Drastic Change in Dressage Error Rule Center of Controversy at FEI General Assembly–Correction

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Color Carl' Hester's medal gold and Adelinde Cornelissen's silver if a proposed three per cent error of course deduction had been in effect at the 2011 European Championships' Grand Prix Special. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Color Carl’ Hester’s medal gold and Adelinde Cornelissen’s silver if a proposed three per cent error of course deduction had been in effect at the 2011 European Championships’ Grand Prix Special. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Nov. 9, 2015


A punishing increase in penalties for going off course in international competitions that could change Olympic and championship medals has sparked a controversy for the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) annual meeting that opens in San Juan, Puerto Rico Tuesday.

A deduction of three percentage points for the first error of course from the total score to elimination for a second error has been proposed by the FEI Dressage Committee to the 132-nation General Assembly that governs international horse sports.

The penalty would apply to all levels of international competitions–from children and ponies up to the Olympics, but is strongly opposed by the powerhouse dressage nations of Germany and the Netherlands, as well as riders and judges.

Other issues include proposals to:

–Require protective headgear for all riders up to the age of 22 (Young Riders) at horse inspections in addition to being mounted;

–Ban display of individual judges’ marks on scoreboards during a ride but restricting the mark to a running total, and to prevent individual marks of judges for each movement from being available on the Internet until the score is confirmed, and

–Several changes to equipment.

The change proposed by the six-member Dressage Committee in error penalties could have a dramatic impact compared with the current format of a deduction of two points from each judge for the first error, four points for a second error and elimination for a third error.

If the proposed rule had been in effect at the 2011 European Championships, according to calculations by dressage-news.com, Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival would not have won gold in the Grand Prix Special, but instead would have gone to Carl Hester and Uthopia of Great Britain.

The score for the Dutch combination of 82.529 per cent was reduced to 82.113 per cent with the deduction of 14 points–two from each of the seven judges. However, if the three per cent rule was in effect, Adelinde and Parzival would have a total of 79.529 per cent. Instead of silver, Carl and Uthopia with 81.682 per cent would have received gold and Adelinde the silver.

The 2013 European Championships’ Grand Prix Special was memorable for the top three combinations all committing one error of course–Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro taking gold, Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill silver and Adelinde and Parzival bronze.

However, the three per cent rule would have altered the outcome.

Gold and silver would still have been won by the British and German combinations, respectively, but Edward Gal on Glock’s Undercover who placed fourth with 79.479 per cent would have taken the bronze from his Dutch team mates whose result with the deduction would have been 78.964 per cent.

In addition to Germany and the Netherlands, other nations saying they will not support the draft change include Australia, Italy, Switzerland and the United States as well as judges through the International Dressage Officials Club. The International Dressage Riders Club and the International Dressage Trainers Club are in favor.

“The proposed change may indeed add drama to the sport,” the judges group said, “but we feel this is the wrong kind of drama as we could have horses eliminated for fairly trivial reasons: the nature of the sport is to demonstrate the rider’s ability and the quality of the training of the horse; it is not a test of the memory of the rider. Also, this is not in line with the general policy to avoid elimination whenever possible.

“Should a change to the rule be necessary, we feel that the proposed punishment is out of proportion. A rider that aims for a 80% score would need to book at least 15 9s just to compensate for one momentary slip of memory.”

Comments from others ranged from “harsh” to ” too strong” and could “cost dearly” in team competitions. The U.S. complained about the difficulties of parallel systems–national with the current penalties and international with the newer punishment.

Correction:  The International Dressage Riders Club board is in support of the change. An earlier version reported that the IDRC was opposed.