All the Dramas

Between Burghley, Fair Hill, and Pau, I feel like it’s been a particularly dramatic fall season for eventing. The sport is in the spotlight in a way it really hasn’t been before, and everything is on public display. Hopefully that will be for the overall good… time will tell. I am a fan of upper level sport, so I sure hope so. In the mean time, it’s led to a whole lot of chatter.

Miss you Ollie, errrr I mean… Burghley. Miss you BURGHLEY. Ahem.

Anyway, we already talked about Burghley a little bit so I won’t go into all that again, but I’m interested in some discussion about Fair Hill and Pau.

The big thing at Fair Hill, of course, was the flag penalties. A new FEI rule for this year, riders can be assessed 15 penalties when:

“A Horse is considered to have missed a flag if the
Horse jumps the dimension of the obstacle and the majority of the Horse’s body
(as defined above) passes through the flags. This means that some part of the
body is not inside the flags (e.g. one shoulder, or one shoulder and part of one

As may be a surprise to precisely no one, this rule has been super confusing in it’s actual application all year. There’s even a very lengthy explanation with pictures and a flow chart here. The first time we saw it used in the US was at Kentucky with Will Coleman and Tight Lines, which led to mass confusion and a lot of disagreement. A few days later the FEI released a clarification which included the following:

The Eventing Committee has agreed that the following considerations must be taken into account when judging the run-out /flag situation on Cross Country:

1.    The Fence Judge is responsible for taking a decision as to a penalty to be awarded to the combination

2.    Knocking down a flag will not entail an automatic penalty

3.    The Ground Jury will only review any specific requests for clarification made by a Fence Judge or an Athlete after the penalty has been awarded

4.    Video reviews should be done immediately by the TD and/or GJ if there is a doubt, not left until after the XC so scores can be published and updated during competition

5.    When reviewing a video, it must be easy to decide if the horse is inside the flags, if it is necessary to review several times, the decision should be made in favour of the rider.

6.    As always if there is a doubt give the benefit of the doubt to the competitor.

7.    15 penalties on Cross Country will maintain the MER on Cross Country

Image result for fei logo

At Fair Hill 4 of these penalties were assessed, two of which went to horses that would otherwise have been first and second after cross country. Kind of a big deal.

I know that at least one of these was not put up in the scoring system until hours later, because I was watching the scores and saw it myself. I was surprised by this, considering the above FEI clarifications regarding the timing of the penalties. The real controversy though, came over whether or not the penalties were warranted, or if the guidelines were correctly followed. Doug posted footage on his facebook page that spurred a lot of discussion, as did Will Coleman. Neither of those are considered official video evidence, therefore can’t be taken into consideration, but… they do a good job of casting doubt on the 15 penalties.

To me they’re tough calls. Did the horses’ hips and shoulders pass between the flags? Were the penalties given in a timely manner? Was the benefit of the doubt given to the rider? I’ll be honest, I’ve seen a few instances where people have been much more deserving of 15 penalties at internationals this year and they were not assessed. So – is the rule being applied consistently and fairly across the board? The spirit of the rule is really meant to be addressing the intent of the horse – did they INTEND to jump the jump with their entire body, or did they try to evade and only get partway over – in which case are the penalties really being applied following the spirit of the rule?

Moving on to Pau…

how tf did we not have any 15pp controversy at Pau? There were so many skinnies and corners. 

I’ll be honest, I’m a bit incredulous over the fact that the biggest drama to come out of Pau is surrounding Jack Pinkney and his broken rein/eventual fall/reaction to said fall. For those that missed it, Jack’s rein broke (further back in the rubber part) around fence 10, and he managed to jump most of the course that way before having the rein pulled out of his hand at fence 27, resulting in his horse careening into, and trying to jump, a giant decorative wall. The horse bounced off it, Jack came off, and then he proceeded to throw his whip and air vest on the ground and appear to have a bit of a temper tantrum before his horse was caught and brought back to him.

