Can We Talk About This? Fair Hill Edition

As I’m sure everyone has seen, another of Marilyn Little’s horses was seen bleeding from the mouth around the cross-country course at the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International this weekend. Specifically, it was RF Scandalous, who won the CCI3* event and USEF National Championship.


My photo of ML and “Kitty” at fence 22. 

I want to start by saying, this is extremely alarming. Any time horse welfare is potentially in danger, it is something to be taken very seriously. I don’t want to discuss the ML side of the equation in this post, I want to discuss how Federations can address this.

Currently, the FEI rule on blood for eventing (526.4) is as follows:

“Blood on Horses may be an indication of abuse of the Horse and must be reviewed case by case by the Ground Jury.

In minor cases of blood in the mouth, such as where a Horse appears to have bitten its tongue or lip, or minor bleeding on limbs, after investigation the Ground Jury may authorise the Athlete to continue.”


The case this weekend was reviewed by the ground jury, with input from the Veterinary Delegate to which Christian Landolt, the President of the Ground Jury commented, “Fence 20 was the first time we got a report that there may have been some blood visible. Nothing before. A colleague of mine from the ground jury saw it at fence 22 and confirmed that there was some blood, but it wasn’t anything unduly. The two [Technical Delegates] were at fence 23 and 24 confirmed. At the finish the vet was informed, and on inspection she saw nothing. There was no open wound.”

The rule makes it a complete judgement call, and therefore very subjective. This is very much unlike other FEI disciplines, like jumpers or dressage, where any sight of blood calls for instant elimination. Is it time for eventing to adopt the same objective views of blood during competition?

An obvious downside would be that many whose horses get small injuries on course will be penalized, but the flip side of the coin is that any potential cases of abuse will be punished immediately.

Besides being subjective, the rule is also very ambiguous, with no exact protocol for how the Ground Jury should react to a situation like this, i.e. when do they pull them up? Do they have to pull the rider up? etc.

So what do you think? Do we need a black & white blood rule in eventing like other disciplines have? Should we introduce more exact protocol for visible blood at competition? Should the rules change after this scenario at all? 

*As a side note, I would like to say that Fair Hill fell under FEI jurisdiction. National competitions (think, Advanced & Intermediate) fall under USEF jurisdiction. USEF is responsible for the licencing of officials and enforcement of their national rules. The USEA does not license officials, have rules [we turn to USEF Rules for Eventing] or enforce those rules.


28 thoughts on “Can We Talk About This? Fair Hill Edition

  1. Karen M says:

    I hope the rule changes to remove so much of this grey area of interpretation. That amount of blood at the mouth looks like more than “unduly” to me. I think the FEI dressage blood rule is the direction the eventing rule needs to take. The FEI jumping rule is headed in that direction and is supplemented with guidance as to how to handle visible blood.

    Liked by 1 person

    • shelbyrallen says:

      Yeah I see no reason why eventing couldn’t follow the lead of other disciplines to prioritize horse welfare. Yes, this might penalize an innocent scrape on XC that caused blood (which can be especially visible on grey horses) but it might be in the best interest of the horses to move toward zero tolerance.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Monica V says:

        Or at least make the blood rule (immediate elim) apply to flanks and mouth, no questions asked to keep it fair for everyone. Becky Holder got held and I think elim. for blood on the LEG. Obviously not caused by the rider, but still easily seen on a grey and was pulled up immediately. No one pulled ML up, even though blood was actually streaming from Kitty’s mouth, at the very least and held her for inspection on course. Glaring fail in my eyes. Though, thats probably how they want to keep it–general and grey, in order to show favoritism like this. So much to be said about this situation.

        Liked by 1 person

      • shelbyrallen says:

        I also was surprised that she wasn’t pulled up, but after reading the rule I was reminded that there aren’t any stipulations on when or even if a rider should be pulled up. Whether favoritism was shown or not this weekend, a zero tolerance rule would eliminate any possibility of it happening again.


  2. the clueless but curious rider says:

    Hold up, there is definitely blood in that horse’s mouth, but they couldn’t figure out why? Isn’t that unusual/strange?

    Personally, I’m a fan of the no blood rule. It’s straightforward, they don’t mess around, and if you take eventing out of the picture and just focus on the horse’s welfare: who wants to call something a sport that injures them, even if it’s a (subjective) “minor injury”? Is that really fun for anyone?


