Tag Archives: FEI

FEI Enhances Horse Traceability in EHV-1 Return to Competition Measures

The FEI has added new modules to the FEI HorseApp to monitor key mandatory requirements in the Return to Competition measures that will allow for a safe resumption of international sport in mainland Europe today, 12 April.

Key areas covered by the Return to Competition protocols, which were launched on 30 March, include advance PCR testing (for certain designated events only), temperature monitoring of horses, as well as enhanced Examination on Arrival procedures. Stringent biosecurity measures and mitigation plans, in line with the FEI Veterinary Regulations, also form part of the Return to Competition measures.

The measures include a number of temporary provisions that will remain in place until 30 May 2021, providing a science-based safety margin to allow for monitoring of any further related outbreaks. This date can be extended if required.

The FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group has already agreed that there is currently no evidence indicating that it would be unsafe to return to international competition in mainland Europe as planned today, provided the mandated enhanced preventive measures are implemented. However, the Group will continue to monitor the evolution of the outbreaks on a daily basis.

“The recent EHV-1 outbreak has underscored the importance of early detection and prevention in disease transmission,” FEI Veterinary Director Göran Åkerström said.

“The FEI HorseApp is a crucial tool to facilitate the traceability of horses attending FEI Events, as well as for data gathering to allow for better risk assessment analysis and informed decision-making. It is a key element in ensuring a safe Return to Competition today and in minimising the impact of a disease outbreak in the future.”

The FEI HorseApp will be used for uploading negative PCR results for designated events. In addition, the FEI Veterinarian conducting the Examination on Arrival will scan the horse’s microchip with a reader connected via Bluetooth to the FEI HorseApp, and also record the horse’s temperature in the FEI HorseApp.

Under the Return to Competition measures, it will also be compulsory for all horses to be officially checked out at the Show Office using the FEI HorseApp. This ensures traceability should a disease outbreak occur.

“Data driven technologies are a key part of the solution to the current EHV-1 pandemic,” said FEI Director Information & Sports Technology Gaspard Dufour.

“We have been able to use the existing functionalities of the FEI HorseApp to actively monitor horse movement and horse health status and added new modules that provide for a safer Return to Competition.

“But importantly, the collection of this quantitative data is critical to tracking the evolution of the disease and allows us to make better informed decisions concerning the smart and safe resumption of equestrian sporting activities.”

The FEI HorseApp is available for download on the Apple Store and Google Play for Android devices. The new version of the FEI Horse App, including the Return to Competition modules, is now available for download.

The Return to Competition measures are available here.

Media contacts:

Grania Willis
Director, Communications
grania.willis@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 42

Vanessa Martin Randin
Senior Manager, Media Relations & Communications
vanessa.randin@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 73

In Memoriam: FEI Pays Tribute to Longest Serving FEI President Prince Philip

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, passed away peacefully at Windsor Castle in England. His death, at the age of 99, was announced by Buckingham Palace.

He was the longest serving FEI President (1964-1986) and was succeeded in this role by his daughter Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, for the following eight years.

Some of Prince Philip’s own greatest sporting achievements came in the sport of Driving which he introduced as a new discipline in the FEI and helped to develop during his FEI Presidency. He helped standardise international rules and became a hugely successful competitor himself, winning team gold at the 1980 World Driving Championship and bronze in 1978, 1982, and 1984. He also placed sixth individually in 1982.

Prince Philip strongly supported the FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ series, which is now one of the crown jewels in the Jumping calendar, and was hugely supportive of the launch of the FEI Jumping World Cup™ in the 1970s. He was also instrumental in the creation of the FEI World Equestrian Games™, having lobbied for such a competition for many years before it was finally staged for the first time in Stockholm (SWE) in 1990.

An all-round horseman, he played polo during his time in the Royal Navy in the 1940s and became one of Britain’s top-10 players. His passion for all things equestrian was shared by his wife and passed on to their children, particularly Prince Charles who was also a keen polo player, and Princess Anne, who claimed individual gold at the FEI European Eventing Championships in 1971, and individual and team silver four years later, before becoming the first British Royal to compete at an Olympic Games when she rode in Montreal 1976.

Prince Philip’s grandchildren have also inherited a love of horse sport. Princess Anne’s daughter Zara Tindall took the Eventing world title in 2006 and was a member of the British silver medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Princes William and Harry are also regularly spotted on the polo field.

