For months lungers, horses and vaulters train for those minutes. A few moments in a competition arena it will be decide if the hard work is rewarded or not.
Therefore it is extremely unfortunate if the performance is hindered by outside effects which startle the horses. This year, these outside effects were pigeons. They landed in the corcle, in the horses’ pathway, waited for the horse and fluttered upwards in front of them for rounds.
Pigeons are familiar
Most horses were okay with the birds since they are animals and are used to flying birds around them, even if they live in a barn. In the stables and arenas there are always some birds looking for shelter and food. Most of the times a horse meets a bird, it is not scared of it.
There is no guarantee for silence
Everything can happen at a competition. Especially at the championships in Le Mans 2016, people were walking around, babies were crying and dogs were barking. The organizers can try to minimize noises and movement from the outsides but they cannot guarantee silence.
The case “Wildegg 2015”
Wildegg was the first competitor at the championships 2015. The event was transmitted on TV. During their compulsory, a camera man moved right at the side of the circle. A few exercises of the vaulters got huge deductions. Austria lodged a protest, it was allowed by the ground jury, some other nations lodged a protest gainst the protest and finally the squad was allowed to repeat their compulsory.
Would this be the same interruption as pigeons flying around?
Article 163 4.4 FEI General Regulations
Protests concerning irregularities or incidents during a Competition, or the results of a Competition. Such Protests must be filed no later than thirty (30) minutes after the announcement of the results of the relevant Competition.
Doris Knotter, member of the ground jury in 2015 explained an incident and the decision as follows:
- After Wildegg’s performance, the camera people were asked to keep still during the competition. With this the conditions for the next squads were changed during the round.
- There are a few things the organizers can influence to guarantee a fair competition. One of these are the camera people.
What are irregularities and incidents?
There are so many noises in a competition arena that if we start to ban possible distractions, we could start with the catering, move on to the flags and continue with the really loud cheers from the fans, also the live streaming and finish with the spectators. What should our vaulting horses be able to stand? Would a ban of something go against the development of world cups in huge fair arenas?
Vaulting is a horse sport!
We know the bahaviour of our horses from training and competitions. How much of it is predictable, which situations are new to the horses? Vaulting is known for its great and loud atmosphere in the arena. Would it help the horses to forbid noises by the spectators like at dressage events?
Even the calmest horse might be startled by a new situation one day. Horses are living beings, it is all too human, uh… horsey to show emotions like excitement and fear in a competition. I wouldn’t want to do the sport without these aspects.
How to decide next time?
It was tried to chase the pigeopns out in Le Mans in the evenings after all competitions, not in between. Everyone’s chances of an undisturbed round were the same. So, a distraction can happen to every competitor. Should the rules become more strict to lower the likelihood of a misstep of our sport partners?
I do not think that this would be the right way. We have to remember that the horses are part of the sport. If we try to eleminate this problem, we will end up doing gymnastics.
I am glad that it is not my place to make such a decision. What a difficult question…
Besides: Some people took the pigeons thing with humour. Joanne Eccles blamed Jacques Ferrari at the nations evening that Noroc brought in the birds with their freestyle. And Kaleb Patterson posted a close up on Facebook.