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The Voice of the Riders: Changing the format of the World Championships - Part Two

Tuesday, 06 December 2016
The Voice of the Riders

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson Gone are these days: The 2014 World Championship in Caen has turned out to be the last for the final of four with horse rotation. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

In World of Showjumping’s new series ‘The Voice of the Riders’ we will invite some of the top names in jumping to give their views as important questions and decisions concerning our sport arise.

With the recent changes made on the jumping format for the World Championships – that included removing the top four final and horse rotation between the riders – World of Showjumping decided to let this be the first topic of our new series, with this article being a runner-up to yesterday's first part.

All of the riders we have spoken to are former participants in the final of four at the World Equestrian Games, and here you can read about their view on the changes. 

Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER) – bronze medallist at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen in 2006 with her horse Shutterfly:

“As many people know, my own experience in the final four horse rotation in the World Championships in Aachen in 2006 was a very difficult situation for me. My horse Shutterfly was extremely nervous and upset. Shutterfly was – and is – a very sensitive and special horse. No other horse at any other World Equestrian Games reacted like he did. Many horses before and after him completed the horse change without problem. Therefore, I believe Shutterfly was the exception.    

That said, I remain in favor of the horse change. The rotation of horses is what has made the World Equestrian Games unique, and what has made the crowned World Champion so highly distinguished and regarded. It is the ultimate test of a great rider. Can he ride different kinds of horses? Or was he just lucky to have one good horse himself?  

This is not even to mention the excitement of watching the event itself. How can a rider feel in 180 seconds how to ride a horse around a 1.60 course? This is unimaginable to the public viewer and greatly appreciated by knowledgeable colleagues. I remember being a young rider and dreaming that one day I could make it to this uppermost culmination and ride with the very best in the world and ride their great horses! How exciting!!!

Without this finale, the World Championships is reduced to just another normal Championship—nothing unique, nothing special. I find it disheartening that the FEI is changing a highly regarded tradition and without even asking the opinions of the riders! They have forgotten and disregarded the most important players in the game. 

The new format without the table C on the first day also makes it extremely hard to differentiate riders’ results. Without a speed class, there are no fractions of penalty points to separate the scores. I am not sure how they intend to separate everyone. It seems that the courses would have to be so difficult (“do -or-die style”) or you will have too many ties leading to a large jump-off at the end. What a pity!  The World Championships would be reduced to just another speed class!

Let’s hope that with careful consideration those in charge will reconsider their changes. Let’s hope the FEI lends an open ear to the riders and the long-standing experts and supporters of this sport who recognize what an incredible and thrilling event the World Championships has been over many years. Please don’t let them take it away.”

Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA) – World Champion at the World Equestrian Games in Rome in 1998 with Gandini Lianos and fourth in Kentucky in 2010 with HH Rebozo:

“First of all, I feel lucky to have been able to compete in the final of four under the old format of the World Championship not only once but twice. It was a unique opportunity to be able to ride some of the very best horses in the world, such as Calvaro, Joly Couer and Hickstead – and I found it to be a great concept. For those that watched, it was also unbelievable – I will never forget Nick Skelton riding Jappeloup in Aachen in 1986.

However, I can understand the concern coming from some people when it comes to the horse rotation. That being said, I always found that the riders in the top four final were highly qualified and never had concerns about my own horses during the rotation.

It was a spectacular class for the public to watch. But, perhaps you can ask if it was the right way to crown a World Champion. So, I can understand where the FEI is coming from when they want to honor the partnership of one horse-and-rider combination and crown the World Championship based on this.  

I can live without the top four final. However, I find it much harder to accept the decision to remove the opening table C competition from the championship. Without this to distinguish the riders, I am afraid we will end up with a large scaled jump-off both for the teams and individually – and that it will end up like a rat race for the medals. I can easily imagine 8-10 riders in a jump-off for the individual medals under the new format. That is not how I think a World Championship should be.