Born in Corfu, Greece and educated in France, Germany, and Great Britain, he was just 18 years old when he joined the Royal Navy in 1939. During World War ll, he served with the Mediterranean and Pacific fleets, and by the time he left the service in 1952 he had reached the rank of Commander. At the age of 26, he married the then Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth ll) in November 1947.

“The passing of Prince Philip is a huge loss for equestrian sport and his legacy, particularly at the FEI, will live on for many many decades to come,” FEI President Ingmar De Vos said. “I first met him in London at the FEI General Assembly in 2005, and again at the FEI Eventing European Championships in Blair Castle in 2015. He was a man of incredible energy and a great sense of humour and the FEI was honoured to have him as our longest serving President.

“His dedication to equestrian sports cannot be underestimated and will never be forgotten, especially in the Driving community. He was born in the same year the FEI was founded and sadly he will not be with us to celebrate his own and the FEI’s centenary this year. We will celebrate his life and remember him as a great ambassador of our sport.”

The FEI extends its deepest sympathy to the British Royal Family and joins the equestrian community in mourning the loss of this remarkable man.

Media contacts:

Grania Willis
Director Communications
grania.willis@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 42

Shannon Gibbons
Media Relations and Communications Manager
shannon.gibbons@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 46

EHV Relief Fund Brings Showjumping Community Together for a Common Cause

The entire showjumping community has been devastated by the current linked outbreaks in Spain of the neurological form of EHV-1 that has impacted horses in 10 countries in mainland Europe. Through the hard work and dedication of many in our community, progress is clearly being made towards bringing the immediate situation under control. However, many riders and owners are facing severe financial hardship due to the costs of emergency veterinary treatment for their horses during the crisis.

In order to provide support for those affected by these unforeseen and, in many cases, very substantial expenses, the EHV Relief Fund has been established. The brainchild of showjumping athletes Emile Hendrix, Peter Charles, and Frederick Goltz, the Fund has the support of the FEI, European Equestrian Federation, International Jumping Riders Club, Jumping Owners Club, and Equestrian Organisers. In addition, Riders Help Riders, the fundraising campaign set up by German event organiser and sports marketer Axel Milkau, has joined forces with the Fund. Collectively, this group have set themselves up as the Sponsors of the Fund.

The mandate of the Fund is to provide financial support to riders and owners for the legitimate veterinary expenses resulting directly from the EHV-1 outbreaks in Spain. All proceeds raised by the Fund will be applied to this mission. Any administrative or other costs of the Fund will be borne by the Sponsors.

Guidelines for the submission of funding requests will be published in due course, but the basic principle will be to:

  1. compile all applicable expenses;
  2. raise as much money as possible;
  3. allocate funds raised to cover the greatest percentage of the applicable expenses possible.

The Sponsors have created an oversight committee to manage distribution of the funds based on this mandate. The Sponsors are committed to full transparency and the accounts of the Fund will be published when it is wound up.

“Despite these desperately distressing times, it has been heartwarming to see in practice what we all know to be true: that in our sport, the welfare of the horse comes first, no matter the circumstance,” Frederick Goltz said. “As part of that special community ethos, we would hope that the broader showjumping community will help to bear some of the costs, particularly in an environment made all the more difficult by Covid-19.”

A total of €250,000 has already been pledged to the Fund, including monies committed by the Sponsors, other donors, and the very successful fundraising effort already undertaken by the Riders Help Riders team.

“Thank you to those who have already joined our effort and we very much hope that everyone in the showjumping community will consider helping as much as they are able,” Peter Charles said.

Questions about the Fund can be addressed to EHVRelief@FEI.org.

FEI Publishes Return to Competition Measures for Mainland Europe

The FEI has published the Return to Competition measures that will allow for a safe resumption of international sport in mainland Europe on 12 April following a six-week shutdown to control the spread of the neurological form of the Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1).

The measures focus on six key areas: Pre-event venue preparations by Organisers; Athlete pre-event preparations; Examination on Arrival; Onsite at Event Venue; Departure from Events; and Jurisdiction.

The Return to Competition measures, which were comprehensively reviewed at a stakeholder consultation session last week and fine-tuned by both the FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group and the FEI Veterinary Committee, have now been approved by the FEI Board.

Stakeholders who joined last week’s two-hour online consultation session included Athlete Representatives Pedro Veniss (Jumping) and Beatriz Ferrer Salat (Dressage), Eleonora Ottaviani (International Jumping Riders Club), Klaus Roeser (International Dressage Riders Club), Peter Bollen (Equestrian Organisers), Dominique Megret (Jumping Owners Club), Quentin Simonet and Ulf Helgstrand (European Equestrian Federation), together with international grooms Heidi Mulari (Steve Guerdat) and Kirsty Pascoe (Jérôme Guery), and FEI Events Stable Manager Patrick Borg.

