This jolly jape has to end, FEI; let’s get it right


English has never been my strong point, which is why I have spent an unremarkable career in journalism.

With English being an inherent weakness, I’ve tried not to be too pedantic. I have never considered myself a ranking member of the grammar police, even though I spend a couple of days each week putting together a newspaper.

The reporters whose copy I change may take a different view, however.

Like many readers, I’m a regular visitor to the FEI’s website.

The graphic which appears below has been gracing the front of for a little while.

A graphic on the front of Image: FEI website
A graphic on the front of Image: FEI website

As you can see, it pictures our beloved leader, President Ingmar De Vos, making some pithy comments about horse sport.

Firstly, I was a little curious to see “FEI President 2014-2022.” Only last month he was re-elected unopposed at the annual General Assembly in Bahrain for a second four-year term. I have no doubt Ingmar will see out his term, but some might consider it to be tempting fate to rack up the next four years of sterling service so far ahead of time.

But the part of this which particularly caught my eye was the line: “These are exciting times for equestrian.”

First of all, my hearty congratulations for spelling equestrian with a lower-case E. One of my pet hates is writers who liberally sprinkle Capital Letters through their Sentences because they think it’s a good idea.

My question is around what is meant by the word equestrian. Using the word in this context grates because, well, in my view, it’s simply wrong.

I have seen this particular graphic on the website for quite some days and dismissed it as perhaps an understandable grammatical error that might occur from time to time.

But then I came across the graphic below on another FEI page and quickly concluded that either a grammar conspiracy is at foot, or some personnel within the FEI are simply mistaken in their understanding of the word.

The "Be True" logo on the FEI website.
The “Be True” logo on the FEI website.

The first thing I did was reach for my 2500-page Shorter Oxford Dictionary, which concurred very nicely with the definition which comes up when you simply google “equestrian definition.”

Let’s go with the briefer Google result.

It lists two basic meanings, one an adjective and one a noun. As an adjective, it adds an attribute to a noun. For example, a sweet treat, or black boots, or a technical ride. The example given in this online search was “his amazing equestrian skills”, with skills being the noun.

Let’s turn to its use as a noun. It is defined as “a rider or performer on horseback”. Synonyms were given as horseman, horsewoman, rider, horse rider, jockey.

So, in this context, its use is surely not right in either context. In Ingmar’s case, it would have to be “These are exciting times for an equestrian,” which is clearly not what he meant.

And, in the other use, it would have to be “Be true to you, believe in an equestrian.”

And, in any case, what rider would they be referring to?

I would be the first to accept that English is a difficult and cumbersome language. It is, of course, constantly evolving.

For example, the term equestrienne for a female rider is probably considered somewhat quaint and old-fashioned in many circles.

However, I don’t think we’re quite ready for the step the FEI appears to be proposing.

The word that would work in both contexts is, of course, equestrianism – the art or practice of riding on horseback.

Of course, it is entirely possible I have been living under a rock in New Zealand for too long and English-speaking Europeans have embraced this new-found use of equestrian. If so, I will humbly apologise and crawl back under.

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