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FEI Dressage: Blood Rule To Be Voted On

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   December 3, 2011 09:17

Blood rule to be voted on this weekend…

November 9th, 2011 at 11:42 pm

The FEI’s proposed blood rule will be voted on this weekend at the FEI General Assembly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There has been public outcry and heated debate about the proposed rule, which was released in June, with cries of animal cruelty and labelling of dressage as a ‘Blood Sport’. There are a number of conflicting views as to whether the rule is a good or bad thing but given the campaign in Europe it looks unlikely that it will be passed. Read on for a number of different viewpoints and let us know what you think…

Adelinde and Parzival

The proposed rule would mean that if a horse, at a top level Games or Championships, is seen to have blood anywhere on its body it can be assessed by an FEI veterinarian and if it is then deemed fit to compete, can restart its test. Up until now riders have been eliminated if there is any blood visible on the horse. While blood is not specifically mentioned in the FEI Rule Book for Dressage Events, the FEI has previously been able to refer to their all-encompassing rule that a reason for elimination is if: “the performance is against the welfare of the horse.”

The proposed new rule is as follows:
At top level events (Olympic Games, Championships and Finals for seniors), where FEI vets will be present at the warm-up arena, they would examine the horse and the test would resume if bleeding from minor injuries had stopped. If the bleeding had not stopped, the horse would be eliminated. Where vets are not present to examine the horse, bleeding would result in immediate elimination.

At the 2010 Lexington World Equestrian Games Adelinde Cornellisen was eliminated when blood was spotted in the horse’s saliva. Adelinde and her horse Jerich Parzival were tipped to win the dressage but had no grounds for appeal when they were stopped in their test. Once the horse returned to its stable the bleeding had stopped and after being assessed by the Dutch Team vet it was revealed that the horse had a very small cut on its tongue. Ground jury member at Lexington Stephen Clarke, who judged at C, said that informing Cornelissen that she was eliminated was “the worst moment of my career.”

The International Dressage Officials Club, the International Dressage Riders Club and the Association of International Dressage Event Organisers have all objected to the proposed new rule and have sent the FEI Dressage Board a clear message that they against the blood rule and want to promote a positive image for the sport of dressage.
This rule was proposed by the Dutch chef, Sjef Janssen, as a way to clarify the vagaries surrounding the rule, and allow riders at top-level competition a chance to compete if the injury would not cause the horse pain or inhibit performance. They did not predict the furore of debate that has raged among the world’s dressage riders, trainers, spectators and national committees; each with their own opinion…

Kyra Kyrklund – President of the International Dressage Riders Club

Kyra Kyrklund stated that the IDRC does not agree with the proposed rule: “Our viewpoint is that if there is blood in the mouth in the competition, the horse should be eliminated. The rider should have the right to appeal if he or she feels it was not blood and in that case have the chance to start again…I don’t think they should get a second chance if it is blood…The appeal is a right the rider should have. What if the judge is seeing something that isn’t there? In Kentucky they [the FEI stewards] felt the sides of the horses after the test with a white glove. One horse had sweat and brown from dirt, not blood, and the stewards were very upset until they figured out what it was.” Kyrklund also added that the proposed rule has practicality problems and would be hard to administer: “What about shows that don’t have an FEI vet “on guard” by the dressage arena all the time. What if the horse starting last in the competition starts to bleed? There are no pauses left, when should that one start again? And how much warm up time would be allowed for a re-start? What if the horse starts to bleed again, can it have a third go?”

Kyra Kyrklund

Astrid Appels – Editor of eurodressage.com

Astrid Appels has covered the controversy surrounding the rule on her website, and has linked to a petition started by Fair zum Pferd against the introduction of the blood rule, which has received more than 12,000 online signatures including major dressage figures such as Steffen Peters, Anabel and Klaus Balkenhol and Wilfried Bechtolsheimer. Australia’s Andrew McLean has also signed it. Astrid wrote that “Dressage might be on the verge of officially becoming a blood sport,” asking if the FEI Dressage Committee will “propose the IDTC-inspired rule which allows blood to taint our sport, or will sense for the welfare of the horse return to dressage?” Astrid went on to say that Sjef Janssen, in proposing the rule, believes that “medal potential and hard money are more important than animal welfare.” Astrid also accused Germany’s Sönke Lauterbach of preferring medals to horse welfare stating that he “decided to vote on a rule which promotes a negative image of the dressage sport allowing bleeding horses to re-appear in the show ring in order not to lose medal chances.”

Sönke Lauterbach – Secretary General of the German Equestrian Federation

Germany, one of the strongest competitors in international equestrian competition, initially planned to vote in favour of the blood rule but has now reversed its position. Originally Sönke Lauterbach was in favour of the rule: “This rule only works at Championships and not at other international and national dressage events…It is undisputed that a horse will only stay in the competition based on a veterinary diagnosis. The point is to distinguish a minimal injury from a real health problem. The welfare of the horse will remain the main priority. There are plenty of veterinarians at top events, which can guarantee a quick check-up.” However, following the outrage that swept through the dressage world, with claims of medal potential being more important than horse welfare, he stated that Germany would not vote for the blood rule to be introduced at the FEI General Assembly. Lauterbach explained that they reversed their decision as “we wrongly assessed the reactions of our athletes, judges, veterinarians and members about the so-called Blood Rule.”

