Do rule changes change the way we ride?

Photo credit: SL Eq Sport Photography


Do rule changes change the way we ride?

I’ve been intrigued by the work of Equiratings, a company that not only analyzes data in our sport but also sparks discussions about the future of eventing in general. Their work has gotten me thinking about how the rules of our sport—what I’ll call the “rules of the game” in this article—impact the way we ride. An obvious example would be speeds on cross country: if speeds increased, riders would try to go faster to catch the optimum time and minimize their time faults. Another one (which actually happened) is the removal of the dressage coefficient at FEI levels, which has increased the weight of the jumping phases. Whether this has changed how people ride and train is tough to measure, at least at this point.

But one rule change that might be easy to track is time faults in show jumping. This year, the rules changed so that each second over the time allowed amounted to 0.4 time faults, rather than 1 time fault per second as it had been previously. (Note that in pure show jumping, each second over the time still amounts to a full time penalty, not 0.4). We don’t know why this rule changed.

Stalking scores from the first few events of the season, I couldn’t help but notice how many time faults people were getting in show jumping. Where it used to be expensive as a whole time penalty, it is now less than half of what it was, and I wonder whether riders are not caring so much about the time allowed (especially when scores are not tightly packed).



I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I do think that the rules of the game—in any sport—impact the way people play it. When the rules change, athletes’ behavior changes as well. If the three-point line in basketball were changed to the four-point line, surely Lebron James would take more shots from beyond the arc to maximize points. If it were changed to 2.5 points instead of three, he wouldn’t take many 2.5 shots, opting instead for the safer, closer shots. Rule changes change the way we play.

Of course, our horses don’t know when the rules change. They are just doing what we ask of them. It is worth noting that in eventing, the time allowed in our show jumping courses tends to be quite achievable. So why are people getting more time faults?

Equiratings seems to ask whether certain rules are “good” for our sport. Was the removal of the dressage multiplier good? Was the 50 penalty flag rule good? Was the 11 penalty frangible pin rule good? It is hard to judge these things objectively. But I do think that as riders, we need to be aware of how rule changes impact our psychology and approach to the sport. In the case of reducing time faults in show jumping from 1 to 0.4, I would argue that we should not become lackadaisical and inefficient in the show jumping phase just because time penalties are more lenient. It will be interesting to see how this rule change plays out—and if any events are won with time faults in show jumping that wouldn’t have been won under the previous rules.

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