    • shelbyrallen says:

      Yeah they found no open wound, but they were also searching the mouth of an extremely fit horse as soon as it came off cross-country, so that could’ve made it more difficult to discover the source. It’s hard enough to hang onto horses in the Vet box, much less inspect their mouths. That said, blood was visible on both sides, so to me that says it is coming from inside the mouth. I can’t say why, but I don’t think it’s extremely unusual that they could’ve find a source in the vet box. Maybe another inspection later would have given them more information. I do agree thought a zero tolerance rule would prioritize horse welfare, and I think that’s advantageous for horses and for how the public views horse sports.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Amanda C says:

        That was my thought as well… not really surprised they couldn’t find anything definitive in the vet box. Horses coming off of XC are generally still pretty excited, and a mouth is a small, dark place to try to inspect. It’s a shame the majority of the outward evidence had been wiped away by the time officials got to inspect it… I’m sure it would have helped them better assess the situation if they could have determined just how much blood was present, and where.


  3. emma says:

    i gotta admit that i’m a bit discouraged to be discussing this exact same situation under the exact same circumstances in the aftermath of the exact same event as last year.

    i agree tho that the focus needs to be on the organizations responsible for the rules and administration of events. generally, professional competitors will do whatever they think will give them the best chance of being successful (tho unfortunately some are less scrupulous than others in this pursuit).

    if the rules are such that it is crystal clear what behaviors / outcomes will directly impact their ability to be successful, they will adapt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • shelbyrallen says:

      Yeah. When I saw her go by me this weekend I was gobsmacked that this was happening again. I think the worst part is that as far as current rules go, the Ground Jury made decisions within their power. Though I know it takes so much money, effort, etc. to get to a huge CCI, most of the competitors I know wouldn’t have a problem with amending the rules on this one, to prioritize the horse. I know personally If I were running I would want to be pulled up and at least alerted if my horse was bleeding… I assume it could be hard/impossible to see from in the tack.


  4. Amanda C says:

    My thoughts remain the same as they were last year. The rule, IMO, is too vague and allows for too much personal opinion and a judgement call. Not only does it end up resulting in situations like this, it puts a lot of pressure on the person who has to make that call. If the rule simply said that any horse seen with blood on it had to be pulled up and inspected ON THE SPOT regardless of where they are on course, this would be much more clear. I also feel like there has to be some kind of yellow card situation (at least) for someone who manages to bloody a horse multiple times within a certain time period. It just isn’t right that she keeps getting away with it, scot free, despite all the evidence that exists to say that it DID happen. We have to make this rule more easily enforceable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nadsnovik says:

      I really like the idea of a yellow card. So that the person PERHAPS worries about it for next time? Or has a discussion with vets during in barns that her horse bites it’s tongue, and look, here are some scars…. It’s way too vague now.


    • shelbyrallen says:

      I agree I think for the benefit of the horse and honestly for the benefit of how the general public perceives the sport, pulling up as soon as possible on course for investigation is probably the best choice. I also don’t see why they couldn’t use a yellow card or some sort of watch list policy to help police it. They do it for reckless riding, why not drawing blood too?


      • Amanda C says:

        I brought my friend with me to FH that currently is in the jumper world but interested in expanding her breeding program to eventing and also maybe even buying into a syndicate on an upper level horse. She was horrified by what she saw, and I was absolutely mortified, just embarrassed beyond belief that this was allowed to happen. This was supposed to be fun and inspiring, and that is not how we felt when we left. UGH.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. nadsnovik says:

    I guess my thought is, why have the rule, if they aren’t going to do anything with it? So, clearly there was blood. Why wasn’t there blood at the end? Was that questioned? Was bridle examined and mouth inspected? It just seems like lots of times, when there is blood in the mouth, nothing is done, so why have the rule? What does the blood need to be actually doing??? It’s very frustrating to me…..


  6. kaitlyndzn says:

    Just some food for thought about a rule change:

    I whole heartedly agree this is an issue…and when its happening this often with one rider, it no longer is just bad luck or coincidence. But The link to the article I think has a good point…if we base it on a point system, these repeat offenders will hopefully get caught rather than punish those that it is just bad luck or a one time thing (so long as it is minor) . And maybe the definition of minor needs to be outlined too…not be soooo relative.

    Either way it needs to stop. It is giving eventing a terrible reputation when our sport needs to grow more than ever.


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