I have been expecting a total furore over this new rule, but so far all seems pretty quiet about it, although Francis Whittington, former Chairman of the Event Riders Association, Tweeted about it a few days ago, and received quite a bit of support.
Hopefully there are lots of negotiations going on behind the scenes to try to get the F.E.I. to change their minds about this new rule, as recently happened with their new rule on permitted bits for the dressage phase.
I’m not sure whether most people have realised the possible enormous ramifications of this rule on frangible pins. It will potentially make a possible XC clear into a lottery. Of course, 21 penalties will ruin ones chances of gaining a placing, or an MER, however good a round you had.
It’s not just about careful horses not touching fences and therefore being guaranteed no 21 penalties. It’s also about which fences might have frangibles. If, say, a rail with a drop into water has a frangible on it, a LOT of very experienced horses will rap it with their hind fetlocks (<<< as seen in this photo) as they ‘let themselves down’ into the water a bit. This is a perfectly safe practice, in fact far safer than ballooning out too large over the jump and risking entering the water at too steep an angle.
Under this new rule, at F.E.I. events, if your horse hits a fence (not necessarily hard) and the pin breaks, you get the 21 penalties, no question, no “if it is judged that the horse would/wouldn’t have fallen” decision to be made.
Of course, IF you were the first person on the course, or the first combination to jump that jump after that pin was replaced, fair enough – the breakage is 100% your fault (unless “a clear mechanical failure has produced an unexpected activation of the mechanism through a light tap…“)
But what if one (or more) of the preceding horses hit that fence, but not hard enough to break/activate the frangible?
They get off scot free, but you get the 21 pens.
This rule has the potential to lead to a LOT of digruntled competitors and owners, and for Fence Judges and Ground Juries to be put in a pretty impossible position.
Andrew Nicholson had exactly this situation at Badminton last year on Nereo, when going brilliantly. His horse barely touched the fence into the New Pond, in fact commentator Ian Stark said “the horse hardly touched that rail, it shouldn’t have gone quite so easily”, but it broke (upsetting them slightly for the next upright, where AN was, very unusually, decanted). Apparently the previous horse had hit the frangible-pinned rail hard… but it hadn’t broken. Impossible to say what damage had been done, but probably enough that a very slight knock by the next horse made it drop.
It is impossible to judge which horse(s) do the damage in any given situation, unless the frangible pin is replaced after every horse (totally impractical, obviously – one class would take all day to run!) Or, unless some kind of force measuring device can be put on every frangible-pinned fence, to prove which horses hit it hard and which did not (and from which direction – i.e. downwards or horizontal, as this affects the frangible in different ways).
Of course, such devices would be very expensive to buy, install, and monitor.
I just cannot see how this rule can possibly be implemented fairly.
Here is the exact wording from the F.E.I. page (which is HERE if you want to see it in its original setting):
What do you think? Is this a rule you’re concerned about, or not? It may only be an F.E.I. rule at present, but B.E. frequently follows suit, so this could become a rule at B.E. competitions too, in which case it could potentially affect any rider.