The measures include a series of temporary provisions, which will remain in place until 30 May 2021, providing a science-based safety margin to allow for monitoring of any further related outbreaks. This date can be extended if required and advance notice will be provided to the community. These temporary provisions will be formalised in legally binding Bylaws which will be published during the week commencing 5 April 2021.

The FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group has agreed that there is currently no evidence indicating that it would be unsafe to return to international competition in mainland Europe as planned on 12 April, provided the mandated enhanced preventive measures are implemented and there are no further linked outbreaks. The Group will continue to monitor the evolution of the European outbreak on a daily basis.

The FEI HorseApp will be updated with new modules which will allow for enhanced traceability as part of the EHV-1 Return to Competition measures. These will be launched in the second week of April.

The Return to Competition measures, which clearly outline roles and responsibilities, are available online and for download in the dedicated EHV-1 hub. Additional documentation will be added in the coming days.

Media contacts:

Grania Willis
Director, Communications
grania.willis@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 42

Vanessa Martin Randin
Senior Manager, Media Relations & Communications
vanessa.randin@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 73

FEI Eventing European Championships for 2021 and 2023 Allocated

Avenches in Switzerland will host this year’s FEI Eventing European Championship, and the 2023 edition allocated to Haras du Pin (FRA)

Host venues for these two important Championships and other key events were made by the FEI Board at its videoconference, with the full support of the FEI Eventing Committee and the European Equestrian Federation (EEF).

“We are pleased to have the Swiss venue of Avenches hosting the 2021 Championships,” FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said. “Following last year’s postponement of the Tokyo Games, the FEI had originally cancelled European Championships in all three Olympic and Paralympic disciplines so that the focus could remain on the Games in 2021, but our community encouraged us to review that decision and we listened to those voices.

“After carefully reviewing three strong bids, which also included Boekelo in the Netherlands and Montelibretti in Italy, the FEI Board voted to allocate this year’s FEI Eventing European Championship to Avenches.

“We are happy to be able to give our community something to look forward to during these difficult days as we tackle the EHV-1 outbreak and work to put in place protocols to get our horses and athletes back to competing again.”

The 2021 edition of the FEI Eventing European Championship will run from 23-26 September.

Haras du Pin (FRA) was named as host for the FEI Eventing European Championship in 2023. The FEI Board had originally allocated the 2021 Championship to the French venue and, when there were discussions last year about the possibility of rescheduling the event away from the Olympic Games period, the Haras du Pin organisers were unfortunately unable to find an alternative date in 2021. However, they put forward a proposal to the FEI to host the Championships in 2023 and this was agreed by the FEI Board this week. Dates for the Championship in 2023 are yet be confirmed.

The FEI Board also allocated the FEI Jumping Ponies Trophy Final 2021 to Mechelen (BEL). An experienced Organiser of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Western European League, the Belgian city will hold the Trophy Final from 26-30 December.

Kronenberg (NED) will host the FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Youth Final 2021 from 23-26 September.

Media contacts:

Grania Willis
Director Communications
grania.willis@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 42

Shannon Gibbons
Media Relations and Communications Manager
shannon.gibbons@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 46

FEI Extends Shutdown of International Events in Mainland Europe Due to EHV-1 Outbreak

The FEI has imposed a further two-week extension of the shutdown of all international events in mainland Europe until 11 April 2021 due to the ongoing outbreak of the neurological form of Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1). The FEI had previously announced a 28-day shutdown on 1 March 2021.

The move, which aims to minimise the further spread of the very aggressive strain of the virus, was unanimously approved at an emergency FEI Executive Board meeting. The extended lockdown applies to all FEI disciplines.

The decision is based on detailed scientific risk assessment conducted by world leading epidemiologist Dr Richard Newton and the FEI Veterinary Department.

The extended lockdown applies to all countries that have international scheduled events in the period to 11 April – Austria, Belgium, Spain, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and Sweden. However, the FEI again strongly recommends that all National Federations in mainland Europe cancel their national events in order to minimise horse movement.

The shutdown will mean the cancellation of the FEI World Cup™ Finals for the second consecutive year following the loss of the 2020 Finals in Las Vegas (USA) to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final and the FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final were scheduled to be held in Gothenburg (SWE) from 31 March to 4 April 2021.

