An old British music-hall classic reminds us that it’s a long way to Tipperary, and it transpires that Puerto Rico has a similar claim to fame.
Equestrian Sports New Zealand chief executive Vicki Glynn is no stranger to long-haul international travel, but even she admits the 33-hour journey to get there for last week’s FEI General Assembly was a challenge.
In all, she slogged through 66 hours of travel in just eight days, before notching up 17 hours of welcome sleep on her return home.
Glynn was not alone in finding that all roads do not necessarily lead to Puerto Rico. Her Asian counterparts reported similar challenging tales. Several felt it was a step too far and didn’t make it.
She had arrived in the vibrant and colourful Puerto Rican capital of San Juan to join delegates who had made similar pilgrimages from other corners of the globe for the annual FEI gathering.
Seventy-five countries were represented in person by their delegates and another 25 by proxy – a solid turnout among the 132 members nations – or now 134, following the admission of Angola and Bosnia and Herzogovina during the General Assembly.
General Assemblies provide a mix of issues that range from minor rule changes right up to the really weighty issues, which for this year centred around the FEI’s reform agenda.
The FEI is keen on streamlining, simplifying and repackaging top-level horse sports to provide greater appeal to spectators and media organisations alike.
Changes are planned at the highest levels – the Olympics and World Equestrian Games – to ensure that the disciplines appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
The International Olympic Committee is pressing on with its radical reform programme, Agenda 2020, which caps the number of athletes and officials at the Games while at the same time introducing more flexibility in the sporting programme.
Sports which fail to find favour among consumers – whether watching at the venue, on television, or online – could easily find themselves on a little “Games holiday” while other sports which are knocking on the IOC’s door get their chance in the Olympic spotlight.
Clearly, this means that sports on the lower tiers of the international stage will come in for greater scrutiny, and we would be naive to think that horse sport is immune from this scrutiny.
Eventing has been fingered by some as the most vulnerable, but broadcast data suggest that hours of grand prix dressage has yet to prove itself as a television sporting spectacle.
So, how did Glynn find the mood around the reform agenda? There is, she believes, a willingness for change.
The process is being led by FEI President Ingmar De Vos. “Because he comes from a national-federation background, he really understands what needs to be done,” Glynn says.
De Vos, she believes, is working collaboratively to ensure the equestrian programme remains intact for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and hopefully beyond.
He is acting smartly, she believes.
Understandably, talk of reform does not have universal buy-in. Some, she says, fear the Olympic reforms may be going too far. “There are traditionalists,” says Glynn, “like there are in any sport.”
However, even among the traditionalists, there is some recognition of a need for change in some elements. It is not necessarily a simple divide between traditionalists and those with a reformist agenda, she says.
Delegates heard reports from the technical committees in each discipline and considered some rule changes.
The International Dressage Trainers Club, for example, successfully advocated for a more stringent position over course errors. Previously, dressage riders could make three errors of course before being eliminated.
Now, in a rules update effective from January 1, one error in course will result in a significant marking penalty, and a second will result in elimination, excepting competitions involving children, juniors and pony riders.
Glynn makes an interesting observation:. Showjumpers have 15 minutes to walk a course, with the knowledge that one course mistake will see them eliminated. Yet Dressage riders, many of whom have been performing the current tests since 2009, still have a degree of leeway for errors.
Here’s a few snippets of interest for New Zealanders:
- Pakistan was admitted to Group 8, the FEI grouping centred on Asia and Oceania which includes New Zealand. Pakistan felt it was a better fit than its current Group 3 position.
- Glynn met with new Equestrian Australia chairwoman Judy Fasher and its high performance manager Chris Webb, as members of the Oceania federation, which is recognised by the FEI. We could be seeing some expansion of the federation soon, and closer collaboration on a variety of activities.
- Former Equestrian Sports New Zealand president Chris Hodson, QC, who stood down because of a move to London, was appointed to the disciplinary body, the FEI Tribunal. His appointment came as a result of a hotly contested election, with eight candidates for the five members of the tribunal. They join the sitting chairperson, whose position was not up for election.
- Hodson’s position as deputy chairman of Group 8, from which he had also stood down, was agreed by the national federations to be filled by incoming Equestrian Sports New Zealand president Richard Sunderland for the one year left of the four-year term.
- The FEI had proposed changes around requiring equine identification documents for minor international events (CIMs) as part of its reform agenda. These were passed in amended form because of concerns they may, initially at least, overload traditionally under-resourced smaller national federations with too much data input work. Their full implementation will now be effective from January 1, 2017.
- Kudos to New Zealand’s dressage committee. Delegates were asked to consider an FEI draft rule around the use of “fly hoods”. Dressage NZ had proposed an alternative and clearer wording, describing them more accurately as “ear hoods”, which was accepted by the General Assembly.