she’d hoped and that she didn’t have the control she needed, but it didn’t address the blood.

In FEI show jumping and dressage competitions the “blood rule” is more black and white (see “Re-Examining The Blood Rule After Rio” Sept. 26 & Oct. 3, p. 32). The eventing rule, however, allows for some discretion.

This is an excerpt from the article “Fair Hill Blood Incident Incites Frustrations” by Lindsay Berreth, which appears in the Nov. 7 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. If you’d like to read the article in its entirety, you can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse and our lifestyle publication Untacked. Or you can purchase a single issue or subscribe on a mobile device through our app The Chronicle of the Horse LLC.

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