Good news / bad news from UK's Burghley**** Horse Trials

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by Fran Jurga | 7 September 2009 | The Jurga Report

Catching up with the news this morning, I almost missed a footnote in the report from the prizes awarded at this weekend's Land Rover Burghley**** Horse Trials in England. This most-revered and most-difficult of eventing tests included top American rider Phillip Dutton, who finished fourth. It is a critical test for horse and rider at the world-class level but the Americans were deep in the shadow of the young British sensation and 2009 Badminton winner Oliver Townend.

End of story? Not quite. Reporting on eventing these days, if you want to do much besides publish the standings, is a challenge and a journalist may or may not be able to directly access information other than who's ahead on a given day and how happy he or she is about it.

I have a lot of respect for the events that provide what I call the "good/bad news": the completion ratio stats next to the prizes, the sponsors thanks next to the report on the riders' protest about the footing, the fallen horses and the actual names of judges and ground juries and technical delegates. I read some reports with interest for what they don't tell the reader. By not telling the good news with the bad, they send news-seeking people to the Internet forums, where speculation trumps facts and few people speculate under their real names.

First of all, welcome to Burghley's after-glow: 150,000 spectators attended the event and shopped at 600 vendor booths. Compare that to 40,000 people at cross-country day who had 175 places to shop at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event and you get an idea of the scope of this event. Did they come to see Olli and Zara ride or did they come to shop? It probably doesn't matter; Burghley is eventing on the grand scale, with a traffic jam to match.

Piecing together different news reports, it appears that a red card (rider warning) was issued to British rider Harry Meade, whose website's first sentence describes him as a "relentless competitor". As if out to prove it, he was censured for forcing an exhausted horse to proceed around the cross-country course on Saturday. His horse Dunauger refused a jump, and when he got the horse back into the canter and approached the obstacle, the horse became stuck inside the jump, amidst some evergreen trees. Meade just jumped to the ground It took a crew 25 minutes to free the horse.

Dunauger is a handsome tall (17.1hh) dun. Meade's web site describes him this way: "This striking advanced horse has been taken through the ranks by his owner, Tracy Garside, who completed Burghley with him in 2008. Finding him too strong across country, but wanting him to fulfill his potential, she passed the reins to Harry at the beginning of 2009." Meade must have wondered why the horse was fading under him instead of running off with him.

To complicate matters, the event sent a tractor to the scene to help but as it was idling nearby the handbrake apparently let go and the tractor took over under its own power (you'll recall the size of the crowd) and stopped only when it hit three cars in the parking lot. Miraculously, no humans were injured.

Eventually, Dunauger was taken off the course by ambulance. Meade was not allowed to ride his second entry, Midnight Dazzler, according to the FEI's report on the situation, and he was issued a red card. The FEI stated, "The Ground Jury, in consultation with the Appeal Committee, awarded the red card under (Article) 520 of the 2009 Rules of Eventing: 'Abuse of Horse and Dangerous Riding', namely ?riding an exhausted horse' and ?excessive pressing of a tired horse'."

Meade and Dunauger earlier in the cross-country at Burghley. Nico Morgan photo.

Burghley-Cross-Country-27-1-748500

Harry Meade is a highly-regarded young event rider who has done very well at the highest level of the sport in the past five years. As you no doubt saw in the video at the top of this post, he is an ambassador for HSBC's FEI eventing finals.

Irish rider Paul Donovan of Ireland was given an FEI yellow warning card for failing to stop after his horse, Sportsfield Sandyman, had three refusals along the course. The ground jury had a busy day.

The red and yellow cards are similar to those used in other sports, most notably soccer, to warn athletes of unbecoming conduct...or to send them to the locker room.

This year, 49 horses safely completed the event out of 77 who proceeded after the dressage phase. One fence (#6, Discovery Valley) accounted for faults on the scores on 28 riders.

Click here to read a statement from Meade in his local Wiltshire newspaper, in which he reports that the horse recovered later but that blood tests have been taken to check for a virus that might explain his exhaustion. Meade said he was disappointed to have missed completing Burghley but did not comment on the red card warning itself.

I don't think that events are required to report ground jury red card actions or why they were given. By doing so, Burghley and the FEI helped educate the public about the role of the ground jury, and I think that transparency is a positive spin for a very negative news announcement.

It will be interesting to see how red card reporting is handled in the future and if there is a difference between events or nations in (first of all) awarding red cards and second, of listing any red cards along with completion statistics and prizes won. Of course, red cards should be few, and far between, assuming the ground jury is doing its job. If they are not, or if red cards are plentiful, we should know that, too--but I am not sure there is any guarantee that we will.

Maybe someone is launching a watchdog list or a www.redcardeventer.com right now--or it already exists. It shouldn't be necessary, at all. A red card should be a scarlet letter against a rider's name, and we should know when one is handed out.

As with so many penalties in horse sports, it probably won't detract from a rider's ability to attract good horses or fill a clinic schedule or line up sponsors. Only losing can make those things happen. Winners still take all.

Information for this report was compiled from news provided by the FEI, Burghley Horse Trials, and reports published by Horse and Hound. Video courtesy of Digital News Agency and shared by Yahoo.com. Special thanks to Nico Morgan's fantastic web site for help locating and downloading a photo quickly and efficiently.

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