“The extension of the lockdown is difficult for everyone, and the loss of the FEI World Cup Finals for a second year is particularly devastating, especially for the qualified athletes and for our loyal Top Partner Longines,” FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said. “We know how much work Tomas Torgersen and his incredible team in Gothenburg have put into organising the 2021 Finals, which would have been part of the 400th birthday anniversary celebrations for the city, so this is a desperately bitter blow.

“We cannot eradicate EHV as it is endemic in many countries, but we need to work together to minimise the transmission of this particular strain, which has already caused the death of 12 horses in Europe. All of the original in-contact horses from Valencia, Vejer de la Frontera, and Doha are already blocked on the FEI Database, but the whole community needs to be on the alert and monitoring their horses. We strongly urge all European-based FEI athletes to avoid travel with their horses during this prolonged shutdown, as travel is a very clear risk factor.

“Sadly, this additional lockdown is crucial to slow down the spread of the virus so that we can preserve the rest of the season, get our athletes and horses back competing safely, and allow as long a period as possible for those aiming for Tokyo to earn their Minimum Eligibility Requirements and confirmation results, and of course to prepare their horses for the Games.

“Nobody wants to see an outbreak like this ever again. There will be a comprehensive and fully transparent investigation into every aspect of this outbreak and the way it has been handled, and the findings will be published so that, together with our community, we can all learn from this.

“We will be putting in place enhanced protocols to allow for a safe return to play once this outbreak is under control, and we will advise our community on those well in advance of the resumption of international events, but the priority right now has to be the treatment of sick horses and getting healthy horses back to their home countries in a safe and biosecure way. We all need to focus on safeguarding not just FEI horses, but the wider European horse community.”

Work on identifying the gene sequencing of this strain of the virus is already underway, and the FEI is continuing to monitor the evolution of the virus through the FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group, which was formalised this week. The Group is composed of world-leading EHV specialists, the FEI Veterinary Director, and FEI Senior Veterinary Advisor, supported by the Chair of the FEI Veterinary Committee. Reports and recommendations from this Group will be published on a weekly basis.

The FEI is also publishing daily updates on the dedicated EHV-1 hub.

Media contacts:

Grania Willis
Director Communications
grania.willis@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 42

Shannon Gibbons
Media Relations and Communications Manager
shannon.gibbons@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 46

FEI Cancels European Mainland Events Due to EHV-1 (Neurological Form)

The FEI has cancelled international events in 10 countries on the European mainland with immediate effect and until 28 March 2021 due to the rapid evolution of a very aggressive strain of the neurological form of Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1), which originated in Valencia (ESP) and has already resulted in related outbreaks in at least three other countries in Europe.

This decision applies to all FEI disciplines, but in order to prevent huge numbers of horses simultaneously departing the Jumping Tours on the Iberian Peninsula, in Italy, and in Belgium that have been ongoing for a number of weeks, these specific Tours will be allowed to continue as individual “bubbles” on the condition that absolutely no new horses are allowed to enter the venues and no positive cases of EHV-1 are confirmed.

The Jumping Tour venues in Vejer de la Frontera (ESP), Vilamoura (POR), San Giovanni in Marignano (ITA), and Gorla Minore (ITA) will have stringent biosecurity protocols in place and additional FEI Veterinary Delegates onsite. Horses will only be permitted to leave these venues when they are in possession of an official health certificate from the local Veterinary Authorities. Any horses leaving these venues without this documentation will be blocked on the FEI Database. It is also illegal to transport a horse without an official health certificate.

Oliva Nova (ESP) had already advised the FEI that it has decided to cancel the rest of its scheduled competitions in the Mediterranean Equestrian Tour III. Opglabbeek (BEL) has also informed the FEI that it has cancelled its events in March.

A number of countries, including France, have already cancelled all their events to minimise transmission of the virus.

The decision, which covers events in France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Poland, Netherlands, Germany, and Slovakia, has been made in accordance with FEI General Regulations Article 112.3, which states: The Secretary General shall have the authority to remove any Competition and/or Event from the Calendar if justified circumstances relating to a Competition or the Event are established.

“This was not an easy decision to block events in mainland Europe, particularly after the major disruption to the FEI Calendar caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said, “but this EHV-1 outbreak is probably the most serious we have had in Europe for many decades and our decision is based on clearly identified epidemiological risk factors.

“This strain of EHV-1 is particularly aggressive and has already caused equine fatalities and a very large number of severe clinical cases. We need to keep our horses safe.

