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Biltmore and FEI (long)

John Proudman
Sorry to have to post as a guest, my subscription is current but I cannot get Ridecamp to accept my posts.

My horse was, unfortunately, pulled at the first VC because of a mild cholic, so I had more time than expected to observe how this AERC/FEI/IAHA ride functioned.  First a disclaimer:  I have no connection with FEI other than as a rider, so my statements reflect my observations, understanding and opinion, and someone with FEI training may correct me if I make any misstatements.
I agree that there were problems and some confusion at Biltmore, but most of it had nothing to do with whether there were FEI riders and officials around or not.  In fact, the presence of an unusual number of ride staff and experienced officials probably helped keep things from being worse.  Any time you have over 200 horses on the trail at once doing different distances it is going to be an organizational nightmare, and I think that Anne and everyone else involved did a great job of preparing for the problems that they could forsee.  I personally found some of the trail markings less than obvious, and this is a particular problem when you have 100 miles or more of trails in a relatively small, suburban area....there are a lot of choices to sort out at a hand gallop that would not be a problem for a Sunday trail ride!  Yes, there were differences in the way the ride was run due to the FEI requirements, even for the riders who were not doing the FEI ride.  Some were very positive changes, and were not mentioned by Jim.  One of these was the wonderfully orderly crewing area very close to the P&R area.  Imagine your local ride with 200+ horses being crewed at once!  You would have crews strung out around a field, fighting to be within 50 yards of the P&R or the in-timer!  People stuck in the distance would be at a huge disadvantage.  However, FEI rules require that all entrants have equal access and advantage in location, so the crew area at Biltmore was set up like the spokes of a wheel at one end of the P&R, with lanes kept clear for unimpeded horse travel.  Noone had to go very far for P&R, vets, water, porta-potties, or the in/out timer.  The vetting was done in a large, segregated area with clear lanes for gaiting many horses at once.  Better organized than any ride I have ever seen!
Yes, there were stewards directing traffic through this congestion and into P&R, and riders were not permitted to decend on the P&R area with hoards of crew people and buckets and sponges.  Pulse-taking was all by stethoscope, with no influencing of personnel by this-or-that heart monitor.  This is a real improvement in my opinion, and makes things equal for those who do not have a large (or any) crew or the benefit of electronic devices.  The timing within P&R was closely controlled so that people could not gain or lose an advantage by differences in pulse taking or by entering the P&R gate expecting their horse's pulse to drop by the time they were seen.  The stewards benefited everyone by bringing some order to what might have been chaos with so many horses in a small area.  Biltmore had a huge staff of some of the best endurance vets in the sport, something that benefited all riders.  The 'preferred' parking was not to make anyone feel second-class, but because FEI requires horses to be under the observation and control of their officials from arrival to departure.  This is accomplished with stabling at most FEI events, but is not feasible at many endurance events, so having all the FEI horses camped together is the best compromise.  The layout at Biltmore and the need to have this stabling within sight of the officials did mean that other riders had to walk a little further, but this would not necessarily be true at another venue.
I would suspect that the confusion over CRI time, etc., was probably due to the fact that the finish line was 20 to 30 minutes walk from the P&R./vet check area.  This makes the usual requirement of top-ten riders having a CRI within 15 minutes of finish impossible.  This is an unusual situation, not connected with FEI.  It is true that the FEI riders have a more stringent time requirement to meet criteria, and it was a learning experience for all.  Everyone was learning how to do something new, and integrating it with AERC competitors and an IAHA ride made things more difficult, I'm sure.  Like anything new, it will work more smoothly as everyone gains experience and understanding.  Instead of having a closed mind, everyone should work together to understand what is going on and help it to work to everyone's advantage.  It is likely that only rides offering a 100-mile distance will offer FEI, but perhaps AERC riders of all distances will come to expect some of the FEI-inspired organizational changes that make a competition more impartial and fair.  The FEI riders pay extra for changes that benefit everyone.  If there are conflicts and inconveniences in integrating these events, I think that they will get worked out with a little experience and patience.  Hopefully, most riders will support this process.
John Proudman

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