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New F.E.I. Rule – The Stealthy Gamechanger? Automatic 21 Penalties for Breaking a Frangible Pin.

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.

Screen shot 2015-01-27 at 09.00.59Hopefully 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.


Screen shot 2015-01-27 at 09.27.26I’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.

Screen shot 2015-01-27 at 09.26.56Hartpury 2* last year (as pictured >>>) had exactly this situation, with a frangible pin on the drop into water, and there were many holds on course to replace that particular pin.

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.

Screen shot 2015-01-27 at 08.54.37 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):

Screen shot 2015-01-26 at 19.48.36



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.



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  • I think it’s one of those damned if you do / damned if you don’t situations.
    I agree it is totally unfair to have an automatic 21 penalties, with no appeal allowed.
    However, some riders will automatically appeal, even when it looks obvious they would have fallen without the pin breaking.

    At the big events, where there is video evidence to refer to, then maybe a considered opinion can be reached, but at the smaller FEI events ( & most national ones)….it could come down to an inexperienced jump judge, who might feel under great pressure.

    The only solution I can think of would be to set up a small continuously recording video device at every fence with a pin, so that video is available in all cases.Not cheap, but not hideously expensive these days? This could also help with those right/wrong side of the flags decisions! Great sponsorship opportunity??

    A less technical idea could be to only penalise those who hit the fence with a foreleg, not a hind leg….but again poor jump judge, & not really a fair solution.

  • exactly the point I made several weeks ago – steward at every frangible obstacle, or better still a properly placed camera(s), or even better, rely on the fence judges to make the unenviable decision which will be unfair and unreasonable and unrealistic.

  • As a specialist in fatigue failure in metal alloys I will be happy to take any pin and look at it to verify it was a purely ductile failure (a single hit). It is VERY, VERY, easy to simply look at the fracture surface to tell if there has been multiple hits. And, this is all held up in courts of law across the world. This is a horrendous rule with no real aforethought going into it made by uninformed people.

  • I think this rule is a great idea. I’ve seen may riders get off Scott free because of the pins and it will encourage riders to approach all fences carefully regardless of the fence setup

  • With respect, Sarah, did you read the article? This is not about riders riding recklessly and breaking pins, but about pins possibly breaking slightly randomly and potentially the wrong person (whose horse did not hit the fence hard enough to break a pristine pin, perhaps) receiving the 21 penalties.

  • Unless the pins can be replaced or checked for damage inbetween every horse and rider combo this rule seems a bit ridiculous.

  • This rule Is ridiculous definitely more of a reason to be the first rider over a course. I’m very disappointed in this rule and the acceptance of it.