FEI to Consider Changing World Games Freestyle Format That Could Benefit Europeans at Expense of North America, Other Nations

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Daniel Gohlen of Black Horse, the software company that developed the computer program for freestyle degree of difficulty and partnered with SAP to provide spectator judging apps. © 2017 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Feb. 25, 2018

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The FEI–the International Equestrian Federation–is reported to be considering a change in the format for the World Equestrian Games freestyle championship as the major American winter circuits wind up without the system being used because of assurances from the governing body of horse sports that it would not be implemented at Tryon.

The FEI Dressage Committee is reported ready at its meeting this week to recommend a change of mind on the use of the computer-aided “degree of difficulty” program for the WEG that would provide an advantage for western European riders who have been required to use the system in qualifying for the World Cup Final in Paris in April.

Anne Gribbons, a former United States team coach and member of the FEI Dressage Committee who will be president of the ground jury at WEG in September, has spoken out against the possible change.

“My sole concern is that the countries outside of Europe have had little to no opportunity to actually put this system into practice,” Anne told dressage-news.com after a FEI 5* judges annual meeting. “We were told that it would not be used for WEG this year, and then I found out at the judges’ seminar that the thinking is changing, halfway through the qualifying season.

“This does not present a level playing field for competitors or judges living outside of Europe. I thought it essential to make this point now instead of waiting until the decision is made in April to apply it to the WEG in Tryon and run into possible complaints or protests during or after the WEG.”

Several prospects for Canada and the United States teams that could make it to the WEG freestyle–including five of the top 10 combinations on the American WEG rankings–have had no experience with the computer system as they were not competing Big Tour when the system was first implemented in 2017.

Thomas Baur, sport director of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival with seven weeks of CDIs including four World Cup qualifiers in Wellington, Florida said he had asked the FEI in November for clarification on use of the system at WEG as it involves extra costs. A similar situation applied with the newly created West Coast Dressage Festival in California that also included for World Cup events.

The FEI gave assurances that the system would not be implemented at WEG.

However, some western European riders met with FEI Dressage Committee chairman Frank Kemperman at Amsterdam a month ago and left with the impression that the decision on the system would be reversed.

Anne Gribbons. File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The system was created at the request of the FEI by German 5* dressage judge Katrina Wüst working for two years with Daniel Göhlen, a software developer from Munich, Germany. Daniel’s company had developed a spectator judging application that has since been merged with one produced by the German software giant SAP. The app is used throughout the world as a revolutionary step to engage spectators in the sport.

The computer program has been considered a breakthrough in transparency that makes more easily understood standardization of marks for movements that have specified degrees of difficulty.

While the ease of use has won praise, familiarization with the program enables riders and trainers to tweak freestyles by incorporating movements to earn higher marks.

The system has been mandatory for the World Cup Western European League for the past two years. It was implemented in Wellington last year in preparation for the World Cup Final in Europe.

However, with the position of the FEI ahead of the four-event circuit in California that is now finished and with the fifth of seven CDIs in Wellington this week, American and Canadian riders as well as competitors from other nations have not been able to use it.

After the end of the Wellington circuit in late March, only the WEG test event in Tryon in April and a handful of small CDIs in California and Texas remain in the championship qualifying period.

Daniel Göhlen, the software developer, reported that the system will be in use at the ninth and final World Cup Western European qualifying competition in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands next month, the Paris Final in mid-April, the Sydney CDI3* in early May, Fritzens, Austria and Aachen, Germany in summer.