Sönke Lauterbach

Sjef Janssen – Dutch National Trainer

Sjef Janssen, board member and former president of the International Dressage Trainers Club (who proposed the rule), considers the vitriolic outcry about the blood rule unjustified and the rule perfectly reasonable: “I don’t approve of blood, let that be clear. Blood is a signal that there is something wrong. In my opinion a specialist needs to step up and check what’s wrong, like in the proposed rule. To me it’s irresponsible and not good that one judge takes this decision. Firstly he’s a judge and not a vet and secondly it has to happen by someone impartial and knowledgeable.” In regards to the concern about the fairness of the rule – as it would only allow restarts at Championships and Olympics and not at lower levels – Sjef stated: “It’s not feasible to make this rule happen at all shows, but for shows where large interests are at stake, I think the installment of the rule is very justified.”

Sjef Janssen


Sissy Max-Theurer – President of Austrian Equestrian Federation

Sissy Max-Theurer indicated that Austria was still undecided about the controversial rule. “There were many discussions about it in the dressage world and I can see the problem from all angles, as horse owner, judge and show organizer,” she stated. “Personally I haven’t made a decision yet on the rule. In my opinion you have to find a rule that treats all riders equally and not only the senior riders at the Olympic Games, World and European Championships. I don’t find it fair. In principle, I favour that there will be a veterinarian at all national and international competitions who can judge from the warm up ring if a horse can compete or not. It continues to happen that a horse harmlessly bites its tongue or lip, without harsh involvement of the hands. In principle one has to be fair to the horse but also to the rider. I can imagine that a test could continue after a horse has been rung out for blood in his mouth and a check-up by a vet shows that it’s a minor injury. However this has to be rule at all shows and not just at championships.”

Chris Hector – Editor of The Horse Magazine

“It is pretty scary to find I’m lining up with Sjef, but on this occasion I agree with him. I guess all of us have at one time or another bitten our tongue, it hurts but it is a long way from your heart. It really was a pity not to see Adelinde and Parzival compete at the last WEG, and if – as the Dutch claim – the horse’s tongue had stopped bleeding by the time it got back to the stables, why then not let the horse compete? We are not talking about horses bleeding internally as a result of physical stress, we are talking about simple, minor accidents. We are not talking about horses being allowed to compete when they are bleeding but about horses being allowed to compete when they are not bleeding. The rule change was only proposed for major major events where expert veterinary advice is always on hand. The talk of the millions of people watching every second of dressage on television ready to desert the sport at the sight of a speck of blood is sheer fantasy – the sort of people who are interested in dressage know how easily horses can bleed in the mouth from very minor accidents. Obviously at this sort of event, the stewarding should be of such a high standard that there is no chance that the blood can result from rough riding. I think the proposed new rule was a sensible one torpedoed by an hysterical campaign that has as more to do with anti-Dutch sentiment than logic. I have spoken to a number of riders who privately agree that the proposed rule is a good one but they are unwilling to publically speak out because they fear they will be crucified on Astrid Appels’ eurodressage website and/or savaged by the formidable Kyra Kyrklund who seems quite obsessive on this issue. I have watched a couple of million (well it feels like that) tests over the past thirty years, and can recall two occasions when a horse was sent from the ring for a mouth bleed – one was an eventer, the other was Parzival at Lexington. Statistically it is highly unlikely that I will witness another ‘blood’ incident, but just imagine for a moment that next year at the London Games, Uthopia bites his tongue and it is bleeding when he enters the ring. They are immediately disqualified (I’m assuming that Astrid and Kyra will get their way) and despite the fact that five minutes later the horse is perfectly fit to compete, Carl Hester, and the British team are eliminated. I do hope Mesdames Appels and Kyrklund are around to explain why that is a good thing for dressage…”

Chris Hector

Mary Hanna – Australian Olympian

“It seems to me that the recent debate about the ruling, in regard to blood in a horse’s mouth has become highly emotional, and not always rational. The purpose of the rule should be to safeguard the welfare of the horse, and prevent any form of cruelty. It is also important that we have one rule for all. To have a more lenient rule for international competitions than national or regional competitions is very unfair. However, I think we need to get things in perspective. If I break my fingernail and it bleeds, I do not stop riding my horse, playing golf, or sailing my boat! If I bit my tongue, I wouldn’t stop either. Likewise for the horse there is a big difference between a horse accidentally biting his tongue, or having bleeding from the corner, or the inside of his mouth due to rough hands of a rider. A minor and accidental biting of the tongue should be easy for a steward to identify, as opposed to a mouth bleeding from rough riding. Surely a vet is not needed to identify this problem. Well educated judges, or stewards should be able to make an assessment of the situation, and prevent a whole team of riders being taken out by a small and inconsequential nick to the tongue. I notice in Europe debate over this issue has reached hysterical levels. Surely common sense can prevail. Stewards are educated to be on the look out for any form of cruelty, and this is a very good thing. Rough riding should not, and is not tolerated in our sport. I believe stewards and judges should be able to make an on the spot decision over this matter. If they decide the blood is only a small amount from a small nick, the rider should be able to continue. If the bleeding is more obvious and from the rider being too rough, then elimination should be the consequence.”