Continuing the discussion of rules regarding the welfare of the horse, it’s time to look at the FEI “blood rule.”

While this is, indeed, yesterday’s news, the subject will be revisited this spring, when the Veterinary Committee presents its proposal for a general rule that is valid and applicable for all FEI disciplines.   The rule will be discussed at the FEI Sports Forum this April, for adoption by the General Assembly in 2012 and implementation next year.

The elimination of Adelinde Cornelissen of the Netherlands at the World Equestrian Games, brought the issue to the fore last year.  Her horse Parzival, who was found to have bitten his lip, was eliminated after bloody foam appeared in his mouth.

Currently, in FEI dressage competition, any visible blood on the horse falls under the purview of this simple guideline for elimination: “The performance is against the welfare of the horse.”

Cornelissen and Dutch coach Sjef Janssen are said to have believed that the elimination came under an existing FEI Dressage rule regarding blood.  (You might think that as a member of the FEI Dressage Committee, Janssen would know what the rules are but you would be wrong).  There is none.  There are, however, rules regarding blood for FEI show jumping as well as eventing.

Here is the FEI rule for Jumping which mentions blood:

“…in minor cases of blood in the mouth, such as where a Horse appears to have bitten its tongue or lip, Officials may authorize the rinsing or wiping of the mouth and allow the rider to continue; any further evidence of blood in the mouth will result in disqualification…”

Here is the FEI rule for Eventing which mentions blood:

Horses bleeding in the mouth, nose or limbs:  Such may be abuse of horse and will be reviewed case by case.  In minor cases of blood in the mouth, where a horse appears to have bitten its tongue or lip, or minor bleeding on limbs, after investigation by the Ground Jury may authorize the athlete to continue.

Janssen spearheaded a movement to create an FEI Dressage Rule regarding blood to bring the rules in line with these other disciplines.  The proposed rule set the following guidelines:  A test would be stopped if blood was seen anywhere on the horse…unless the test took place at the Olympic Games, World Equestrain Games, World Cup Finals and Continental Championships at Grand Prix.  Then, the horse could be removed from the ring and examined by an FEI veterinarian.   If the veterinarian determined that the bleeding was from a minor injury and the bleeding had stopped, the horse could resume competition.

The rule went viral, as did the petition opposing it, signed by over 14,000 people including legendary riders Steffen Peters, Klaus Balkenhol, Kyra Kyrkland, Walter Zettl and Linda Tellington-Jones.  The rule was subsequently withdrawn.  Curiously, when the proposal was first presented to the 133 national federations, seven countries responded in favor to it and only two responded against it.  Germany had a change of heart.  In an age when Twitter can topple established governments, the opinions not only of those in power but also those of the general populace, do matter.

In contrast to the rules of the FEI, the US Equestrian Federation directly addresses the issue of blood.  DR124n reads, “Evidence of blood on a horse in the competition arena shall be cause for elimination from the class by the judge at “C”.”

I raised the question last week of whether it is better to have a rule than no rule, and that remains my concern.  Since there is no mention of blood in the current FEI Dressage Rules, it is entirely conceivable that elimination might not occur if the current consensus is that some bloody foam in the mouth is inconsequential.  But is it preferable to have a rule that appears to condone blood on the mouth by allowing officials to wipe it off and wait to see if it continues?

Weigh in.  I’d like to hear what you have to say.

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