The new FEI yellow cards: From being late to endangering the public

Over the past two weeks the FEI has updated their eventing, dressage, and show jumping yellow card lists.  I have commented thoroughly on my feelings about the yellow card system, and in particular Steph’s and Jessie’s yellow cards this spring, so I won’t bother to do it again here.  But suffice it to say that as inconsistently as the FEI sometimes applies the system, I almost wish they wouldn’t make the list public.  Certainly the several word explanations that come with the yellow cards are insufficient to provide a clear picture of what happened.  The public is left with too little information and at risk of improperly condemning the riders.  For example, over 30 riders were cited for “continuing after 3 refusals” this year.  Riders who continued after a 3rd stop might have not known that what they thought was only a big look by their horse at a bank was actually counted as a stop, or they might have run down a fence judge who was trying to pull them up.  The short explanations just don’t give us enough information.  But, on the upside, the explanations sometimes have just enough information to provide pure amazement.  Some of my favorites from the list:

1) Sophie de Cartier de Marchienne, a rider from Belgium, showed the true Belgian work ethic when she “remounted after a fall and jumped 3 fences before stopping.” 

2) A rider from Kazakhstan received a yellow card and what were certainly a meaningless 25 extra penalties for “jumping from still (100cm) after 2 stops at the same fence.”

3) A Swedish rider received a verbal warning for “jumping from a dangerous distance and risky angle,” which more or less sums up every show jumping round I have ever had.

4) Kate O’Sullivan from Ireland received a yellow card at Tattersalls for being late for the first horse inspection, while Ciara Smullen received a verbal warning at the same event for failing to show up at the final inspection without notifying the officials.  So it’s a yellow card for being late and a warning for not showing up.  Situations like that do not reaffirm my faith in the yellow card system.

5) To make matters even less consistent, two British riders at the Chattsworth CIC3* were just given warnings for arriving “very late” for a horse inspection.  What do you want to bet they were at the same party the night before?

6) A Turkish rider was cited with a yellow card that is labeled “out of control and jumped tape off the track.”  I think that’s a description we can all agree is undoubtedly sufficient for giving a yellow card.

7) Hayden Christen of New Zealand is cited a verbal warning for “endangering members of the public” although it is left to our imagination as to how or when the public was so threatened.  Again, I’m inclined to suspect a party at the event.

[FEI Yellow Card Lists]

On a more significant note, 6 North American pairs have received yellow cards since the start of 2011.  The Chronicle published an article this evening looking into Tamra’s yellow card, which resulted from Tamra yelling at an official over a rule misunderstanding, and mentioning the other 6 North American yellow cards.  [COTH]

Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch (CAN): Dangerous riding, not stopping for red flag, Badminton
Sam Elsenaar (CAN): Abuse of horse, use of whip and spurs after elimination, *Fair Hill CIC*
Jessica Phoenix (CAN): Dangerous riding, riding too fast, Jersey Fresh
Darren Chiachia (USA): Dangerous riding, continuing after 3 refusals, Chattahoochee Hills
Tamra Smith (USA): Incorrect behavior, abuse of an official, Rebecca Farm
Cali Eden (USA): Dangerous riding, continuing after 3 refusals, Rebecca Farm

Three US riders received verbal warnings at Rebecca Farm as well, and Jessica Hampf received a verbal warning at Rolex. 

The report about Tamra’s incident provides a very different picture than what one might think if they didn’t know Tamra and just read “abuse of an official” on the yellow card, and I believe the same is true for Steph’s and Jessie’s yellow cards, and my guess would be the same for the other three, although I don’t have any personal knowledge of those incidents.   

I know it is hard to make subjective officiating decisions, and if these lists were not public then we would be calling for more transparency.  The best solution I can think of is to perhaps provide a more lengthy description of the situation and a chance for the rider to defend themselves on the published yellow card list.  At the very least, if the FEI is going to publish yellow cards with little more than a 3 word explanation they need to get more consistent about enforcing them.  Go eventing.
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Tuesday Update: As a couple of diligent commenters have pointed out, the FEI yellow card sheet incorrectly states that Sam Elsenaar’s yellow card was acquired in France, when in fact the FEI’s own horse records state that the horse was in Maryland at Fair Hill that weekend.  I make more typos than anyone on the planet, but that is a bit disconcerting considering the importance of the list.  Also, ESJ has posted a comment that I think is very important–often times officials are required by rule to give yellow cards, such as in the case of pulling a horse up during cross-country.  I think this is a problem with the yellow card system, although of course we can’t fault the officials for doing what they are required to by rule.  

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