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JOC chairman Dominique Mégret: “We have to take strong decisions to ensure the sustainability of our sport”

Saturday, 13 March 2021
Interview

Photo © Fabio Petroni Dominique Mégret – chairman of the Jumping Owners Club. Photo © Fabio Petroni.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

World of Showjumping speaks with Dominique Mégret – chairman of the Jumping Owners Club – about the Club’s work over the past year, and the focus for 2021. 

The JOC provides a world-wide platform for horse owners from all countries, who have horses that compete at international two-star to five-star level –  Mégret explains. “And when I say horse owners, I mean the pure horse owners. All horses have an owner, and they come in different varieties: Breeders, dealers, riders… Then we have the pure owners – the people who own horses for the passion for the sport. This group is only a portion of all the owners.”

2020 – a challenging year

“Just like for the majority of those involved in the sport, 2020 was a very challenging year for the owners,” Mégret says. “Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many international shows were cancelled – nearly 85% of the five-star shows. As a result, the JOC decided to cancel our Longines Owner of the Year-award; we considered that the 2020 rankings did not have enough credibility. I know other rankings have been kept – such as the world ranking – but we were of the opinion that it would have no meaning to present the award under last year’s circumstances. It was not an easy decision to make, but in the end, we preferred to cancel – in close consultation with Longines and the FEI.”

“With so few big shows and little prize money to earn, last year ended up being expensive for many owners – especially those that have a lot of horses,” Mégret tells. 

“However, we considered ourselves lucky when compared to many other sports and hoped that the situation would improve in 2021. We looked towards this year in a positive way as there were many reasons to believe 2021 would show some signs of recovery. Not only because of the Covid-vaccines being rolled out, but also because our passion for the sport is stronger than ever, because we are hungry and our horses are fresh and ready to compete again,” Mégret continues.

“Unfortunately, we are now struck by a very aggressive strain of the neurological form of the Equine Herpes Virus which originated in Valencia. This epidemic is extremely serious and no one in the world can believe they are safe. Obviously, our first priority as the owners' organisation is to do everything possible to save our horses and bring this epidemic under control as quickly as possible. Owners are working closely with their riders to achieve this and we support all actions taken by the FEI, the EEF, the national federations, organisers and riders,” Mégret says. 

“When this epidemic is over, it will be necessary to take time to reflect, to see whether we have all collectively made mistakes and what steps can be taken to correct them. For that, we will all need to work together to improve health safety in competition stables, especially at large gatherings with horses from around the world, otherwise we will still face serious health problems in the years to come," Mégret adds. 

Getting the owners involved in the decision-making process 

“Looking towards the future, the JOC wants to continue to help the sport to improve while still protecting our horses,” Mégret says. “More than ever, our sport is at a crossroad. Over the next years, we have to take strong decisions to ensure the sustainability of our sport. And I believe owners play an important role in that decision-making process.”

“A key point for us this year, is to do whatever we can to help our sport to go back to normal. We will push and support the FEI, the EEF, national federations and organisers so our sport can go back to business as soon as possible,” Mégret says. 

“One of our other priorities, is to work as close as possible with the FEI Jumping Committee to be able to put a number of issues on the table and to have a say in the decisions that are being made,” Mégret continues. “The reason why we want to be part in this decision-making is that we consider that the horse is an athlete which is represented by its owner. Therefore, we are highly concerned about all topics dealt with by the Jumping Committee, as they all have consequences for our horses."

We would very much like to have an official owner representation in the Jumping Committee; just as the riders have their athlete representative, the horses should have theirs.

Striving for equal opportunities for everybody 

“Another important topic for us is the invitation system,” Mégret says. “We consider that the credibility of our sport is based on a simple principle: Merit over money. We should strive for equal opportunities for everybody. Therefore, we strongly support the current invitation system. Of course, this creates boundaries for the organisers’ possibilities to finance their shows. We believe this is an issue that needs to be addressed and it requires transparency. We strongly support the principle of meritocracy, and it has to weigh more than money does. However, we have to find balanced regulations that also take the organisers into account. That’s why the JOC during our last General Assembly took the decision to work towards an official position on paycards – and this will not be an easy task. Perhaps, we can’t even make a common point of view for all the owners. However, we cannot hide our faces in our hands because pay cards are indeed there – in many forms – and the best would probably be to find a balanced position that works for everybody. This requires some extra work though."

Full focus on horse welfare 

“Another issue we will keep working on is horse welfare,” Mégret says. “Much has been done in the past, but we see that the pressure from the outside is increasing extremely quickly – most of the time as a result of people not knowing what our sport is. That being said, whatever we think of it, we must consider that it is a major issue. If we don’t do anything, we take a big risk. I am pretty sure that if we stay passive, we will at one point – although I don’t know when – no longer be allowed to compete our horses, or even ride our horses. I am not sure everyone in our sport understands that though – or even cares about it because it’s something they consider to be far into the future and something that will not affect them."

It’s our opinion, that if our community is not able to deal with this issue – if we cannot demonstrate that our sport is clean, or that we take proper care of our horses – we will face a major threat.

"Furthermore, everybody needs to be aware that the bad behaviour of a few can harm us all. We cannot accept that horses are not well treated," Mégret says.

“That moves me to our next point: The matter of hind boots, which has been an issue of concern for the JOC for a long time,” Mégret says. “Regulating the use of hind boots is important due to horse welfare, fair competition, breeding as well as the image of our sport. Therefore, we always said that we are strongly in favour of changing the rules and we have supported the FEI from the start in the decisions taken in this regard. The regulations we have now, is a step in the right direction – we consider that we should not allow hind boots that have another purpose than to protect. We will continue to address this issue. Horses should jump at their level, without tricks.”

“Another point on the agenda is perhaps less important, but nevertheless we will address it. The FEI Awards are a great initiative, but we would like to see a Horse of the Year-award across all disciplines being added,” Mégret says.

Working for successful relationships between owners and riders

“Last but not least, about 1.5 years ago we started working on a list of advice and recommendations for owners on how to develop and maintain a successful relationship with the riders,” Mégret explains. “Now we have an official document to present to our members. Our goal is to assist those owners who ask for guidelines, and to help build long-term, quality relationships. Once again, every situation is different – ultimately each relationship is down to the owner and rider – but this document can probably help to make us understand each other better. Respect and transparency between owners and riders are key to create a successful relationship.” 

“Our sport is very emotional; horses create emotions in us – strong emotions, and sometimes even tensions,” Mégret continues. “Given the evolution of the sport, the prices on good horses, and the number of horses needed to perform at high level, the riders need motivated and dedicated owners, and they therefore have to try and understand their point of view.”

“We are heard, but never enough,” Mégret tells about the status of the owners in 2021. “The situation has improved; we have a good working relationship with the FEI and the FEI Jumping Committee – we are invited to participate – and we became associate member of the EEF at the end of 2020. With the riders, who are our natural allies, we have to work closely,” Mégret concludes. 

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping



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