You may have heard about the new FEI Rules for competing in International Events this year. They were rather sprung on everyone, creating specific problems for some riders and owners, who might have made different event choices last year had they known about the new rules looming, but for most one-horse amateurs they will make very little difference to your progression up the levels.
The whole point behind the new rules is that they increase the emphasis on the rider’s responsibility for deciding when they and their horse are ready to step up a level. The word “qualified” no longer applies, and is being discouraged – it is all about MERs. An MER is a Minimum Eligibility Requirement, emphasis on MINIMUM. Ideally you would have done more than the stipulated number of MERs, which is why most National Federations have added their own additional requirements at all levels. It makes sense to do more than the minimum, unless you are as experienced as, say, William Fox-Pitt or Andrew Nicholson! MERs aren’t just about XC performance… a satisfactory level has to be demonstrated across all 3 phases.
Because these are FEI rules, of course they only apply to CIC and CCI events, now collectively called CIs.
The FEI is adamant that the pathway for a one-horse amateur is still open all the way from the lowest levels of the sport to the dizzy heights of the Olympics and 4* events.
More emphasis is being placed upon MERs gained together, since statistics show that horses and riders who have progressed up the levels as a partnership are the safest.
The exceptions to this rule are Categorised riders. These have gained a high number of MERs at various star levels over the preceding 8 years. Realistically, to gain a Category you need a yardful of horses, it would be almost impossible for a one-horse amateur to get enough MERs to become Categorised. Uncategorised riders are, confusingly, called National Riders (even though they may have competed at many International events).
One really positive and very horse-friendly new rule is that a horse’s MERs are now for Life, they no longer expire after 2 years. So, if a horse is injured and has to miss a year or so, previous MERs still count. This is a great new rule, and means that experienced horses shouldn’t need to have unnecessary runs (as long as they got their MERs with their current rider).
The only exception to this is if a rider has 2 consecutive Eliminations at International competitions, or 3 within a 12 month period, on the same horse. If this happens there is a compulsory Reverse Qualification so that the rider must step the horse down a CI level the next time – which any sensible person would have done anyway! It’s just a safety-net in case ambition overrides sanity.
The Categorised riders are divided into A, B, C and D categories, of which A is the highest. Riders who have obtained MERs at 15 or more runs at 3* (including a minimum of 5 at 4*) in the last 8 years are Category A.
This group really are sitting pretty, because if they get the ride on, say, a new 3* horse their Category earns them a large degree of trust from the FEI, because it demonstrates competence over a number of years at a high level. Therefore they would need to do fewer runs as a combination with their new horse before going to a 3* or 4* event. Category B gives a bit of a bye for 3*, Category C for 2* and Category D for 1*.
Potential ramifications are that riders who produce horses through to the top levels then sell them, for instance to Junior and YRs, might have their business impacted. Owners may be more likely to give a horse to a high category rider, in order to avoid the horse having to do additional runs a lower level.
I was lucky enough, in my capacity as an Event Riders Association Director, to sit in on meetings with BE and the FEI at the Hartpury International Conference last Monday, so I have first-hand experience of how positively they are listening to ERA’s recommendations on behalf of the riders. Riders who represent ERA have already persuaded the FEI to soften the new rules slightly for this transitionary season only, requiring 15 MERs not 20 to gain a Category. Also, at ERA’s request, there will be a re-count and adjustments of Categories mid-season, but again just for this year.
The Home Page of the Event Riders Association website, www.eventridersassociation.org.uk contains an MER Matrix Calculator which lists all the FEI and BE (the NF of British Riders) MERs required for every level of CI. There is also a link to the FEI page with all current Categories listed for every rider, by country. Also, a Survey to complete if you feel that you are being unfairly impacted by the new rules, and finally an extensive and very clear Q&A page. which is well worth a read if you are intending to compete at an International this year or next.