We have all seen in the news this week the surprising news of Mary King’s yellow card which was received at Bramham and along with the yellow card received less than a year ago at Le Lion means she is now suspended until the beginning of August.
Mary in her blog says ‘I have some very embarrassing news and felt I should let you know before you read it in the press. I received a yellow card at Bramham Horse Trials last weekend…I was given one last year and if you receive 2 within a 12 month period you are suspended for 2 months which means I am unable to event from now until August 9th.
The horse I rode at Bramham was disappointingly strong and unruly across country. I pulled him up half way around the cross country course and retired after we had jumped the first part of a rail, ditch, rail combination. He dropped his back legs on the first rail and the frangible pin broke. It felt dangerous and neither of us were enjoying ourselves so I thought it best to stop before we had an accident. The ground jury have interviewed me and said I should have pulled up at the fence before. They said because I am a high profile rider/role model for younger riders I should have been more sensible, and I received a yellow card for dangerous riding. I was completely shocked and devastated.’
There are photos which show the incident taken by RFM Equine Photos https://www.facebook.com/rfm.equinephotos.5/posts/318060195011085
They clearly show a frangible pin going through the horse breasting the fence and not dropping its legs on it like the statement mentions. We will never know what the outcome would have been without a frangible pin .
It is easy to come to conclusions that this is an unfair penalty to a ‘national treasure’ who has more experience than any of us could ever hope to achieve. But the facts are that two yellow cards have been handed out for dangerous riding by two different ground juries at two different events on two different horses. The only common factor was the rider.
The Ground Jury would not have made this decision lightly. They would also have been aware that there was another yellow card in the background which would mean that another yellow card could lead to suspension. Ground Juries are chosen on the back of experience and at 3* level they will have been involved in the sport for some time.
There is now a petition going round about this ‘unfair penalty’ but honestly how many of us can comment on this extraordinary event as we were not there to witness the riding and there are no videos? There were also black flag alternatives at this fence which the rider chose not to take and indications are that the ground jury was worried before this incident at the coffin came about on a horse who was in Mary King’s words being ‘unruly and strong’.
If you compare this to Oliver Townend who has recently received two verbal warnings within the space of a month for Badminton and for Tattersalls. It appears that Oliver Townend at Tattersalls was given a verbal warning because he apologised and then afterwards made every effort to find out how the unmonitored child who was in the middle of the galloping lane was when he got off his horse. The ground jury accepted that he had slowed down as requested to do by the official but not enough care was taken. The Badminton verbal warning for abuse of the horse with whip and spurs. Though Oliver Townend admitted on Badminton radio that the horse was lighter in weight than he had wanted and this might have impacted on the horses energy levels at the end.
It seems the crux of receiving a yellow card is all down to the concept of dangerous riding and this is what the majority of yellow cards are handed out for. Dressage and show jumping do not get this many yellow cards handed out, so it has now been taken as a tool by ground juries to raise rider awareness and teach riders to pull up before causing an accident which could change peoples lives.
Ultimately it is the riders responsibility to stay safe and to make sensible decisions regarding the horse and their own welfare. An experienced rider should make the decision earlier than a less experienced rider to pull up and come back another day when any issues have been resolved. It is easy for us to say this as amateurs or spectators but the truth is for a professional rider a lot can ride on getting on with the job, be these championships, qualifications, owner pressure etc.
Which brings me to my final thought. A very experienced friend who has ridden at 4* commented that ‘If stewards regulate to the point where riders are afraid to attack xc there will be some far nastier sights to come I fear.’ This friend has an excellent point. Ground Juries must be careful where this path leads us in handing out yellow cards. They cannot make examples of anyone or use them to prove a point. They must be carefully handed out for due reason. For me, cross country design has moved forwards in the last few years with more attacking and bold cross country, which as spectators we love to watch and riders we love to tackle. There will always be days where it is a slightly educational round to help develop the horse. The ground jury needs to make a clear distinction over what is dangerous riding and what is on balance a good round with a horse gaining in confidence but with one or two rustic moments.
Whether or not the yellow card was deserved, which led to suspension, this is an issue I feel we have not seen the last of and one I feel should be discussed in the open for riders education and in terms of fairness so that riders understand what constitutes dangerous riding. The FEI cannot be seen to be singling out anyone or handing out unfair punishments and there should be a clear difference in why they hand out verbal warnings and yellow cards.