“We are also aware that a large number of horses left the venue in Valencia without an official health certificate, meaning they had an unknown health status. Some horses were already sick, and the risk of transmission from these horses is a major concern.

“Cancelling these competitions in mainland Europe, with the exception of the ongoing Jumping Tours in the Iberian Peninsula and Italy, limits the number of horses travelling internationally and therefore reduces the likelihood of this very serious virus being transmitted on an increasingly wider scale. We also strongly recommend that the affected member Federations should also cancel their national events.

“We are very conscious of the fact that this is a very stressful and distressing time, and that this is potentially hugely disruptive for those athletes aiming for their Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MERs) or confirmation results for Tokyo, but we are looking at ways to alleviate that in order to assist athlete/horse combinations in getting their MERs or confirmation results once the events in mainland Europe are allowed to resume.”

The FEI is conscious that some athletes have already arrived on competition venues or are en route, and is directly contacting all impacted athletes entered in Events between now and 28 March 2021.

Previous FEI updates since the FEI was first notified of the EHV-1 outbreak on 20 February are available here. Please scroll down to the Updates from the FEI Veterinary Department section.

Media contacts:

Grania Willis
Director Communications
grania.willis@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 42

Shannon Gibbons
Media Relations and Communications Manager
shannon.gibbons@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 4a

Host Cities for Major FEI Youth Championships in 2021/22 Announced

Host cities for the FEI Youth Jumping Competition* 2022 and this year’s FEI Dressage European Championship U25 have been finalised, with allocations agreed by the FEI Board.

These important Youth Championships will both be hosted in Germany, with the FEI Youth Jumping Competition 2022 allocated to Aachen, and the FEI Dressage European Championship U25 to Hagen, two venues with enviable track records for organising top level events.

Following the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision to postpone the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) 2022 in Dakar (SEN) until 2026, the FEI sought IOC agreement for a replacement competition. The new FEI Youth Jumping Competition 2022 will mean that young Jumping athletes aged 14-18 will still have the opportunity to participate in a global competition based on the unique YOG format.

“We were delighted the IOC supported the FEI initiative for a replacement equestrian competition for the Youth Olympic Games in 2022 and that it will be hosted at the world-famous showgrounds in Aachen,” FEI President Ingmar De Vos said. “The Youth are our future and we need to safeguard the development of youth engagement in equestrian sport and continue inspiring this new generation of athletes.

“Participation at the YOG is a significant motivating factor for athletes to stay in elite-level sport. Now we can offer the FEI Youth Jumping Competition 2022 as an alternative to the next YOG generation, which they would otherwise have lost with the postponement of Dakar 2022. And it allows us to promote the Olympic values with these young athletes in a truly global environment.”

The FEI Youth Jumping Competition (28 June to 3 July 2022) will follow the same format as the Equestrian Competition at the Youth Olympic Games, with 30 athletes from 30 nations across six continents participating in a continental team competition and an individual competition. As with YOG, all Athletes will compete on borrowed horses provided by the Organiser.

The FEI Dressage European Championship U25 in 2021, originally scheduled to run in Donaueschingen (GER), has been reallocated to Hagen (GER). Host of multiple championship-level events, Hagen was the venue used for the test event for the new Olympic formats in Jumping and Dressage in 2019.

The U25 Championship will run concurrently with the Senior FEI Dressage European Championships from 8-12 September 2021.

*The final naming of the FEI Youth Jumping Competition 2022 is still to be confirmed.

Media contacts:

Grania Willis
Director Communications
grania.willis@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 42

Shannon Gibbons
Media Relations and Communications Manager
shannon.gibbons@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 4

When You Get an Opportunity, Then Grab It with Both Hands: David O’Connor

David O’Connor (USA) with the brilliant Custom Made who claimed individual gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. (Photo credit: FEI)

It’s probably not that surprising that David O’Connor’s career thrived throughout the era of long-format Eventing, because if you’ve crossed the vast expanse of North America on horseback when you’re just 11 years old then going the distance is unlikely to be daunting at any stage of your life.

The 2000 Olympic Eventing champion retired from international competition in 2004, served as President of the United Stated Equestrian Federation (USEF) for the next eight years, and was inducted into the United States Eventing Association’s Hall of Fame in 2009. He now trains young horses, coaches riders, and designs courses, and he sees it all as a natural progression. “I’m in this game 45 years, and as time goes on you move on to the next level. For me that’s the training side of the sport, and I really enjoy it a lot,” says the man who became Chair of the FEI Eventing Committee three years ago.

