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The WoSJ-team: Good versus bad and right versus wrong

Wednesday, 23 December 2015
The WoSJ-Team Visits The Guest Blog

Photo (c) World of Showjumping.

It has been years since any of us on the World of Showjumping-team have been blogging. In the early days of the website, back in 2011, we used to do a little travel diary every now and then to entertain our small group of readers – but we can’t even remember when we did a blog last.

And, we certainly never did one like this.

We have always tried to stay quiet, and kept our opinions to ourselves. If there have been issues we thought needed attention, we always attempted to get the riders to speak as they are the ones who know the sport the best. They are in our opinion the experts.

This summer we more and more frequently discussed to use the blog ourselves. There have been times when we felt that it would be necessary to have an opinion, or to focus on an issue without doing an in-depth article on it. The topics we have felt the need to write about, have the majority of the time, been related to issues concerning the welfare of the horse.

We have been running this website for five years now. Our team is a small and dedicated one. The reason we started the website was because we loved this sport, and the horses in it.

Lately, though, this love has been tested. Sometimes, when you love horses it’s hard to love the sport.

It has been difficult to put into words what we have felt, but this morning Gregory Wathelet did it for us when he in an interview with said: “I think there are worse things than a small spur scratch, it is not that the horses are in blood. For example, we must banish from our sports people crashing into fences in the warm-up ring, that pull their horses in the mouth, that use sharp bits and torture their horses. Certainly there must be a limit, because the horses are animals and they cannot speak. It is up to us, humans, to set these limits (…).

Wathelet went on, in his reaction to what happened in London on Monday when Bertram Allen was disqualified. The Belgian rider has not been alone. The support Allen has received has been enormous. It’s just that Wathelet hit the nail on the head. Or released the ghost from the closet.

Why have so many reacted on Allen’s disqualification? Blood on a horse: In today’s climate you would almost expect the rider to be hanged in social media. Instead, Allen has been lifted up. He’s the good guy, the FEI and their officials the bad.

And that is what this whole uproar is about: Good versus bad. And right versus wrong.

Riders like Steve Guerdat and Bertram Allen – both extremely respected and well known for loving their horses – are suspended and disqualified, like they had committed treason. Yet, the villains of this sport – that everybody knows about, but nobody talks about (until Wathelet opened his mouth today) – go free.

"The stewards and officials just did their job..." "The stewards had no alternative…" "Rules are rules…"

There have not been many defending the decision that was taken in London on Monday night when Bertram Allen was disqualified, after he was supposed to have won the Grand Prix. Those who did, used the arguments above.

But is it really like this? Did they do their job? And did they do it correctly? Did they not have an alternative?

For sure the officials had an alternative. Not to disqualify. Was that an option? Yes.

For a rule to apply, the facts which the rule is being applied on need to fall under the scope of the wording in the rule. Isn’t that what they teach in law school?

In this case the facts were:

Bertram Allen came out of the ring following his jump-off, where a FEI steward did the mandatory post-competition boot control. The FEI steward reported to the Ground Jury that Allen’s horse, Quiet Easy, had blood on the offside right flank.

In this case the wording in the FEI rule reads:

“Mandatory Disqualification

Horses bleeding on the flank(s), in the mouth or nose or marks indicating excessive use of spurs or of the whip anywhere on the Horse (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.)”

Reading the rule, it has three alternatives that can lead to mandatory disqualification:

1) Horses bleeding on the flanks, in the mouth or nose


2) Marks indicating excessive use of spurs anywhere on the horse


3) Marks indicating excessive use of whip anywhere on the horse

Alternative 1) is not connected with alternative 2) or 3), as there is an ‘or’ in between.

Then, submit the facts to the rule to analyse whether it applies. After this it’s time to conclude.

The questions must then be:

1) Was Quiet Easy bleeding?


2) Do the marks on Quiet Easy indicate excessive use of spurs?

The Ground Jury disqualified Allen after Quiet Easy had “presented with blood on the offside (right) flank” (which is the wording in the press release from the show organizers). That means we must be in alternative 1, right? We don’t have to visit alternative 2)? Or which alternative did the Ground Jury really use? The statement from the show organizers does not say. It only refers to article 242.3.1. in general.

If we are in alternative 1), because it is being referred to blood – lets look at the wording and the facts. The FEI has chosen the word "bleeding" for this paragraph. It does not say "blood". Is blood the same as bleeding? English is not our native language, so just to be sure we looked up the meaning of the word bleeding in the dictionary and found this: "Bleeding is a word commonly used to describe blood loss". Is “presented with blood on the offside (right) flank” in the category of blood loss? Perhaps you need to be not only a steward, but a nurse (or even better a vet) to qualify for an opinion.

These are the kind of assessments that go into interpreting a rule. So rules are not just rules. They are not black and white. They call for a person to apply them on the facts, and make own analysis.

Some of the very best and most experienced riders in the world were present when it all went down at Olympia on Monday. Their reactions show how their assessments differed from that of the officials.

So, how can it be claimed then that the officials did their job correctly? Do they own the truth to FEI rule interpretation?

One thing is for sure. The loser here is not Bertram Allen. It is the sport.

The FEI is supposed to promote equestrianism, and present their core values being such as fair play, equality as well as complicity with the animal.

Monday evening at Olympia did not honour these well-meant ambitions.

Let us be honest. The reactions in the aftermath of what happened at Olympia is not just about that one incident. It is about the feeling that fair play and equality are being cheated on. By those who are supposed to protect those very same values.

Text © World of Showjumping // Picture © Jenny Abrahamsson

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