Olympia this year probably won’t be remembered for anything except the fiasco which resulted from the Monday night Grand Prix, where we waited for what seemed like an eternity to see who had won. The resulting fall-out from the disqualification of Bertram Allen, hit social media almost instantly.
I’m not here to debate the rights and wrongs of the disqualification, or whether or not this was really a horse welfare issue. My gripe is with the behaviour of professional riders who really should have known better.
The ‘blood rules’ are very clear: in the case of blood on the flanks, the stewards and Ground Jury have no discretion. None. If there is blood, the rider must be disqualified.
Geoff Billington’s comment on Facebook was both unfair and unprofessional, but he wasn’t alone, he simply posted publicly and the number of shares caught my attention. The stewards are not the people to blame here. For blood in the mouth they can take a view on whether or not it’s a welfare issue. For blood on the flanks, no matter how minor the rub, they can’t.
To take to social media and proclaim the issue lies with the stewards and Ground Jury is not only unprofessional, it is a complete waste of the influence professional riders can bring to bear on situations such as this. Top riders either sit on the governing body committees, or they know the people who do. They can influence the process by which the national federations lobby the FEI for rule changes. The stewards on the day can do nothing more than uphold the rules they are presented with – and that is as it should be.
Whatever you think about the rights and wrongs of this situation, the vilification of the stewards and the Ground Jury achieves nothing, and demeans the sport as a whole in the eyes of the general public. It is also grossly unfair to demand that they should not disqualify someone who broke the rules. This kind of public bullying of officials will result in people thinking twice before they take on these roles. I’ve never met a steward or a Ground Jury member who hasn’t been heavily involved in the horse world (though I’m not saying they don’t exist!), and if you put off the next generation from moving into officialdom, you’ll either lose the sport entirely, or you risk having people who know nothing about horses running these checks.
Professional riders have a unique platform, especially those at the top of the game. If they use it constructively, the sport progresses and is enriched. Use it poorly and it diminishes all of us involved in horse sports.