He’s travelling to a show the day I call him up to ask him about his life and times. So how did he get started with horses? Did his family have a generational connection with them?

“No, my mum was brought up in suburban London (GBR) and she rode a bit, but it was only when she came to the US that she really got into it. My father wasn’t horsey at all; he worked in the Navy, but my brother Brian and I went to the local Pony Club when we were kids and that’s how it all began,” he explains. Mum, Sally O’Connor, would go on to become a Dressage rider, judge, and author while Brian’s voice is one of the most recognisable on the US equestrian commentary circuit. David, meanwhile, became a superstar Eventing athlete, greatly admired for the long and successful partnerships he established with a superb string of horses.

Ambitions

He says he didn’t have big ambitions as a child. “We weren’t wealthy so I never thought horses would be my life,” he explains. But when he was 17 years old, fate intervened. Spotted by legendary coach Jack Le Goff, he joined training sessions for development riders staged at the USEF Training Centre in Massachusetts (USA) and was invited to stay on.

“It was an amazing opportunity, a door that opened for me and I kinda ran through it as fast as I could! I was there for four-and-a-half years, and without that opportunity I’m really not sure where my life would have gone.”

His teenage heroes included Jimmy Wofford, Mike Plumb, “and Bruce (Davidson), who was dominating the sport across the world at the time.” David has maintained a lifetime connection with Jimmy, who he describes as a mentor and great friend. Like Jimmy, David’s career almost completely embraced the long-format era of Eventing which was very different to the scaled-back test horses and riders face today.

The old three-day formula consisted of Dressage on day 1 followed by Roads and Tracks, Steeplechase, more Roads and Tracks, and then Cross-Country on day 2, with showjumping on the third and final day.

“I was the last long-format winner at the Olympic Games (Sydney 2000) and World Championships (Jerez 2002), and I experienced the change to the modern-day sport,” he points out. “It’s certainly different doing a 13-minute course back then and an 11-minute course now. Today the intensity is higher, so horses can get out of breath quite quickly if you don’t manage your speed. Back then we managed galloping all the time, the horses were very fit, more thoroughbred types. There are horses that are not as thoroughbred that can do quite well in a 4-Star today, but they can’t manage a 5-Star. Now it’s all about turning and accuracy and having horses jump narrow fences… the rideability is more important than the athletic ability, whereas the athletic ability was more important back then. And there’s a huge difference between showjumping after cross-country and showjumping before,” he adds.

Brilliant horses

David had many brilliant horses, the best-remembered possibly his Olympic rides Giltedge and Custom Made. At the 1996 Games in Atlanta, he rode Giltedge to team silver and Custom Made to individual fifth place, and four years later Custom Made claimed individual gold in Sydney (AUS) while Giltedge was on the bronze-medal-winning US side.

So how would these two special Irish-bred horses cope with the challenges of the modern sport?

“Giltedge would be just as successful now as he was back then because he was extremely rideable and a very good showjumper, in fact he would have an even better career now because he would have been totally in the game! Custom Made would still be a big 5-Star horse; he would revel in it just like he did because his big wins were all over galloping courses like Badminton, Kentucky, the Sydney Olympics, but probably not so much at Olympic Games and World Championships because the courses are getting shorter and more twisting and turning and that wouldn’t play to his strengths.

“One of the great things about these two, and many of our other horses like Biko and Prince Panache, was that they stayed sound and played the game for so long. They were Irish-bred and we can’t afford to lose the genetic advantages that the Irish bloodlines bring, like longevity and athleticism, which maybe some of the other countries don’t have,” he says.

When it comes to longevity, Custom Made was a perfect example, only passing away last year at the ripe old age of 34.

Prepare

So how did he prepare horses like these two all-time greats? “With a lot of long, slow work three or four months away from the event to put a base on them, and faster work closer to the competition,” he explains. The long, slow work was exactly that. “Sometimes you’d spend two hours on them riding up and down hills, trotting, slow cantering, and walking. Some of the kids coming up now don’t want to put that work in,” he points out.

And did the horses have similar personalities? “No, Custom Made (a.k.a. Tailor) had tremendous strength and scope and the most unbelievable gallop. He never got tired in his life and was an incredible athlete, but he was quite sensitive about a lot of things and when he got nervous he got very strong.

“But I never had a horse try as hard as Giltedge; he always rose to the occasion. There was this super-power thing that happened at a competition; he would turn into a horse that fought for you more than any other horse I’ve had in my life. That’s why he became such a great team horse for the US. I only ever had one rail down in showjumping with him and he was always going to be in the top 10 – he was one of those troopers you could always rely on,” David says proudly.

