Through the Shrubbery

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.

Shrubbery GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

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
525.1 Definition
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!

24 thoughts on “Through the Shrubbery

  1. I’m not an eventer — but the rule that you included clearly mentions jumping the ropes. Even if he didn’t endanger the public in this particular instance, doesn’t this count as going off-course? Either way, IMHO he clearly violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the rule and was fairly penalized. I feel that if you’re going to deviate from the path in that manner, you’re not being clever, you’re being foolhardy.


    1. I agree although to be fair he didn’t jump the ropes, the course wasn’t fully roped off so he just went out a gap and came back into the lane in another gap, shaving off a bit of distance. There is no SPECIFIC rule against that, although it does open you up to exactly what he incurred here if officials so choose to apply it. I do get the feeling though that if people keep doing it, it’ll end up being added as one of the specified rules!


      1. Yes, exactly. I’m a driver, and the ADS rulebook has a number of rules that are informally known as the “Driver X’ rules because drivers did things that weren’t specifically mentioned as being illegal but definitely violated the intention/spirit of the existing rules.
        Even if this particular rider didn’t jump the ropes (my mistake), he definitely deviated from the intended course and, even if there were no people in harm’s way, he ran the risk of injury to his horse if the footing was questionable. Fortunately, that didn’t happen — but as others have mentioned, he was warned, he did it anyway, and he was penalized. He unfairly tried to change the conditions of the test, which to me is a cheat. This isn’t the “Kobayashi Maru” (cue Star Trek reference).


  2. I saw the creative route he took in Kentucky, and IMO that was totally fine. It was within the galloping lanes, and wasn’t a danger to himself, his horse, or any bystanders. A few show jumpers have been know to do similar things like jump decorations. This one however, is a little more bold. The TD pretty much told him he would get penalties but he chose to do it anyways. I think this was more of policing a pattern of behavior and hopefully stopping things before they get worse and someone/some horse get injured.


    1. I kind of chuckled at the Kentucky one because if you timed his route over the bush vs people who just made a good turn, it wasn’t actually any faster and disrupted the horse’s rhythm/line a bit. But I agree, that one was less of a DR issue to me because it was inside the ropes in an area that was definitely clear of people/equipment/etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m fine with the penalty in this case. He asked the TD “can I do the thing?”, the TD said “don’t do the thing”, he did the thing, he got a penalty. Play stupid games, etc.

    I do hope that officials will actually start to use DR penalties instead of shrugging because no one got hurt/killed this time. I remember the discussion about Kat Morel and Kerry On going into the tall grass at Rebecca Farm shortly before their fatal accident, and people being flabbergasted that she didn’t get a DR for it, since doing that has killed people in the past. Sure Doug or his horse didn’t get hurt this time, but what if next time someone put some equipment in his path because they didn’t know he was planning on using it as a shortcut? It just seems too risky to let slide.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with that point for sure, we love to criticize officials for not using DR penalties enough (like the case you mentioned, FOR SURE) so I sure am hesitant to criticize them for actually using it when they feel it’s warranted!


  4. Not being an eventer myself, I’m hardly qualified to comment. But to me the whole thing sounds like the TDs thought, “Ok, we’re really kinda sick of this guy believing he can bend the rules however he likes, so we’ll give him a good ‘ole smack-down. After all, we DID warn him!”

    At first it seemed unfair that the other person who really DID ride dangerously only got a (written) warning, but if I’m reading correctly I think the difference is premeditation…

    Also, in the video the line doesn’t seem particularly bad/wrong, but there IS a person visible. I know she’s said she did not feel endangered, but another person could have claimed they did. I’ve spectated at several Rolexes and the WEG XC and you better believe I watched where the hell I was walking or standing at ALL times. I stayed where I was supposed to and listened for whistles, having zero desire to be run down by a galloping, focused horse. If I’d been inside a “safe” area and a horse suddenly went by just a few feet away, I would have been a *little* upset!

    So overall, I’m sorry, but I think in this case DP pushed it a bit too far and paid the price.

    [Are you sure you don’t wanna talk about Baffert??? I’m kidding. Sigh. I’ll just say how much I hate that yet another scandal is further denigrating American racing!]

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like Doug a lot, but I think this one crossed the line and he deserved the penalty. Gallop lanes are roped for a reason, and even if you were able to squeeze through a gap, that doesn’t make it any different than jumping the rope IMO. Clearly he checked his route ahead of time because he asked the TD about it, but what if that area had been roped off because of unsafe footing, and some other rider made a last minute decision to try the same shenanigans and they ended up hurt? Also, as other commenters have mentioned, the ropes are also for spectators/volunteers to know what areas are safe and should not have horses in them. If you were minding your own business outside the ropes and someone rode their horse right past you, that would definitely be unsafe. Now whether the jumping decorations or other obstacles INSIDE the ropes should be given an penalty, I think that would maybe have more gray area depending on the intention and how well it ended up working out for the rider lol.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I agree with much of what has been said here. I’m a true Doug Payne fan and think he’s a great horseman. But…this is a bit confounding to me. He was told that if he did this he might get penalized. And then he went ahead and did it and is upset he got penalized.
    If he doesn’t like the rules, ok, lets look to change them.
    But blatant disregard for them, and then whining about them being enforced on him seems a bit of a sign of privilege to me….I’m just not understanding his thinking here. Still think he’s a great rider, but um..yes Doug, penalties do apply to even you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Not an eventer, but will chime in anyway. Looks like I’m in the minority, but I think the DR is a bit much. I watched the helmet cam footage and it didn’t look dangerous at all to me. If you don’t want riders doing that, then rope off the entire gallop lane, since jumping the rope IS expressly forbidden. I can’t imagine rope is that expensive ::shrugs::. I guess I feel annoyed that clear examples of dangerous riding haven’t been penalized in the past and THIS is the thing that makes them slam the book down? Unclear.