Was it scary? You bet. Maybe, in retrospect, trying to jump a 5* course with a broken rein wasn’t the best idea. To be fair to Jack, as soon as the horse was brought back to him he immediately set to checking him out and offered no signs of anger toward the horse. He also immediately took himself to the stewards to own up to his mistake and issued a public apology admitting he was wrong. While he didn’t handle the situation well at the time, he was all class in the aftermath. I have to give him credit for that. Otherwise, I really only have 2 thoughts on this one:

  1. Honestly, this is kind of what happens when we glorify things like people riding an entire course with broken equipment, be that a missing stirrup or a flapping breastplate or a broken bridle or whatever. It’s happened before, plenty of times, often becoming the stuff of legend. When it ends well, we talk about how amazing someone is and what a great job they did to get the job done despite the adversity. When it doesn’t end well, we vilify the person for making a dangerous, unsafe choice. Maybe we (the collective “we”) should pick a stance on this.
  2. I’m relatively convinced that his horse read that wall as a brush fence or a bullfinch, with how he tried to jump it. He clears the bottom section of the wall but almost looks as if he’s expecting to brush through the top. Would make sense if he’s been out hunting. Either way, how honest is that guy, what a trier. Glad he’s ok.

Jack drama aside, to me the real issue at Pau (that I haven’t really seen anyone talking about) is what happened in the last water.

Three horses fell at this combination, completely unrelated to either fence. I saw at least two other horses stumble in the same spot where the other three fell, which was past the log but before the skinny, near the entrance to the water. Was there something going on with the footing here? Was it a lighting thing where horses weren’t reading the water? Was there something about those 3 rides in particular that led to the horses having trouble? I don’t know, but 3 falls and at least two other stumbles in the same location, one of which led to a broken shoulder that was ultimately that horse’s demise, raises red flags for me.

We can’t control broken tack, or how people react when things go wrong. But we can control courses, and footing, and design. Why are we not talking more about THIS part? What happened there? Was it just a freak thing that at least 5 horses had trouble in the exact same spot, or was there an identifiable reason? If so, what was it?

Let’s discuss!

26 thoughts on “All the Dramas

  1. The only thing I can add to the Will Coleman situation was that there was an immediate (and long) discussion at the jump by the jump judge. If I remember correctly, they also stumbled on the landing coming out of A (well, Will was almost unseated) and had to take the option? Anyway, I don’t remember anything being particularly obvious re: the flag but I was curious that they were talking for so long…


    1. His horse hung a leg there and swung quite sideways, so I can see how it would have been a tough one. I can also see how it’s confusing or seems unfair to riders, when we’ve seen some instances that were very similar, or worse, NOT get the flag penalty this year.


      1. I agree. Honestly, it’s never going to fair, at least not yet, competition to competition (I think this mentality comes from sports where you can’t compare judging between competitions… hell, even hunters things are different though I guess a certain rules should be uniform… But subjective stuff is hard). But, at least we can start by being consistently applying the rules the same way within the same event. And, even though we might not like it, those flag penalties were applied. Granted, I don’t know how consistently they were applied at FH as I moved around to different fences…


  2. I feel like the flag penalty needs to be a black and white issue. Knock a flag to the ground = 15 penalties. Make it like a rail in show jumping, so it’s easy to see. We’ve all seen rails get slammed and stay up, and get a whisper of a tap and fall down. It’s luck, but also objective. None of this “weeeelllllllll, maaaaaayyyyyybbbbbbeeeee…” hours later. It would also (hopefully) lead to a standardization of the flag types and lessen the skinny fever among course designers.

    As for Pau, I saw a preview where the CD was described as a “menace”, which I feel is not good. That should not be a descriptor of any course designer, much less one in charge of a top level course. I think tracking horse injuries/fatalities by CD might lead to some eye popping results.