He relishes the relationships he had with both horses. “At the beginning of their careers I felt they were part of my career but towards the end of their competitive cycle it was me who was part of theirs! I just had to do my job and let them get on with theirs. When they retired, we gave demonstrations and they became even more famous. They had a huge fan-club; people just loved them, and not many horses get that because there are not a lot of really famous horses around anymore – I think their longevity had a lot to do with that,” he comments.

Family ride

When I ask him about the family ride across the United States of America, I can tell that there’s a determined streak in the O’Connor gene pool. He recalls a family dinner during which his mother announced her plan. “She had this romantic image of the US as the Wild West… John Wayne and all that. We lived in Maryland on the East Coast and she came up with the idea that we should ride to California on the West Coast, and the more people said it couldn’t happen the more she was determined it would. It was an amazing decision for her to make!” David says with a laugh.

So on 13th May 1973 they set off on the 3,000 mile trip that took 14 weeks to complete. “I was 11, Brian was 13 and it was just the three of us. We ended up going to Oregon instead of California because otherwise we would have had to cross the desert, and we didn’t quite make it to the west coast because Brian and I had to go back to school at the end of August,” David says. Brian’s horse did the full distance while David and Sally both needed remounts en route, turning the original two out to rest until they were collected on the way home.

“My mother knew people across the first-half of the country, and we stayed with them about every 10 days and gave the horses a couple of days off each time. But we didn’t know anybody beyond the Mississippi River, so we just knocked on people’s doors when we got to the end of the day, explained what we were doing and everyone East of the river said, ‘You’re going WHERE?!’ and everybody West said, ‘You’re from WHERE?!’ We were doing 30-35 miles a day and local newspapers started following us.

“It was an amazing trip for an 11-year-old kid and taught me a lot about spending time with horses and appreciation of the land and how people make a living. And it gave me a sense of time, not control over time but how to enjoy being in the moment, and that has always stayed with me. It was 47 years ago, and I still think about it often,” David says, clearly enjoying the memories.

Bitless

I ask David about riding without a bit in the horse’s mouth. He’s quite an advocate for bitless riding, but he points out that it has its limitations when it comes to competition.

“We start all of our young horses in rope halters without a bit, and when we are going on a quiet hack most are in just a halter, and we practice this a lot. They learn to go, stop, turn, rein-back, and all that, so when we put a bit in their mouth there is no anxiety about it.

“But there’s a huge difference when you are out on a course for 8 to 10 minutes galloping at a speed of 570 metres a minute. You can’t compare riding in a ring or quietly hacking with the need for the horse to be able to answer cross-country questions – they are two totally different things. From a risk-management point of view there is no way I would ever go cross-country for miles without having a bit.”

Admired

I ask him about the people he most admired during his time at the top of the sport and the first person he mentions is, unsurprisingly, New Zealand’s Mark Todd – “a great horseman and a good friend.”

He describes the period when he and his wife and fellow-Olympian, Karen O’Connor, lived in England as “magical. In the 90s, we were part of a group of riders including Mary King (GBR) and Blythe Tait (NZL) who were all there at the same time competing against each other and who became the best of friends. It drove us all to be better, there were 15 players at the top of the world sport all living near each other and it was a very special time,” he recalls.

So why didn’t he and Karen stay in Great Britain? “We had the opportunity to ride for Mrs Mars who became a big supporter of ours. She bought a place in Virginia and asked us to come back and run a High Performance Programme out of there. But if that opportunity hadn’t come our way, we might have stayed – who knows?” he says.

Wisdom

Finally, I ask David to share some wisdom with the next generation of young Event athletes. “The main thing is to have a goal that’s way out in front of you and to work hard to get there. Surround yourself with the best people you can find and learn your craft to the nth degree.

“As Mark Twain wrote. ‘It’s very easy to learn the tricks of the trade and never learn the trade.’ You need to learn every aspect of the trade and that includes the people part, the horse part, the riding part, the competitive part, and the management part. You don’t become a winner because you’re talented and you deserve it; you have to be driven and you need to be hungry if you want to succeed.

“And one of the things I tell all my students is that when you get an opportunity [like David did when spotted by Jack Le Goff], then grab it with both hands!”

