New Year, New Rules: Check in with Changes to the FEI Rulebook for 2023

The FEI, like the USEA, has revised its MERs for the 2023 season with the aim of making the sport safer. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A new year means new rule changes from the USEA and FEI. This year, we’re looking at some sizable changes, mainly to the Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MERs) for Modified and above. The general gist of the rule changes? Ensuring that horses and athletes are better prepared for the level they’re riding at. 

For example, one of the new updates states that “Horses having not competed at FEI Competition for a period of 13 consecutive months or more will have to complete an event at a lower level before entering a CCI4*-S/L or CCI5*-L Event.”

Athlete categorization has also been updated, with slightly fewer MERs required, but the time in which the MERs are recorded halved. This means that athletes must now obtain more MERs per year than before. 

The new changes may have an effect on your athlete categorization level. Here’s how they’ll be decided for the 2023 season:

“Athletes will be categorized (A, B, C, D) according to their performance in a rolling four year period, rather than eight years. 

D – Ten (10) MERs at CCI2*-S or CCI2*-L level or above; or three (3) MERs at CCI-S or CCI-L at a higher level.

C – Ten (10) MERs at CCI3*-S or CCI3*-L level or above; or three (3) MERs at CCI-S or CCI-L at a higher level.

B – Ten (10) MERs at CCI4*-S or CCI4*-L level or above; or three (3) MERs CCI5*-L.

A – Ten (10) MERs at CCI4*-S or CCI4*-L level or above of which three (3) MERs were at CCI5*-L.”

Athlete categories will now be updated at the end of each month, but your category on the closing date of entries for a specific event will remain your category for that event, regardless of whether you move up to the next category between the close of entries and the event itself, and so you’ll need to ensure you’re adequately qualified as per your categorisation at the time of entry.

For category A riders, there are a few changes to CCI5*-L Qualifications. Now, horses without an existing CCI5*-L MER must achieve an MER as a combination at a CCI4*-L. Horses with an existing CCI5*-L MER must achieve an MER as a combination at either the CCI4*-L level or they must achieve two MERs at the CCI4*-S level. Note that World Championships and Olympic Games require 5* level MERs. 

Better stay on top of those show jumping faults! According to the FEI, “For short format competitions (when the Jumping test is before the Cross Country test), an athlete incurring 20 or more obstacle penalties during the Jumping test will not be authorized to start in the Cross Country test and will be automatically eliminated from the competition.”

The requirements to gain an MER at an international event generally remain much the same: athletes must not earn more than 45 penalty points in the dressage; they must not topple more than four rails in the showjumping; and they must ostensibly go clear in the cross-country without exceeding the optimum time by more than 75 seconds (100 seconds at 5*). That ostensible clear has previously allowed for one activation of a safety device (11 penalties); as of this year, it also allows for one missed flag (15 penalties), though the two cannot occur in the same round.

The Conflict of Interest statement that caused a pretty big uproar in 2022 has also been reworked after significant backlash and salient points made by many individuals, who observed that the majority of judges at FEI events must also teach to sustain their livelihood. The previous iteration of the statement disallowed competitors from riding in front of a judge that had previously taught them.

According to the FEI, the statement is now written as “Conflicts must be avoided whenever practicable. However, conflicts may be linked to experience and expertise that is necessary to qualify Officials. The specific balance between conflict and expertise shall be regulated by the relevant Sport Rules. (FEI General Regulations, Appendix H-FEI Officials’ code of conduct).”

If you have questions about rule changes, talk with your local official or the steward at your next trial. Review the 2023 FEI Rulebook here.

Modifications to National Requirements 

US competitors who stay below the CCI* level are also subject to MERs at the Modified level and above. According to the USEA, “All MER requirements for Modified, Preliminary, Intermediate, and Advanced levels (except Classic Three-day Events), are required for Horses and Athletes to move from one level to the next. After obtaining an MER at the Intro level or above horses and riders are established at the level. Horses and athletes having achieved an MER at the level and [who] have not competed at the level over twelve months must achieve a MER at the next lowest height level.”

The long and short of it is that athletes competing at or above Modified must have obtained at least six MERs at one level before moving up to the next. The horse must have also obtained at least four MERs at one level before moving up, and one of these four MERs must be in combination with the rider.

In the case of a loss of qualifications following dangerous riding penalties, or accumulated incidents as outlined in the USEA rulebook, an athlete “may be re-qualified by achieving two MERs at the next lower height level within any 6-month period and no sooner than 10 days following the loss of qualification.”

The period by which all MERs must be obtained in order to be valid has been shortened. “All Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MER), except Classic Three-day Events, must be obtained within a 4-year period. One MER must be obtained within 12 weeks of the Event for which it is needed when moving from one level to the next.” 

If you’re planning on riding in a Classic Three Day Event at Modified or above, you’ll need to have obtained your MERs within a 24-month period of the start of the competition. 



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