Proposed FEI 'Blood Rule' Causes Controversy

A new proposed Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) rule about the presence of blood on a horse during high-level dressage events is causing significant controversy. The governing body for international equestrian events issued a statement on the FEI website on Oct. 19 stating its position on the new so-called "blood rule," which is up for vote by National Federations Nov. 11-14 during the FEI General Assembly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The rule proposes that horses appearing with blood anywhere on their bodies--not just their mouths, as has been previously suggested by some media outlets--during a dressage event should be excused from the arena immediately, according to Trond Asmyr, FEI dressage director. At most levels, the horse and rider team would be eliminated.

However, in higher level events (which include the Olympics, World Equestrian Games, continental championships at Grand Prix level, and World Cup finals) the horse would be inspected by an FEI veterinarian upon leaving the arena. If the bleeding has stopped, if the wound is minor, and if the bleeding is determined to not be the result of a welfare issue, the horse and rider may return to the arena to either restart or complete the competition (with judging picking up again where the event left off), Asmyr said of the proposed rule. An example of a minor nonwelfare-related wound would be an insect bite, he added.

"The current rules do not specifically mention blood and, although it is covered in the General Rules about the welfare of the horse, the Dressage Committee felt that clarification would be beneficial," Asmyr said.

But this clarification could be "layering additional levels of inspections by vets," which might then be handled "inconsistently at different levels of FEI competitions," according to Kathy Knill Meyer, spokesperson for the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF).

The USEF rule on the presence of blood calls for immediate elimination of the horse and rider at any level of competition, according to their rule book. However, a clause of the USEF rule states, "Environmental causes such as insect bites shall normally not be cause for elimination."

"We believe the process we use in the U.S. works very well, and a similar process should be considered by the FEI," Knill Meyer said. Even so, the USEF is "monitoring the conversations" regarding the new proposed rule, she added.

The FEI proposed the "blood rule" in an effort to improve the rulebook, not correct or respond to a particular issue in the past, according to Asmyr: "The FEI is continually evaluating its rules. This represented an example where the rules could be strengthened, and the dressage committee decided to seize that opportunity."

What is strictly not in question is the welfare of dressage horses, according to Asmyr and the FEI statement. "The FEI has never, and will never, allow any horse with blood anywhere on its body to remain in the dressage arena," the FEI statement reads.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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