Bertram Allen’s Controversial Disqualification Ignites International Community with Calls for Change in “Blood Rule” Decisions

Ph. Jessica Rodrigues/
Ph. Jessica Rodrigues/
Ph. Jessica Rodrigues/

Ireland’s Bertram Allen commented that he was humbled and amazed by the sweeping tide of support he’s received in the wake of his controversial disqualification from the Olympia Grand Prix on Sunday, December 21st.

Not for the first time this year, calls are being made for a re-examination of FEI practices. Stewards at Olympia ruled that Allen had violated the FEI “blood rule” when a small scratch was found on his horse Quiet Easy’s side during his post-ride boot and bit check.

Rather than administering Allen a yellow card or warning, the decision was made to invalidate his winning result and disqualify him from the competition.

The resulting reaction across the internet has been swift and continues to grow in its anger. A Facebook page “Stand Up for Bertram Allen” topped 7,500 members within 24 hours, and a petition in support of Allen swiftly garnered over 5,500 signatures within the same time frame.

Allen himself has commented that he will likely not pursue protesting the result further by demanding that he be reinstated to first place. Rather, the incident highlights what many say is an immediate need for the FEI to reexamine its application of the blood rule, which has been enforced in an inconsistent, and in what some view as an unfair, manner. For comparison in applications of the blood rule across other disciplines by the FEI in 2016 alone, see dressage rider Steffen Peters’ disqualification from the 2015 FEI World Cup Final for a spur mark, and an October incident in which blood was seen on Marilyn Little’s horse during an FEI-sanctioned eventing competition (FEI eventing rules differ slightly from jumping rules.) Little was not penalized for the incident.

Riders continued to take to social media to express their opinions on the matter:

“Hi Folks, I hope you’re all well? I’ve been taking a well earned break lately but I feel compelled to write a post about Bertram Allen. What happened to him the other night at Olympia was, in my opinion, wrong. To smash a talent like that with such a strict adherence to the rules is not consistent with the ethos of our sport or indeed the views of the vast majority of his peers. For me the question is: was the horse abused in winning the class? In my opinion, it wasn’t. Indeed, he rode the horse magnificently. I know people will say the rules are the rules and there’s logic to this argument. But the rule is clearly flawed and unable to prescriptively governed an aspect that quite obviously has to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

I refuse to believe that Bertram would intentionally hurt his horse to win. That’s just not the way the lad comes across.

To take his and Quiet Easy’s achievement and throw it aside in such a callus and condescending manner is pretty horrible and those of us that have competed know just how hard it is to win a class like that. It left a bitter taste in what was a great show.

I hope this incident leads to a sensible, practicle and knowledgable review of a rule that was exposed as unfit for purpose. And I also hope that Bertram takes all the positives out of his performance and comes back even stronger.

Keep Going Clear Bertram!
William Sheret MBE”

“We can’t keep disqualifying riders like this. There are worse things than just a little cut that we need to ban from the sport like riders who crash with their horses in the warm-up, keep pulling in the mouth, use bits that are way to strong and who torture their horses. Their have to be limits, but here they exaggerated. I also had a small cut from my spurs in La Baule but the judge just told me to be careful and protect it so it wouldn’t get worse. Now there are protective girths for the spurs, but you don’t have the same effect with those, you need stronger spurs if you use this.”
-Gregory Wathelet via studforlife/Equnews

“I think the FEI and the national federations have to take measurements at this level. There are riders who did worse things and who aren’t disqualified. The FEI lets rider start in 5* 1.60m GP who aren’t ready for this, who crash in the jumps. At this height the crack horses can’t save their riders who make faults. The FEI just let them do. I don’t understand what the problem was here, their have to be limits but here they went to far. The spur marks are quite new to the sport. This can be explained by the new hype to clip the horses every three weeks even during the summer since 4 years. I, personally, don’t clip my horses during summer because it’s a protection against the sun. Some horses get burned and their back hurts because of this. I don’t know if people think that if they clip their horse every 3 weeks, they will become stars. I think a horse has to stay a horse.
Coming back to the spurs, maybe they could have proposed that just like Marcus Ehning in Valkenswaard, he could have started the second round without spurs. Maybe that’s a better solution than to sanction someone. Personally, I would prefer to be a horse at Bertram Allen’s or Marcus Ehning’s stable than a horse of an amateur who pushes me into the jumps.”
-Philippe Le Jeune via Studforlife/Equnews

“Very sad about Bertram’s disqualification in Olympia after winning the Grand Prix. It’s important for officials to recognize and use horsemanship judgement as to how to make decisions like the one made when eliminating Bertram because of a tiny spur mark. He is known for respecting his horses and having a great name in the industry. Let’s look for solutions to the real problems and look closer at the professionals that abuse and neglect their horses and stop picking on the professionals that are well known for doing the sport correctly and clean. Situations such as the one from Olympia today make officials and horsemen riders work against each other, and create a sense of insecurity for riders regarding the officials that are supposed to act in the best interest of the horses and the sport. Officials and riders must join forces for the best interest of a clean and just sport that guarantees the welfare of the horses. “
-Daniel Bluman

“I feel for my teammate Bertram tonight who annihilated the opposition to win the Grand Prix. A general consensus among the top riders here is that the FEI rule needs to be reviewed regarding mandatory disqualification and in my view overzealous stewarding by one particular steward compounded by the apathetic actions of the foreign judge and president of the ground jury here, led to bringing the sport and this great show into the spotlight for the wrong reasons.”
-Cian O’Connor

“Why do the FEI not ban stewards that make huge wrong decisions and bring our sport into disrepute, that decision last night in the GP of Olympia was a disgrace! Bertram Allen is no doubt the winner of the GP Olympia 2015″
-Carl Hanley

A razor blade,is a very safe object, until you give it to a monkey, it’s like giving a steward, that knows fuck all, about horsemanship, a badge. Surely, discretion is the better part of vallor! Bertram Allen could not kick his way out of a bag made from rice paper, he is absolute poetry in motion. Bertram, l apologise for our idiots. Tonight you won the Grand Prix in absolute style, it was beautiful to watch.”
-Geoff Billington

“Horrible controversy. Bertram Allen was the clear winner. Even the “winner” said it himself. Hope the situation gets resolved.”
-Lucas Porter

Really feel for Bertram Allen after last night. It is blatantly obvious for everyone to see that EVERY horse he rides jumps their absolute heart out for him. For him to lose a 5* Grand Prix for what looks to be a tiny graze on the horses side from an obviously accidental nick by his spur during the round is truly cruel.”
-Trevor Breen

“I really feel for Bertram Allen and his whole team as he was robbed of his Grand prix victory last night. More worryingly i think its a bad direction for the sport to go in , i know Bertram and how he cares for his horses and as with most of us riders how he puts the horses well being and care in front of our own. Obviously Quite Easy was fine when he entered the ring (other wise he would not have been able to start) and during the round picked up the tinniest of nicks on his side (I’ve seen the photos). What officials need to realize is how much we love and care for the horses we work with every day but it is a sport and as in any other sport there are sometimes going to be some small grazes and scratches (horses at this level are just as competitive as the riders) , its very encouraging to see the support that Bertram has received and its up to all of us to not only protect our horses but also our sport.”
-Cameron Hanley