A rule change is necessary for blood on cross-country. But let’s get it right.


Ruthie Meyer approached Eventing Connect to weigh in on the social media debate as a guest blogger and we were more than happy to oblige. At Eventing Connect, we respect all points of view and invite and encourage productive conversation that will make the sport better and Grow Eventing!
Take it away Ruthie….


A rule change is necessary for blood on cross-country. But let’s get it right.

Last week, there was a major social media debate about Marilyn Little’s horse RF Scandalous after it clearly had a bloody mouth while running around the cross-country phase of the CCI3* Fair Hill International. A competition, the pair went on to win.

I am married to Joe Meyer who rides for New Zealand. Joe has competed all over the world at many four-star level competitions included the 2008 Beijing Olympics. We watched the press conference online where Marilyn and Christian Landolt, president of the ground jury, explained what happened. We are not disputing that in this instance, at Fair Hill, that the FEI rule 526.4 was carried out correctly in this particular situation.

The rule states:
FEI rule 526.4: “Blood on Horses may be an indication of abuse of the Horse and must be reviewed case by case by the Ground Jury. In minor cases of blood in the mouth, such as where a Horse appears to have bitten its tongue or lip, or minor bleeding on limbs, after investigation the Ground Jury may authorize the Athlete to continue.”

However, we are scratching our heads over the fact that this is the fourth time in the last 18 months or so that this has happened to Marilyn Little with different horses at different shows with different bits.

Joe cannot remember a time in recent history, where he has jumped off of a horse after cross-country and there has been blood in the horse’s mouth. That being said, one may surface of him as he has been riding for over 30 years. Regardless, blood on horses should not be accepted as part of a regular occurrence in our sport. It is bad for the sport and obviously terrible for the horses. We are not seeing photos of Andrew Nicholson, Mark Todd, William Fox-Pitt or Michael Jung with blood in their horses’ mouths. These riders ride fast and competitively, going for the win on most occasions.

I don’t believe any upper level rider should be condoning or defending this. It is very bad for the image of our sport and creates more problems by denying that there is a problem.

So first and foremost, we think Marilyn Little owes the sport the courtesy of getting to the bottom of what is causing blood in the mouths of her horses so frequently. It could be bad luck. However, as a rider, she and her team should be thoroughly inspecting each horse’s mouth to find out where the blood is coming from and providing a proper veterinarian report with a go forward plan to manage her program better.

As a result of Marilyn’s frequent occurrences of blood in horses’ mouths, there has been a public outcry and a petition to change the FEI rule to a “no blood tolerance on cross-country.”

We do not agree that this is a logical route to take to try and eliminate one person with multiple offenses. The FEI rules for cross-country, provide some leeway to the ground jury because of the nature of the sport. We ask you, “Should a horse be pulled up for a minor scratch on a white sock as a result of a rub through a brush jump?” We don’t think many would agree that this would be a reasonable decision.

We do endorse a rule change to protect the horses and integrity of our sport as a result of Marilyn Little’s multiple reoccurring situations. However, a more fair and rationale change might include a demerit point system for blood on a horse regardless of the reason. In serious situations, obviously the horse would be eliminated. But for the minor blood infractions, like in the case of Marilyn Little, maybe after three occurrences and three demerit points over the course of 12 months, then a serious penalty should be imposed like a yellow or red card.

We believe we can manage our sport with common sense and excellent horsemanship if we can all just calm down and take a rationale look at the immediate problem and the long-term implications of a rash rule change. We must put a horse’s welfare first, but this can be done with a fair and reasonable solution without penalizing riders with great horsemanship.

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