Controversy in Adelaide: Was Stuart Tinney Clear?

Controversy has been swirling around the ground jury’s decision at Adelaide to remove Stuart Tinney’s 50 jumping penalties on cross country. He went on to jump a clear show jumping round with War Hawk and finish in third place in the CCI4*.

If you’re just tuning in to the debate, watch this video:

Stuart was initially given 50 jumping penalties under FEI rule 549.2 for missing a flag, which was introduced as a new rule for the 2017 season.

The rule states:

A Horse is considered to have run out if, having been presented at an element or obstacle on the course, it avoids it in such a way that either the head, neck or either shoulder of the Horse fail to pass between the extremities of the element or obstacle as flagged. In case the Horse has clearly attempted to jump the element or obstacle and may have missed a flag, the athlete can choose:

a) To represent (accepting automatically 20 penalties) , or
b) To continue on course incurring 50 penalties (no elimination) in case the
element or obstacle was not correctly cleared.

A Horse will be considered to have cleared the fence when head, neck and both shoulders of the Horse pass between the extremities of the element or obstacles as flagged.

With were-they-inside-the-flag-or-not uncertainty also surrounding Megan Jones with Kirby Park Impress and Hazel Shannon with WillingaPark Clifford, the ground jury of Christian Landolt (SUI), Sue Baxter (GBR) and Gretchen Butts (USA) reviewed video footage at the conclusion of cross country.

The 50 penalties were originally upheld for Kirby Park Impress and WillingaPark Clifford, but removed for Stuart Tinney and War Hawk. The ground jury based their decision to remove the penalties on this photo:

Cue pandemonium and outrage. The Sunday morning of show jumping saw a group of riders approach the ground jury to ask them to re-consider their decision. Hazel was represented by lawyer Kathryn Howard during an appeal that took place in the media center.

The ground jury poured over video footage and photos and were still deliberating 1 1/2 hours before CCI4* show jumping was set to begin. Finally they made their decision: Megan’s penalties would be removed, while Hazel’s would remain. They upheld their original decision that Stuart should not receive 50 penalties.

The ground explained their decision to rider rep Megan Jones, who ultimately agreed with their conclusion. You can watch Megan’s full explanation below.

Megan clarifies several key facts. First, Stuart never lodged a protest or appeal. The ground jury gave him 50 penalties and then decided of their own volition to remove the penalties.

“They discovered the horse did actually jump the fence as it’s stated in the rules: A horse will be considered to have cleared the fence when head and neck and both shoulders of the horse pass between the extremities of the element or obstacle as flagged,” she explains. “The flag went between Stuart’s horse’s front legs, but his head, neck and shoulders were inside the flag.”

Whether Stuart’s horse actually jumped the fence is not the critical question in this case. Notice that the rule does not even state horses need to jump the fence to be considered clear; horses only need to “pass between the extremities of the element or obstacles as flagged.”

The rule also does not state that the flag has to remain in its original position when the horse’s head, neck and shoulders pass through the flag. The flag can be knocked sideways and away from the fence and the jumping effort can still be considered clear, as the ground jury decided in Adelaide.

Megan said it best: “People don’t understand the rule and how it’s written and how it’s interpreted. They clearly have to change this somehow.”

The FEI General Assembly is currently taking place in Uruguay, and it’s a safe bet that the 50-penalty rule will be discussed. Based on what happened at Adelaide, it seems it would be wise to amend the wording of the rule to provide further clarity as to what is and is not considered a clear jumping effort.

As for what we should ultimately take away from Adelaide, Megan offered her perspective: “The event is about the winner, Clarke Johnstone. The event is about Gill Rolton, who just did the most amazing job getting this event going. Her legacy will live on. Let’s be positive about this and put it to bed now. He’s clear. End of story.”

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