Am I the only one who can’t see the word shrubbery without their brain immediately going to Monty Pyton and the Holy Grail? Just wondering.
This post has absolutely nothing to do with that but I figured I’d just start with a tangent and get it out of the way early. Anyway, moving on.
The social media drama this week (aside from Bob Baffert’s drugged Derby winner, which I am not touching with a 10′ pole taped to another 10′ pole, Imma just sit over here and sip my metaphorical tea while that shit goes down, thanks) is Doug Payne’s DR penalty at Jersey Fresh. If you haven’t seen it, he talked about it on his facebook page and then the COTH forum picked it up and started a discussion.
Long story short, Doug made a creative route through some roped off galloping lanes (Doug takes “creative” routes a lot, just in very recent history you may remember him cutting through a bunch of landscaping at Tryon or jumping over a bush to tighten a turn at Kentucky) a few times on course and got handed a Dangerous Riding penalty. The debate is whether or not said penalty was warranted or fair.
To start with, let’s look at the current FEI rule for what constitutes Dangerous Riding.
525 Dangerous Riding
Any Athlete who, at any time during the Competition deliberately or unintentionally by
incompetence is exposing himself, his Horse or any third party to a higher risk than what is
strictly inherent to the nature of the Competition will be considered to have acted dangerously
and will be penalised accordingly to the severity of the infringement.
Such acts may include without limitation any of the following:
a) Riding out of control (Horse clearly not responding to the Athletes restraining or driving
b) Riding fences too fast or too slow.
c) Repeatedly standing off fences too far (pushing the Horse to the foot of the fence, firing
the Horse to the fence).
d) Repeatedly being ahead or behind the Horse movement when jumping.
e) Series of dangerous jumps.
f) Severe lack of responsiveness from the Horse or the Athlete.
g) Continuing after three clear refusals, a fall, or any form of elimination
h) Endangering the public in any way (e.g. jumping out of the roped track).
i) Jumping obstacles not part of the course.
j) Willful obstruction of an overtaking Athlete and/or not following the instructions of the
Officials causing danger to another Athlete.
k) Pressing a tired Horse
Exactly what scenario incurs this penalty and exactly how the reprimand goes down (warning, penalty points, yellow card, etc) is generally up to the discretion of the officials on site. Note that while many possible scenarios are listed outright in the rule, it also says “acts may include without limitation” – leaving it open ended for officials to apply this rule to any variety of scenarios that they feel may constitute a dangerous situation.
So, back to Doug. He posted some helmet camera footage of one of the times he left the specified roped off galloping lane to take a short cut through another area. According to people on site, he did it elsewher too, but we only see this one time so let’s just go with this one. He says himself that he planned this well in advance and even discussed it with the TD in advance, who warned him that if he did this he would be doing so at his own risk and could possibly open himself up for a penalty if they felt he endangered people, vehicles, equipment, himself, the horse, etc. As I mentioned above, he has a history of taking “shortcuts” through and/or around things that the course designer really didn’t intend. Whether that’s clever or dangerous probably depends on the situation and your own interpretation. Either way, the officials on site that day chose to issue Doug a DR penalty and penalty points when he finished his XC round.
To complicate things, someone else that day also got a DR (for riding through a pedestrian crossing), but instead of an actual penalty they got a warning. I have no idea if that person’s shortcut was intentional or accidental or what other factors may have been at play in that particular decision.
While jumping the ropes is clearly outlined in the DR penalty rule, it doesn’t really say anything about taking paths around openly roped galloping lanes or cutting through gaps at non-roped areas. Of course, I think it’s also safe to say that once you leave the track the course designer intended your horse to take, you’re quickly into a gray area. Will your path be clear of people, equipment, ropes, etc? Once you leave the specified track, who knows.
So the question is – did he deserve the DR penalties? Was it a fair application of the rule? What he did is not specified anywhere in the rule as constituting a DR. BUT, as previously mentioned, the wording of the rule allows leeway for other situations that have not been specifically listed. We can see from Doug’s video that other than passing sort of close to a photographer, he didn’t seem to come across any issues with the particular shortcut on that video. Not that time, anyway. I think that may be the reasoning though. If you make this kind of thing a standard practice, going in and out of roped off areas, crossing landscaping, jumping over decorations, etc, at some point it’s probably not going to end well. I have a feeling that intention (there was definitely nothing accidental in this case) and the repetition of the behavior may have had an impact on the official’s decision here. Of course, I’m definitely not an official so that’s purely speculation.
What are your thoughts? Do you think a creative route should be ok on cross country as long as nothing bad happens? Or should riders not try to take the risk of trying to “outwit” the course design/roped off paths? I love a good rule debate!