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Alicia Aitken-Store: "Help, Prevent, Intervene" – or?

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Photo © Sportfot Alicia Aitken-Store and Capellini II competing at the Longines Global Champions Tour in Paris. Photo © Sportfot.



Introduction by World of Showjumping



According to the FEI Stewards Manual for Jumping, the FEI Stewarding Motto is: 

"Help, Prevent, Intervene" 

The introduction to the FEI Manual for Jumping Stewards, reads: 

“2. Fairness by means of a good FEI Stewarding Programme 

International equestrian competitions have developed in recent years to a point that stewarding is now one of the most important aspects of any event. The steward is called upon to make quick, informed judgements and to intervene in situations that require an official, authoritative but fair reaction. In line with most activities of equestrian officials, knowledge of accepted behaviour and of the rules and regulations combined with experience and common sense provide for the best stewarding. 

From higher level events where top professionals compete down to lower level events with up and coming competitors, sometimes riding borrowed horses, the services of qualified stewards are essential. Up and coming competitors often imitate the well-known experienced competitors, and proper training methods and behaviour are frequently learned by example. The stewards’ principal aim is to endeavour to ensure that competitors participating in events do so with the utmost respect for their horses, officials, the public, their fellow competitors and all those involved in the sport. 

While no two events are alike, stewards should always make fair and considered decisions. The FEI Chief Steward must be aware of the standards at each event and should always aspire to help raise the awareness of competitors and officials alike. The welfare of the horse is paramount.”

Two weeks ago, at the Longines Global Champions Tour in Paris, amateur rider and horse lover Alicia Aitken-Store competed in the CSI1*. On Sunday 7th of July, following her round in the 1.15m speed final, Aitken-Store was eliminated as her tack was not in accordance with FEI rules. Aitken-Store was riding with two martingale stoppers on each rein, rather than the one that is permitted – a rule that has to be looked up in the FEI Stewards Manual Jumping Annex XV ‘Tack and saddlery guidelines’.*

Here, Aitken-Store shares her experiences from Paris – asking whether or not a situation like this should cause elimination, if this was stewarding as it should be and if the FEI officials should not focus on far bigger welfare concerns in the sport than tiny rubber martingale stoppers? 



By Alicia Aitken-Store



During the first weekend in July, I competed at the amazing LGCT Paris, one of my favourite shows I have ever been to.

The show organisers make the biggest effort to ensure that the show is one of the best in the world for both horse and riders so huge congratulations to the GCT and the OC of the show.

But on Sunday my show came to an end on a very negative point. I finished my 3rd and final round of the show with my mare Cappi, she had jumped clear in the small 1* speed final. As I left the ring a steward approached me, stopped me and told me I had broken a rule with my bridle and I would be eliminated.

I rode with exactly the same tack everyday in the warm up and in the ring and at no point was told of a rule break before this point.

As you can see from the photograph (below), two stewards watched me walk to the ring, including the female steward who informed me of my elimination which is worrying and frustrating that neither of them noticed on any of the previous days.

Above: Photos from Alicia Aitken-Store's private collection, the first of which illustrates the tack that caused elimination.

She watched me warm up and walk to the ring on all 3 days then on the final day allowed me to jump and then eliminated me.

When she told me, I had broken a rule and would be eliminated, I did not argue, I did not disagree, I simply asked her to explain the rule as I was totally unaware of it. She replied that she was not going to go through the rules with me. I asked again for clarification so that I can avoid ever making the same mistake again and she told me and my trainer that she was not there to discuss the rules.

How am I supposed to understand the situation when the official will not communicate with me and ironically the FEI steward motto in the FEI handbook is “help, prevent, intervene”! 

When I returned to the stable after trotting my horse off, I approached another steward (who happens to also be in the picture) and asked him if he could tell me from my bridle why I had been eliminated, he couldn’t as he wasn’t aware of the rule I had broken.

My round on Sunday was clear but not fast enough to be placed or even receive prize money so my motive for making this public is only that I feel some people have lost sight of the essence of their role in the sport.

For the interest of saving some other poor competitor falling foul of this rule, here is the exact wording from the FEI rule book….

Jumping Rules Art. 257.1.3: "Only unrestricted running martingales may be used, except for horses in Children’s competitions."

As you can see from my photograph (above), my mare is not restricted, she rides with her head quite high, so I have the martingale/rein straps long. If the rein hoop went further down the rein, it would get caught on the leather notches and then that is actually restrictive.

But although I think the rule is VERY unclear and worded with a lot of room for catching people out, I actually accepted that I was eliminated. I feel sad for my mare that she jumped clear and now has an elimination on her record but we didn’t win or get placed so its not the end of the world and I will get over it.

What is the worrying and upsetting thing about this situation for me and the sport is that whilst the FEI and stewards are focusing on eliminating people like me, wasting time arguing about rules regarding tiny little rubber stoppers, they cannot be focused on far bigger abuse and welfare concerns in the sport.

One prime example in recent weeks….. I have seen all over social media a very well-known top level rider receiving a lot of negativity for choosing to run his best horse (which had just won a 5* 3 x round GP just before) round the Calgary Derby during which the horse looked exhausted and had 5-6 fences down as he kicked and whipped his way round the whole course. He later released an apology for his poor decision and how he regretted putting the horses welfare in jeopardy but only after being publicly shamed for his behaviour…….where were the FEI stewards at the gate to eliminate him for this?

Has he been eliminated post class after admitting he did wrong by the horse?

How can we, as competitors have respect for the individual stewards and their decision making for managing the sport when examples like these are right in front us?

How can we have respect for the system and the individuals who run it if they make us feel like they want to catch us out and take pleasure from punishing us on some sort of power trip over trivial things like rein stoppers in an already challenging, highly expensive and difficult sport when the stewards are not even clear of the rules?

As an amateur rider and animal lover, I try my hardest to care for my horses not just to the best of my ability but to the best level possible and the fact I am punished harsher than a professional competitor who actually knew, what he was asking of his horse, was not in the interest of its welfare, is actually offensive to me as a person.

My point is…..

a) should it be elimination for a situation like I had? As you can see from the photograph, my martingale is long enough not to cause restriction, the second rein stopper is not causing harm or giving me some sort of advantage over the other riders (I was one of the slowest clears in the class so hardly a secret weapon/advantage to success) and is more for safety and comfort of my tiny necked mare who rides with her head high.

So would it be better to give an advisory notice to the rider that at the next show, tack will be checked to ensure they have altered it. Then if advisory note has been ignored then yellow card/elimination?

b) should the FEI and the stewards be focusing on actual welfare issues? And should the stewards be regularly sent on training courses not just to update them on the rules but on conduct and communication so that ultimately, they treat people with respect and not enjoy the power trip the job gives them when enforcing rules in an aggressive and unpleasant way?



*Editor’s note: The rule in question can be found in the FEI Stewards Manual Jumping Annex XV ‘Tack and saddlery guidelines’ sec. 5, that reads: “Only one martingale stopper per rein is allowed. The stopper must be positioned between the ring of the martingale and the attachment of the rein to the bit, hackamore or bridle.”

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