FEI vs. USEF: A Battle of Legal Clarifications

I’ve spoken to more than 10 USEF and FEI officials since Monday, when Rulegate reared its ugly head. Rulegate, of course, refers to the debacle created by a new FEI rule released last week at the General Assembly in Istanbul, Turkey. The rule reads as follows: The FEI General Assembly has introduced a new rule that athletes and officials will no longer be permitted to participate in both sanctioned and unsanctioned events. If an athlete, horse or an FEI official participates in a non-sanctioned event, such person or horse will be prohibited from participating in any sanctioned events, both international and national, for a period of six months thereafter. An unsanctioned event is an event that is not on the FEI calendar and is not authorised by a National Federation.

Understandably, this new rule sent eventers — and riders across all other FEI-sanctioned disciplines, especially driving — into a tizzy. By “unsanctioned events,” did the FEI mean riders competing at the international level were now banned from unrecognized schooling shows? Indoor eventing? Bareback puissance? Derby cross? The COTH forums erupted like an angry volcano with concerned eventers attempting to decipher what exactly this rule meant and what implications it had for the sport. Were FEI officials going to police events for rule violators? In one of my favorite comments from the COTH forums, FlightCheck envisioned how the rule might be enforced: “I can see it now … thousands of FEI spies, wearing trench coats and fedoras, hiding in the bushes at schooling shows, ready to spring out and yell “A-HA!”

I figured the USEF had to know what was going on. But after several phone calls failed to lead to any concrete answers, I was ultimately told that they, too, were seeking clarification from the FEI. One USEF official assured me that this would not affect schooling shows, but we didn’t feel comfortable posting that on EN until we had more of an official statement. It turns out that we’re still waiting for an official statement from the FEI, as well as a clarification from the USEF. After three days of seeking clarification, all we’ve received from the FEI is the following, which I had to read several times to decipher:

The new rule does not apply to any competition that could never be considered as ‘International’. So small shows, Society shows, pleasure shows etc etc do not come under this new rule. If a show is run as a national show either through an NF or through an organisation that is recognised by the NF again, it does not apply. However, if an OC organises a full international show in one of the existing FEI disciplines with invited international riders and does so outside the NF and so is not in the FEI calendar and is not supported by the NF the rule will be applied by the FEI and the suspensions could be invoked. The FEI GRs have always confirmed that the FEI is the recognised International Federation for International Equestrian events for the disciplines it manages. The GRs confirm that a show with more than 15 international riders from more than 4 Nations must be run as an FEI event and under the NF concerned.

Keeping in mind that NF=National Federation, OC=Organizing Committee and GRs=General Rules, let’s break this down. Interestingly, the original rule is directed specifically toward horses, riders and officials; but the most recent attempt at a clarification from the FEI only addresses the rule in the context of shows. Now we’re dealing with an entirely different can of worms. The FEI says the rule only applies to international-level shows, supposedly meaning schooling shows are safe, as we reported yesterday. But, under FEI General Rules, an international-level event is one that offers preliminary and above for eventing, Prix St. Georges and above for dressage, and heights of 1.33 meters and above for show jumping. While these might not be plentiful, there are certainly schooling shows out there that offer these levels but are not sanctioned by a National Federation.

So, under my reading of the rule, schooling shows would have to be run through the USEF, USEA, USDA, or USHJA in order to hold classes at the FEI level. This presents two problematic scenarios: one, it will force shows to only offer lower levels, eliminating valuable schooling opportunities for upper-level horses and riders. Two, it will force shows that do want to offer the upper levels to sanction their events through a National Federation, which means more fees for competitors who are simply looking to put mileage on their horses. Under my analysis, I read that certain types of shows — ones offering FEI levels — could fall under the rule; this can and will affect schooling shows.

Until we see a clarification that specifically addresses how the rule implicates horses and riders, we can speculate that this rule also has far-reaching implications in other disconcerting ways. Under my reading, any rider who has ridden at an international level — which, again, means preliminary or above at recognized event — can no longer compete at any shows that fall outside the scope of a National Federation. Once again, the FEI has yet to prove that this rule does not impact schooling shows. According to my reading of the rule and statement from the FEI, it affects schooling shows in two very clear ways: 1) preventing any rider who’s ridden preliminary or above at a recognized event from competing in unrecognized shows and 2) forcing shows to only offer levels through training or sanction their events through a National Federation.

Are you still with me? Here’s where it gets even more tricky. According to the FEI’s statement, an international-level show that runs outside the jurisdiction of a National Federation and has more than 15 international riders from more than four nations falls under this rule. In eventing, we’re very lucky to have a variety of riders from many different countries competing in the U.S. It’s not uncommon to see riders representing many different nationalities competing at unrecognized events, as bringing young horses through the levels is part of their business. Under the rule, any show that plans to attract 15 international riders from more than four nations must be run as an FEI event under a National Federation. It would not be difficult to attract that many international riders to an unrecognized show, especially in heavily-populated horse areas like Aiken, S.C., and Ocala, Fla. This is just one more example of how this rule will affect certain shows, including schooling shows.

Needless to say, the FEI’s attempt to clarify this rule has only confused us further. During my most recent phone call to the USEF, I was told their legal department is looking into the rule and will be releasing an official clarification “soon.” The FEI also assured me that their legal department is looking into the rule and will be issuing an official statement “soon.” In one corner, we have the USEF, the National Federation of the U.S. and an organization that certainly has an interest in getting to the bottom of Rulegate as quickly as possible. In the other corner, we have the FEI, the governing body for horse sports in ze whole world, whose lawyers are probably in the fetal position right now. It’s the USEF vs. the FEI in a battle of legal clarifications. Who will release an official statement first? Will it answer our questions, or create more confusion? Who will finally get to the bottom of Rulegate? 

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