The table C should remain, for many reasons. First of all, it lets the horses get going with a bit of ease. It is a speed class, so the course designer usually builds it a bit lower – which lets the horses get a good start before the difficulties increase over the following days. Secondly, it challenges the rider and the horse – you have to handle the speed format and then keep the horse together for the next rounds when it gets bigger and more technical. Furthermore, removing the top four final, they already took four rounds out so I don’t see why they should take the table C away as well. I would have opted for keeping that opening round, then have two days of team competition and two individual rounds. I also think the numbers moving on to the individual rounds are fine, with 25 for the first and 12 for the second.

From what I have understood, the riders are not that happy about this decision – and it will be on the agenda when the IJRC meets the FEI during the General Assembly in Geneva. Then it will be brought back to the table for discussion.

I understand that we have to keep our sport modern and up-to-date, but we have to be careful. I don’t think we should re-invent our entire sport for people sitting at home on their couch, following it on TV and finding it difficult to understand. Think about swimming: They still swim with two arms and two legs. Nobody has asked the athletes to swim with one hand because it makes the sport look more spectacular.”

Philippe Le Jeune (BEL) – World Champion at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010 with his horse Vigo des Arsouilles:

“I think it has always been very interesting and exciting with the top four final, and I don't think there has ever been a problem with the horses in the rotation. However, I can understand that people or some riders are against it, and I respect that.

For me it was a privilege to sit on these three other fantastic horses in Lexington, especially Hickstead.

The next World Equestrian Games should in my opinion be like they were, with the exception of the top four final which they can take away.   

The new rules from the FEI are not so motivating for the riders, knowing that if you have four faults you probably can go home after one round. I don't know which rider will do this after all that work and sacrifice to get to the World Equestrian Games, but that's only my opinion. Then I can fully understand that riders prefer to enter their top horses in shows where there is top prize money.

I do regret that the riders have no vote for all these new rules that the FEI is inventing, only the national federations have the right to vote but a lot of these federations don't listen to their riders.

At the end some people maybe try to do well for our sport, but this is also our living and the riders know better than anyone what is better for the wellbeing of our horses – we live with them every day.”

Beezie Madden (USA) – silver medallist at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen in 2006 with her horse Authentic and bronze medallist at the World Equestrian Games in Caen in 2014 with her horse Cortes ‘C’:

“I wholeheartedly agree with the FEI that the final four should be taken out of the World Equestrian Games.

Both times that I have participated in the final four, I have to say that it seemed like the real competition had ended after the two rounds on Saturday, and that Sunday was kind of a show for the crowds. I had to keep reminding myself that we were still going for the medals.

Besides, four more rounds on Sunday made for too many rounds in one week for the horses.

I also think that the days of the switching horses being interesting are over. These days, most riders ride in similar styles, and most horses are of a similar type. Gone are the days of the little thoroughbreds from the United States and the big warmbloods from Europe. Therefore, it is not as interesting to see who can ride what horse.

I think the new format will be fair to the horses and still provide us and the spectators exciting competition.”

Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) – competed in the final of four at the World Equestrian Games in Caen in 2014 with his horse Casall Ask:

“With the format changing, I will be the last 'loser' from the World Equestrian Games – ending outside the medals in the top four final – but that is the way it is.

It has been a tradition with the horse change, but there are so many factors that will play along in those few minutes you have with each horse. You have no time to think; if you get the right flow it works but if the smallest detail goes wrong you have no time to do anything about it. When I was in the top four final there were very good riders in it, and all of them behaved in the best possible way showing great sportsmanship towards each other. Jeroen’s horse SFN Zenith N.O.P. was quite difficult, and there were really stressful moments for him when the new riders got on. I was riding him as my first horse, and just following Patrice who rode a clear round on home soil. When the crowds started cheering and screaming, Zenith was cantering around his groom and I had no chance to calm him down during those five minutes I was on him before entering the ring to jump. But, that is the way it was and nothing any could do something about.

I thought they would keep the horse change, but put the number of riders in the final down to three so that all would be in the medals. However, the way the format has been changed it will be more fair and as a rider you will be rewarded for your performances and get the medal you deserve.”


Text © World of Showjumping // Pictures © Jenny Abrahamsson

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