Under Pressure: The FEI Ground Jury Responds to High Occurrence of Blood Rule Violations at Rio

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N
icola Philippaerts of Belgium was disqualified due to overuse of spurs during Round 1 of the Rio Olympic Games.
Nicola Philippaerts of Belgium was disqualified due to overuse of spurs during Round 1 of the Rio Olympic Games.
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After the first two Individual Qualifier rounds of at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the FEI found a total of four riders to be in violation of Article 242.3.1 of the FEI Jumping Rules, also known as the “Blood Rule.”

During the last 12 months of international show jumping competition, less than three top-level riders were found to be in violation of Article 242.3.1, so to see four riders disqualified over two rounds of a championship was highly unusual.

“The number of four is a bit much; we would liked to have had less than that,” said Stephan Ellenbruch, President of the Rio 2016 Equestrian Olympic Ground Jury. “We see that riders are under very much pressure here and maybe they are over using their spurs and whip a little bit. This can happen.”

In the Individual Qualifier Round 1, Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts and Zilverstar T were disqualified for Philippaerts’ excessive use of the spur, following a second stop at fence 11B. In addition, the Netherlands’ Jur Vrieling was visibly in violation of the rule after his excessive use of whip at fence 11A on his horse Zirocco Blue.

In the Individual Qualifier Round 2/Team Qualifier, Ukraine’s Cassio Rivetti and Fine Fleur Du Marais completed the course, with just a single rail coming down, but following the boot inspection, traces of blood were found to force disqualification for excessive use of the spur.

The same fate befell Brazilian rider Stephen De Freitas Barcha, after he delivered an 8-fault round for Team Brazil aboard Landpeter do Feroleto. While Vrieling received the opportunity to ride again for team competition, Philippaerts, riding at the Games as an individual, could not. And after two more refusals in the Team Qualifier, Vrieling voluntarily withdrew from the Team Final.For the two riders disqualified in the Team Qualifier, neither rode again. Team Brazil competed in the Team Final with three riders while Team Ukraine failed to qualify for it.

“We had no place that anyone did this on purpose or with intention to do something to their horse,” Ellenbruch added. “Sometimes it just happens but we see a certain tendency, and the tendency is that there are horses with very short hair and very sharp spurs and this combination is dangerous—simple as that.”

“It’s not only the headline of the FEI rules, but the main philosophy of the FEI that the welfare of the horses is paramount.”

From the black-and-white application of the “Blood Rule,” riders are quickly realizing that they must take further precautions to avoid spur marks. At the start of the 2015 season, Equifit introduced its BellyBand, which is growing in popularity with top riders at international events.

“The good news for today that I can say—that I’ve very happy about—I just had a chat with the steward who was in charge of that and she confirmed to me that today a lot of riders have changed their spurs and obviously it worked very well,” added Ellenbruch, at the close of the Team Final. “More and more riders are protecting their horses [using the spur rub saddle pads] and things like that. I’m happy to see that the huge majority of the riders do everything to protect their horses.

“Then there are sometimes cases like we had where this happens and you have to take action. It’s not only the headline of the FEI rules, but the main philosophy of the FEI that the welfare of the horses is paramount.”