Jan Tops and the Global Champions League has gone to enormous lengths to meet the FEI in the middle and fall under the sport’s governing umbrella. They gave up their fabulous polo shirts for dismally boring jackets, They agreed to all new rules about who participates on which teams and how they’re invited, and they changed the format of the competition to meet the FEI’s standards.
In return, the FEI agreed not to penalize riders, horses, and officials as they did last year for participating in a “rogue event”, and they become the governing body to oversee horse welfare. This includes the controversial zero-tolerance policy concerning blood. The rule came into play this past weekend when the winning team of Miami Glory – which included Scott Brash and teammate and team owner Georgina Bloomberg – was disqualified when stewards found trace blood on the belly of Scott’s mount, Hello Forever. The win was awarded to the Mexico Amigos, and Valkenswaard United leads the overall season standings.
The exact wording in the FEI Rulebook for Jumping is:
3. Disqualification is mandatory in the following cases: 3.1 Horses bleeding on the flank(s); 3.2 marks indicating excessive use of spurs or of the whip anywhere on the Horse; 3.3 Horses bleeding in the mouth (in minor cases of blood in the mouth, such as where a Horse appears to have bitten its tongue or lip, Officials may authorize the rinsing or wiping of the mouth and allow the Athlete to continue; any further evidence of blood in the mouth will result in Disqualification).
Because the blood was found on Hello Forever’s ribcage, this allegedly falls under rule 3.1.
The FEI did not release a full public statement on Scott’s disqualification, but they did respond to an inquiry from CNN, which covered the story. They defended the actions of the ground jury and clarified that a rider violating this rule “does not imply an intent to injure the horse, but the rule is there to protect horses in FEI events.”
LGCT Organizer Jan Tops made no attempt to gloss over the incident, and insists that the FEI absolutely must reconsider the rule.
“It was a shame this evening, for what happened with Scott,” Jan said. “It’s a rule, but it’s a rule the FEI have to change. I know how much Scott looks after his horses, how great he is with his team of horses, and he didn’t deserve that at all. It’s a rule but I think these things have to change.”
Miami Glory owner and longtime, well-established animal welfare advocate Georgina Bloomberg also used her platform to leap to the defense of her teammate and call foul on the way it was handled by FEI officials. She also included a photo of the offending mark, which can be seen just an inch or so below the saddle pad and to the left of the Miami Glory logo.
Scott also offered his thoughts on the matter when he spoke with British publication Horse & Hound, using less forceful tone, but still clearly disappointed in the outcome and expressing doubt that the rule actually ensures horse welfare.
“I’ve watched the video back and I still can’t see where or how it happened in my round,” said Scott. “It was such a small mark and higher up than it would usually be from a spur. Some horses are sensitive and do mark easily, but not this one [Hello Forever], and I was using the same spurs I’ve always used with him. So I do think the rules need to be looked at and improved because there’s a massive difference between someone really spurring the horse and what was a very small mark.”
The video of Scott’s second round performance in the GCL is available on their website by clicking here, and then scrolling to the bottom of the page and clicking the “play” button beside Scott’s name in the results. While the camera tends to miss the near side quite a bit in the video, Scott’s lower leg appears to be exceptionally still for most of the round; only at the last fence of the triple and the large yellow oxer near the end of the course does his leg appear to gravitate to the area where the blood was later found. At neither fence does Scott appear to intentionally spur Hello Forever.
In complete contrast to the debacle this past weekend in Portugal, the blood rules are entirely different in Three Day Eventing, and riders being allowed to continue when blood was found led to enormous public outcry and suspicious about the system favoring results over animals.
What do you think, JN? I think we can all agree that years of footage suggest Scott Brash is not a mean or abusive rider. So what conclusions are left? Are unintentional blood draws an unfortunate reality we live with at the top of the sport in the name of appeasing the uninformed masses? Is the FEI imposing a rule that doesn’t actually do anything to protect the horses we all love and admire? Or is there some other viable conclusion to draw from the incident?
If you want to add your voice to the dialogue, feel free to send a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.