A regular columnist for Eurodressage, IDRC secretary-general Wayne Channon attended the inaugural FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne where the very "Blood Rule" was up for discussion by the FEI Veterinary Committte. Wayne provided a debrief of the forum focusing on the aspects important for dressage.
FEI Sports Forum Gives Directions to FEI Dressage Committee on Blood Rule
The first ever FEI Sports Forum was held in Lausanne over the last 3 days, 30 April to 2 May 2012. It featured show jumping, eventing, endurance and veterinary. All of these technical committee have a major rule change to be presented at the FEI General Assembly this year and thus were presented at the Forum. Dressage will be featured in 2013 as we have a major rule revision to be presented at the 2013 FEI General Assembly.
Whilst dressage did not feature, the most relevant was the veterinary session which was interesting and very relevant. The main points covered were:
- 2013 Veterinary Regulations Changes
- International Movement of Horses
- Blood during Competition
- Cloning and Progeny
Of course, the highest profile issue has been the “blood rule”. As Frank Kemperman pointed out, we have to rename this to the “Elimination Rule”. Whilst not as emotive a title, I agree with his sentiment - it is about horse welfare not just about blood.
I take my hat off to John McEwan and his team, they nailed the issue from a veterinary viewpoint. Their statement at the forum was clear and works for all horse sports:
"The Veterinary Committee at a meeting on 6-7 February 2012 discussed this issue.
If a horse exhibits a sign that may indicate that it is no longer fit to compete during a competition then it is the responsibility of the Ground Jury to stop the horse from the competition. After an assessment made by the Veterinary Delegate and Ground Jury, if bleeding has stopped and the horse is fit to continue to compete, then it may be permitted to do so if this is possible within the structure and regulations of the discipline. If a restart is to be permitted then consideration will be need within the discipline structure for the fairness of the sport. A recommendation was made that where there is structural need for a discipline regulation that these are reviewed and harmonised as far as possible.
The welfare of the horse must be paramount in any decision taken."
Dissecting this into the main points:
- 1) If a horse has a welfare issue (eg blood or lameness) then the Ground Jury must stop the test.
- 2) If upon inspection by the Veterinary Delegate the horse is deemed fit to compete then, as far as the vet is concerned, the horse may compete. It is not their role to say whether a horse should compete, just whether it is fit to compete.
- 3) Whether a horse should then compete is up to the disciplines concerned.
This very sensible view seemed to be in complete agreement with the National Federations present with only one National Federation suggesting that all disciplines should have the same response to point 3: "Whether a horse should then compete..” This viewpoint was not supported at the meeting as it is illogical that every discipline should have the same rules in this respect. Of course each discipline should have the same ethical policy but has to consider what is possible within its practical constraints:
- practical considerations - just look at the difference between jumping and dressage - jumpers are in the ring for only 40-45 seconds. If a horse knocks itself then is is hardly a delay to the competition to restart that particular round. In dressage, we are in the ring for 6-7 minutes - it is a major organisational issue to restart the test and fit in 6-7 minutes during the competition.
- level playing field for all competitors - if a horse has a problem and is the first to go, then it will have more opportunities to restart than the horse that goes last
- public perception - as the sport that claims, rightly, to be the pinnacle of harmony and lightness we set higher standards for self-carriage than any other equestrian discipline. If blood is seen anywhere near where a rider has contact with the horse (mouth with the bits and flanks with the spurs) then this should be seen as a severe problem and judged accordingly.
It is now up to the Dressage Committee to decide the best rule for dressage and I am sure they will consider the views of all the stakeholders in this respect.
The other issue, and one that I had not considered before, was should clones and/or their progeny be allowed to compete.
It was raised so the National Federations should consider it and no conclusion was presented.
Going back to the 2007 FEI General Assembly, it was decided that the FEI would oppose cloned horses competing on the basis that it goes against one of the FEI’s basic objectives “to compete in international events in fair and even conditions”.
This again shows that the FEI Veterinary department's prescience and well preparedness in what will become (even if it is not today) a significant issue.
My view is that cloning is very different from genetic enhancement. A clone is supposed to be an identical genetic copy not a performance enhanced version. It is artificial performance enhancement that is unethical (by todays standards). The fact is that clones are not identical, they are only 98% identical. When you consider that chimps are 98% identical to humans (depending on which scientist you believe it could be 95%) then a 2% difference between horses implies there is no significant performance enhancement with cloning.
From a practical viewpoint, can the FEI legislate this? To get an FEI passport, a horse does not need a pedigree. So, if you bought a cloned horse you could get an FEI passport and compete so long as you didn’t tell anyone that it was a clone.
What do you think? Should cloned horses be allowed to compete? If not, why not? They won’t look like or perform like their genetic donor.
The full details of the Sports Conference are available online.
-- by Wayne Channon
Photo © Astrid Appels