By Louise Parkes

Media contact:

Shannon Gibbons
Media Relations and Communications Manager
shannon.gibbons@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 46

FEI Awards 2020 Celebrate a Decade of Equestrian Excellence

If you had the chance to choose, who would be your favourites from the winners over the past decade of FEI Awards?

Well now you have that opportunity! In a year when our sport has been brought to a standstill by the pandemic, we are looking back through the years and giving YOU the chance to pick the best of the best from the five FEI Awards categories.

And the public vote for the special edition FEI Awards 2020 is now open!

This year the winners in each of the five categories will be chosen entirely by the public and votes can be cast on FEI.org from today until 22 November. Winners will be announced the second week of December.

There are 55 nominees representing 19 nations across the five Awards categories: Longines FEI Rising Star; Peden Bloodstock FEI Best Athlete; Cavalor FEI Best Groom; FEI Against All Odds; and FEI Solidarity. The complete list of nominees can be found here.

“These Awards are a way to honour the heroes of our sport through their amazing stories of resilience, horsemanship, determination, and passion,” FEI President Ingmar De Vos said.

“Equestrian is not just a sport, but a way of life for many people, and this has been a desperately difficult year for the equestrian community, just as it has been for everyone, in every sector. Now, more than ever, we need to focus on the positives that our sport has to offer and celebrate the fantastic ambassadors that we have, both on the field of play and behind the scenes making a difference.”

Since their launch in 2009, the FEI Awards have become a key addition to the annual equestrian calendar and have grown in size and stature over the last decade. The FEI Best Athlete and FEI Rising Star Award categories have featured a high calibre of nominees from around the world with numerous Olympic, Paralympic, and FEI World Equestrian Games™ honours among them.

With nine awards in total, Germany has the greatest number of winners and also tops the leader board in the FEI Best Athlete category, with five wins in 11 years.

German athletes in different Olympic disciplines have won the FEI Best Athlete category three years in a row. 2019 winner Ingrid Klimke, one of the world’s most successful Eventing riders, was the third German female to win the FEI Best Athlete award, following in the footsteps of FEI World Equestrian Games™ Jumping champion Simone Blum in 2018 and six-time Dressage Olympic gold medallist Isabell Werth in 2017.

Germany has also been to the fore in the FEI Rising Star Award, with the Rothenberger family claiming it twice, with Sönke winning in 2016 and his sister Semmieke taking home the honours last year.

Alongside the recognition of individual sporting accomplishments, the FEI Best Groom award highlights the important work of grooms, often the unsung heroes of equestrian sport, and the British have dominated this category. There was a double celebration in 2016 when Olympic champion Nick Skelton and his long-time groom Mark Beever were crowned Best Athlete and Best Groom. Career groom Jackie Potts won in 2014 for her long collaboration with Eventing legend William Fox-Pitt while Alan Davies, head groom to Dressage superstars Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin, won the title in 2017.

The FEI Solidarity Award has raised the profile of a number of equestrian development projects, individuals, and organisations that have benefitted the sport and communities in countries such as Haiti, South Africa, Singapore, Uruguay, Zambia, and Great Britain.

At the 2018 FEI Awards Gala in Manama (BRN), the FEI Solidarity Award was given to The Horsemanship Movement, founded by Chinese Eventing star Alex Hua Tian and his friend Philip Wong. The programme aims to improve the lives of migrant children through building a positive partnership with horses, as well as to reposition equestrian sports as a value-led activity, rich with character education for children.

Following his win in 2018, Alex Hua Tian became the only individual to have secured two accolades at the FEI Awards having also won FEI Rising Star at the inaugural FEI Awards Gala in 2009 in Copenhagen (DEN). The FEI Rising Star recognition came on the back of his Olympic debut at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing at the age of 18, where he became China’s first equestrian Olympian and the youngest ever Eventer in Olympic history.

Perhaps the most inspiring of all the categories is the FEI Against All Odds Award, which has brought equestrian stories of courage, hope, and faith to the forefront. The Award, given to a person who has pursued his or her equestrian ambitions despite a physical handicap or extremely difficult personal circumstances, has been won by athletes from Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, Haiti, Palestine, Uruguay, and the USA.

“This year, more than ever, I invite you all to show your support for the multiple nominees in the different categories,” FEI President Ingmar De Vos said. “The equestrian community has been pushed to the limit this year but has come out stronger and this is our chance to unite and celebrate our community’s resilience in the face of adversity.”

Media contacts:

Grania Willis
Director, Communications
grania.willis@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 42

Vanessa Martin Randin
Senior Manager, Media Relations & Communications
vanessa.randin@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 73