It is funny throughout sports horse magazines we discuss ‘blood’ and generally in a good way; “the horse had plenty of blood,” indicating the horse has thoroughbred in his genealogy. “I made the time cross country because he is a blood horse, three quarters thoroughbred.” We consider blood in a positive and practical way. The reader has a good feeling about the horse and his rider. But when we change the sentence slightly, we immediately have a flash of fury in front of us: “horse and rider were eliminated from the competition due to the presence of blood.” Rider and all associated parties are doomed to the judge and jury of keyboard warriors and our sport becomes threatened by animal activists.
Our governing body the FEI are used to tough times, creating rules to manage fairness of sport and welfare of the horse. The new proposed so-called blood rule is a contentious issue and for those of you who have only had the rumour mill rather than the facts here is the proposal: Art 241 Elimination: Blood on the horse’s flank caused unintentionally by the athlete’s leg will be penalised by elimination; minor cases of blood on the flank will not incur elimination. Art. 242 Disqualification: Marks and/ or blood on the horse’s flank as a result of an excessive use of the spur(s) will be penalised by disqualification. There are two words which if the proposals went ahead could create a litigious mine field for each and every ‘Ground Jury’ who have ultimate responsibility for a competition: Elimination and Disqualification. Whilst we consider the ‘steward’ to be the ‘arena police’ it is actually the Ground Jury and the judges who make up this team who would be called upon to make decisions on whether a rider has deliberately injured a horse or accidently.
This decision has huge implications, be it because of the prize fund or prestige at a major championship.
For example, if you are in a jump off at a major competition and there are only three of riders in the jump off, a speck of blood caused by accident would mean elimination but will still win third place and the third place prize money whilst a construed deliberate spur mark for example would mean disqualification and removal from the class and loss of any earnings. Our esteemed expert for this issue explained succinctly top level horses are treated like royalty and the care and attention that is paid to these top jumping horses is second to none.
Mark Beever is right, I can not imagine an incident where a 5* rider would be deliberately harming a horse. Mark mentioned a horse bleeding from a self inflicted injury such as an overreach and I have been informed whilst the stewards and Ground Jury would expect the horse be declared fit to continue by the veterinarian present on the show ground with appropriate treatment the Ground Jury would not take action against any rider and would leave it to rider and vet’s discretion at the horse’s fitness to continue into the next round of a competition.
Whilst researching this topic I spoke to several officials who feel that the FEI are between a rock and a hard place with this rule. Judges could potentially be sued for defamatory behaviour in disqualifying a rider as it would indicate the rider was abusive to their horse. Judges could also be sued for loss of earnings. Perhaps rather than looking at the
presence of blood after a jumping round, we should look more practically as Mark Beever suggests. The grooms prepare the horses and the riders ride the horses and ride with hand, seat, legs and spurs. Some of the spurs are nicknamed ‘pizza cutters’ due to the serrated edges. The clue perhaps is in the name! Maybe it would solve much of the problem if the FEI just reviewed the spurs that were legal? We do have rules for pony riders on types of spurs available for competition use, perhaps it is time for all classes to use ‘kinder spurs’; no rowels and without sharp edges.
The legal aspect
The mine field of legality means we spoke to Luc Schelstraete, Nicol Dominiuk and Piotr Wawrzyniak of Schelstraete Equine Lawyers in The Netherlands: “The most disputed incidents have been in relation to spur marks, where discussions were raised in connection to the disqualifications of several respected riders, including Bertram Allen and Scott Brash in distinctive 5* shows and Stephan de Freitas Barcha and Nicola Philippaerts in the 2016 Olympic Games. However when riding a cold-blooded horse or when approaching a fence with a slightly long distance, adding leg is only natural. This can, in certain situations, result in a small rub on the horse’s flank.
The severity of the rub may also depend on the sensitive skin type of the horse or an earlier scratch in the same area. However, no matter the magnitude of the rub, the FEI has applied a strict approach to the blood rule and disqualified riders on this basis, with no exceptions in relation to size or amount of blood.
The FEI recently sent out a proposed amendment to the abovementioned rule for the coming 2018 FEI Jumping Rules. The Jumping Rules have undergone a full revision and there has been a significant change to the ‘blood rule’. The proposed rules are the following: blood on the horse’s flank caused by the athlete’s leg may lead to elimination (instead of disqualification) and (NB) minor cases of blood on the flank(s), as described in the Jumping Stewards Manual, will not incur elimination. This rule would be included under article 241 of the FEI Jumping Rules, which is the elimination rule.
Although this new paragraph refers to the Jumping Stewards Manual, the Jumping Stewards Manual does currently not define ‘minor cases of blood’ in relation to blood on the flank(s). At this moment the Jumping Stewards Manual only refers to minor cases of blood in the mouth where a horse appears to have bitten its tongue or lip. Secondly, the proposal slightly amends the article on mandatory disqualification, which in the proposal states that cases of marks and/or blood on the horse’s flank as a result of an excessive use of the spur(s) will be penalized with disqualification.
The difference between elimination and disqualification appears to be the ‘excessive use of spur’, however, what defines ‘excessive use of spur’ is also not further clarified. This is unlike the similar rule of ‘excessive use of whip’ which is clearly defined in the FEI Jumping Manual for Stewards as well as in Article 243 of the FEI Jumping Rules. Further it is not clear what kind of mark the FEI is referring to in these articles. It could be interpreted as anything from a swelling to bald spots to raw skin to rub to bleeding. We trust that the National Federations will approach this request with due care. Despite the fact that the FEI’s initiative is appreciated, there are serious legal concerns regarding the proposed changes. It appears in the proposal that the FEI will allow some discretion to the stewards in regard to the ‘blood rule’ in 2018.
The effort in trying to improve this rule is welcomed however, in order to obtain certainty, a clear understanding and equal, objective, application of these rules, further clarification to how and when they are intended to apply must be provided. This is particularly important when it comes to the vague and undefined terms ‘mark’, ‘excessive use of spur’ and ‘minor cases of blood’. If not, it runs the risk of diverse, arbitrary, application of the rules and unfair, deviating outcomes re no-consequences, elimination or disqualification in similar situations. These differences may have detrimental consequences on the riders results, ranking, earnings and reputation and should therefore be studied and improved with due diligence. Unlike the dressage sport in which especially judging as such was causing controversy due to risk of subjectivity, jumping has in its core been objective. This can however change if the ‘blood rule’ will be multi-interpretable, flexible and vague.”
Times have changed
Our sport titters on the edge of professionalism and amateurish approaches to managing itself. We rely on part-time officials, who historically came from a wealth of knowledge, practical horsemanship and mostly military and police backgrounds. Times have changed and just like we now have professional politicians who govern our countries but who have never managed a business before, many of our officials have never ridden or managed people at a very high level before. The riders and the sport continued to become more and more professional and prize money is very important for all parties. We should not blame our officials for the rules they have to follow but we need to be very aware of interpretation of rules that are neither practical or easily interpreted. Finally we should remember nobody here is the bad guy (well 99.9% are not) but let us campaign to look at the source of the problem not the result and sort the spur rule out!