    1. I would agree with that first part except adding a few thoughts: 1) as you alluded to, not all flags are the same. Like we saw at Pau, those flags moved and then bounced back much more often than they fell. If we were going to do 15pp for any downed flag, there would have to be a completely standard type of flag and flag attachment method that was exactly the same at every single FEI event for every single fence, like you’re saying. I’m not sure how realistic that is. Also, $20 someone would get caught super-gluing flags LOL. 2) I think that if we start asking people to not even risk TOUCHING a flag, it’s very likely to encourage more backwards riding, which IMO will lead to bigger safety issues when it comes to XC. Having people pick pick pick very carefully on XC is, I think, a more dangerous thing than keeping the forward and potentially taking out a flag. 3) I see a lot of people saying that the CD’s are making too many skinnies, but after Burghley everyone was saying that they were making things too big and too difficult. With skinnies at least you get a runout as opposed to a horse fall, which I do support. I agree that I don’t particularly like it when there are TONS of skinnies, because I think it can lead to backwards riding, but if we can’t make things big, or difficult, or skinny… what do they do at the top level to set these courses apart while still being safe?


  3. I wonder if the riding without reins/broken tack can be traced back to that comment about “winning at all costs” you wrote about previously. Its a mentality that can be very dangerous for both horse and rider. Only 1 rein? Who cares? I need to go forward no matter what happens


    1. I agree. I think it also goes back to the mental aspect, as far as being able to think clearly and reasonably in the midst of a high-adrenaline situation. It’s something that doesn’t come naturally to most of us but it’s also something that can be trained.


  4. I saw several riders at Fair Hill with broken tack on course. Mostly the portion of their breastplate/martingale that hooks through the girth. Now I know shit breaks – I’ve had it break. But you’re on course at the 3/4* level and your tack is dangling. I was terrified a horse was either going to get hung up on a jump or put their foot/leg through a strap. I’m guessing the riders didn’t even know, and I know you can’t pull up on course, but geez!


  5. I don’t know that we can’t control people that continue to ride with broken tack. In my opinion, that is a good enough reason for the ground jury to pull him up and give him the mandatory retirement. Tough break, but it’s just too dangerous. Honestly, he is lucky he lost the rein when he did as opposed to on the approach to a massive, open table…


    1. It is, and it would be, if they knew that it was broken or decided (quickly enough) that it was a dangerous situation. In this case we’re talking a matter of minutes from when it occurred to when he crashed, so in that time a jump judge or steward would have to spot it, radio it in, the GJ would have to get a good enough look to determine how severe it was, then decide it warranted pulling him up (keep in mind he hadn’t lost hold of the rein again once it broke and was actually having a decent round until right before he crashed, so WOULD they have “just cause” to pull him up or even know that there was a real problem?), then radio the appropriate people to actually pull him up. It has to be a pretty big deal for them to stop people, they won’t even pull someone up quickly for a very easily visible bloody mouth. The capability is there, yes, but stuff like that tends not to happen very quickly nor is it very cut and dry. We can try to police people left right and center, but at a point it comes down to the element of personal responsibility for one’s own safety.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course, and it totally does. But there need to be checks and balances (with teeth!) in place when it comes to horse welfare. Broken equipment on XC is, in my opinion, a horse welfare issue. It’s just too dangerous to wing it on half a rein.


        1. I agree with you on that one. If they can see it, they should be less hesitant about making the hard calls, IMO. Of course, how much outrage would there be if they pulled him off a 5* course when he wasn’t having any problems… it’s a tough one.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Totally agree. I’d rather they pull someone up 100 times than have one bad accident. But you also know how “people” would react to that, which is sadly probably a large part of why it’s so rarely done.

              Liked by 1 person

  6. Going off what you’ve said here (because I don’t have other knowledge, and didn’t watch), the water reminds me of Badminton this year where several horses tripped in a galloping section of water, resulting in a fall or two… I heard afterwards that riders thought there might be a hole there. That seems kind of ridiculous. Am I wrong?


