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Equestrian changes run 'dumbing down' risk

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 23/11/2016 Cathy Walshe

Andrew Nicholson rides Nereo in the show-jumping competition at Badminton in 2013. © Getty Andrew Nicholson rides Nereo in the show-jumping competition at Badminton in 2013. Equestrian format changes approved for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics run the risk of "dumbing down" three-day eventing, Equestrian Sports NZ high performance director Sarah Dalziell-Clout says.

Equestrian's governing body, the FEI, has approved the new proposals which will reduce team numbers from four to three per nation in all three Olympic disciplines: dressage, showjumping and eventing.

Under previous rules, the worst-performing team rider's score was discarded and didn't impact the overall team total.

The FEI's general assembly voted to bring in the changes, which are aimed at increasing the number of countries at the Olympics without increasing the number of allocated athletes, which will remain at 200.

New Zealand was one of 11 national federations, out of 107, which voted against the changes.

Dalziell-Clout says this was because the changes would have a significant impact on eventing, which is New Zealand's targeted - and most successful - Olympic discipline.

"The major concern for the likes of us and other eventing nations like Germany, Britain and Australia is that it appears to be a bit of a dumbing down of the sport," she told NZ Newswire.

"What they're doing is lowering the top level, or what's been seen as the pinnacle event, to a lower level to enable more nations in."

Dalziell-Clout said details were still being worked out around how eventing would deal with the impact of reduced team numbers.

"What they're suggesting is they'll introduce substitutions, but there'll be penalty points associated with that."

For example, if a horse pulled up lame then another horse might be substituted.

Tim Price's cross-country fall at the Rio Olympics wouldn't have meant his elimination, but instead a number of penalty points and - if his horse was sound - progression through to final showjumping phase.

"There are some game-changing decisions that have been made for sure - it's going to become very tactical," Dalziell-Clout said.

"What they have said is it might be that they'll allow substitutions between the eventing phases, even if a horse isn't injured.

"That could well mean that you take a fourth horse knowing that it's a very good showjumper for the last day and that you'll substitute it for something that isn't.

"There'll be penalty points incurred, but it really brings in a whole new level of tactics to the sport.

"We're going to have to look at our team tactics and work out where we go from here."

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