    1. Rope isn’t expensive but stringing it up for the entire length of a course, moving parts of it in between levels, etc requires a lot of manpower and time. Generally if only parts are roped off it’s to give “safe” areas for staff, spectators, vehicles, etc or direct competitors over desired areas.


  8. Examining it strictly from a rule standpoint, we have to work off the predicate rule, which is the definition, all subsequent examples are just that, examples that are clearly not intended to bookend all options. So the definition is :

    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.

    I think what matter is the concept of exposing himself, his Horse of any third party to a higher risk. Exposing does not equal caused. For Higher Risk, it could be assumed the track he took was not checked for footing, errant objects, and would have been perceived by a third party as a safe place to stand. Essentially, he rode a path not intended for such purpose which is inherently higher risk than the nature of the competition. Additionally, his act was clearly deliberate because he declared it ahead of time, which can play a role in determining the severity of infringement.

    Truthfully it’s a bit of a stunt which I am not a fan of. At the end of the day, he was advised of the most likely outcome and he gambled anyway. Can’t complain at this point that he lost.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I’m surprised this is such a debate. If you significantly deviate from the “path” of the course, there is zero guarantee the footing is at all safe. I mean gopher holes, electrical cords, rocks, equipment and tools left my course designers or landscapers, etc etc. The sport relies on a lot of volunteers and moving parts. There is no one checking to see if these paths are safe for horses to travel through, especially at speed.

    Most of the time, the area around combinations and water complexes etc are cleared out well and checked. But in between galloping lanes like this? Just too many factors that could have gotten horse and rider seriously injured. The course is set a MPM of a specific track… if you can’t ride to that speed on that horse, then that horse won’t be competitive at that level. It’s just part of the sport.


  10. I am mostly concerned with why the other DR was dropped and his was not. I am fine with the rules being applied this way, I just want to see them consistently applied.


    1. One suggestion was there was a different set of officials making the judgment call for the other rider. Different division.

      Which makes an interesting situation re different officials evaluating similar situations differently. Although I wasn’t there and don’t know exactly what was the same or different between the incidents.


  11. I think the penalty was justified. I spent years working at events, the the lack of awareness of some spectators is stunning, the possibility that a person would not be paying attention outside the galloping lane and wander into his path is super high and the possibility of disaster is real. Moreover, the TD said he shouldn’t do it. And he did. he’s a great rider, but I think this was not good judgement.


  12. As I’ve read the situation in multiple online descriptions, Doug didn’t break a rule. He did something that eventers all over the world do at will, within the rules. At every level, at almost every event.

    A huge part of eventing that makes it different from most other horse sport is the amount of discretion that is left to the rider’s judgment.

    For example, the rider chooses their own pace and can trot or even walk without penalty. And they can make choices on routes and jump approach.

    In a situation where a LL rider is allowed to get on and continue after coming off the horse, they can get assistance to catch their horse and mount. People can catch the horse and bring it to the rider. People can hand the rider’s gear back to the rider. All legal.

    There are more unconventional allowances within the rules as well.

    When eventers move horses up a level, it’s not uncommon to watch many entries in a division of greenies go off track at their first approach to the water. Very common that the rider first crosses the water away from their flags in case the green horse hesitates, thus avoiding a penalty. Having already gotten their feet wet and gotten the horse’s confidence to go in the water, then the rider comes back around for a clean trip through the flags across the water. Totally legal.

    TD’s agree with these choices in advance every day.

    I once rode in a division where the mowed track toward the end of the course meandered away on a ridiculous path away from the finish before turning back. I don’t think one rider followed that track. We all checked the footing during course walk, and then when on course cut across the high grass toward home.

    Re Doug, I wasn’t there to have an opinion on what was not-ok about Doug’s situation. But there is nothing wrong, and nothing unusual, with going a safe alternative route.


    1. If you read the DR rule there actually is definitely, IMO, a possible application here with this scenario. When there are roped off areas on a course that changes things from a regular event for sure, especially when there are lots of staff, spectators, media, etc present in said roped off areas. If you intentionally ride through a roped off area that you know you aren’t supposed to, then IMO this is the kind of risk you take, and if the ground jury on site felt it worthy of a DR, that definitely says something.


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