  7. I am not angry about Pinkney’s reaction after his horse bounced off a ten ft wall. I don’t care that he threw his vest. I care that he set his horse up to end up in this situation in the first place. I wish the rein break would have been easy to see for the ground jury and that they’d stopped him.
    Talking about the rider’s “temper tantrum” misses the point.
    Sad that this whole incident means that nobody is talking about the course-related issues. I admit that I don’t get to see a lot of eventing since it’s hardly ever on tv here and I don’t have So I saw this year’s german championships in Luhmühlen, as well as the EC there and the CHIO in Aachen. In Aachen there was one jump that I thought was very unfair to the horses because if the rider didn’t get the angle *exactly* right, the horse would try to jump the decorative part of the jump that was much too wide and not solid enough to handle all the horses crashing into it. There has to be a way to make courses difficult without being unfair to the horses who try their hardest…


  8. I’m not an eventer and I have zero skin in the game, but it seems like any type of malfunction of tack relating to the bridle, the reins, or the saddle would nearly always be dangerous. Now, the breastplate or martingale breaking seems moderately less dire circumstances. Added to that the size of jumps on cross country at the top level and the speed at which the horses go around the course, it seems to me that if an essential part of the tack breaks (bridle, bit, reins, saddle/girth),the rider should be required to pull up. Am I crazy?!


    1. I would not be unhappy with a rule like that. The breastplate breaking scares me a bit because it often breaks away from the girth which means now something is dangling and flapping down by the legs. I’m always cringing when I see that, but I know the rider isn’t always aware when it happens.


  9. In South Africa you’re actually allowed to stop and fix something if your tack has a problem, even to the point of needing to get off or get someone to help. You’d take a bunch of time penalties but you won’t be eliminated.


  10. I’m also not an eventer, but I feel like in any discipline, faulty/broken tack should mean you get stopped and cannot continue. Is it admirable when someone can finish they XC course or SJ course without a stirrup or with 1 rein? Of course it is. Because riding is hard! But is it really freaking stupid for them to not have the common sense to pull up and excuse themselves? Or for the judges to step in and eliminate them? I think so. Riding is dangerous enough. There’s no need to be a hero, especially if you are jeopardizing your horse’s safety, your own safety, or even potentially someone who is there to watch the event.


  11. Whoa. How much heart does that horse have to try and jump a ten foot wall?! I realize that’s not the point of this discussion, but wow. Needs to be appreciated.
    As a non-eventer… I think it’s pretty unsmart to try and jump a track like that with one rein. But I also think most top level riders might think they could pull it off since there seemed to be enough to hold on to. My thought though… should you be “pulling off” anything at this level? Probably not. I agree with your statement about not glorifying these types of incidents. I feel the same way about people riding and showing injured. Doesn’t really set the right example for the up and comers. Safety first friends!
    Question on the possible footing issue. If they were to realize there was a problem, how would that be handled? If they hold competition to inspect, and realize there’s a problem, then what? Eliminate that question from the course? What about the horses that have already gone? I’m honestly curious, as I’m not sure how this would work on cross country. Not even really sure about in a regular jumper class honestly.


    1. There are instances historically where jumps have been pulled from a course after repeated problems. Doesn’t usually change anything for the people that have already gone.


  12. Personally I think event horses (maybe all horses) should know how to neck rein. In a pinch you can steer them out of trouble if a rein breaks, you drop one, or otherwise end up with one hand off the reins. He shouldn’t have continued with a broken rein but would’ve avoided that ugly crash if he could steer a bit. Also it’s nice to neck rein when you’re having a lazy trail ride. 🙂


  13. One of the problems is lack of clarity by those writing the rules. Flatly said, many of the rules are badly worded. It shouldn’t be a mystery subject to multiple interpretations. It’s possible that there are too many people involved in the actual writing, too many “it needs to say this” and “it needs to say that”. It ends up as word soup that can be stirred in any direction.

    Another problem, in my opinion, is that there is too much acceptance of those kinds of repeated problems at one fence on the biggest courses. A fan group of some of the toughest and most decisive riding in the world won’t ask the tough questions of an elite course. I don’t understand why not, but they hang back.

    At one Badminton several years ago there were five (5) horse falls at one element of one water. No injuries, the horses were falling into the water, so the end result was just a lot of wet. And the public did not react afterward, even when asked and challenged about their opinions of 5 horse falls at one element. An interviewer actually asked the winner about getting through that element, as he went after several of the falls, and the winner remarked that it was very tricky. But that was the sum total of public commentary.


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