Cheating your way into a ribbon

As long as there have been sports, there have been cheaters. The difference between the average athlete versus the equine competitor is that normally it is the horse who pays the price. Lately, there have been a variety of topics on well-known bulletin boards, showing images and videos of people who have hurt and almost killed their horses in order to win ribbons.

There can be a minor infraction, such as the rider who attempts a second equitation round on a different horse after being eliminated earlier in the division, which is in violation of USEF EQ110 s.1.  A minor infraction could be a simple mistake on behalf of an inexperienced competitor, or even their coach. In the event a rider or coach knowingly breaks a rule in order to win the class, the offending rider’s mistake should be brought to the attention of the show stewards. This is not to “tattle tale” but to ensure that each horse and rider gets a fair opportunity to compete.

A more subjective issue that is currently being examined is the issue of dangerous riding in eventing. The USEA has formed a Safety Committee in order to create new rules and regulations that guide and reinforce safety of horse and rider while in competition. After a string of horse and rider deaths in early 2008, the sport has come under scrutiny as being dangerous to both human and equine competitors. This has brought the “Dangerous Riding” designation to cross-country scorecards:

“A column has been added to the score sheet titled “DR,” to be used specifically for the 25 penalty points that may be assessed for Dangerous Riding as noted under Article EV11 of the Rules for Eventing. This column is located before the final points/placing column. Regardless of where a “DR” may be sited, this column is to indicate the 25 penalties and the penalties added to the final point classification.”

This penalty was created to discourage riders from exceeding cross-country speeds in order to make the optimum time. As many of the dangerous “rotational falls” happen while approaching a jump at speed, this rule is designed to specifically penalize those who push the clock to the limits. What makes this rule tricky is the subjectiveness that is required. One judge may feel a rider is too fast on course, while another steward could note they were traveling at the optimum speed. This also takes into account excessive punishment using a whip/spurs or pushing/forcing the horse to continue if it is not fit or has sustained an injury. There is also a new rule implementing that one fall of horse or rider results in instant elimination.

Another more serious infraction includes nerve blocking, which is sometimes done by western or hunter riders. The intent is to block the nerves at the base of the horse’s tail, in order to make the horse temporarily unable to use it. This presents the image of willingness and submissiveness while the horse is in the ring.

 At a horse show(

While any sort of performance-enhancing drugs are forbidden in all equine disciplines, there are competitors who continue to violate the rules in order to increase their points. Many owners and riders consider this trick, albeit illegal, to be commonplace in the show ring.  It occasionally can happen due to ignorance, however all owners and riders are fully responsible for the well-being of their horses. Allowing a vet or coach to inject a solution for cosmetic purposes should be researched carefully before proceeding.

The most well-known, documented case of nerve blocking gone wrong was with a Paint horse named Gator. An unsuspecting owner allowed the blocking to be done, upon the recommendation of her coach. He developed a horrifying infection which resulted in his muscle rotting away in his hindquarters.

A year and a half later, Gator is now pasture-sound but will never compete again. If you’d like to read more about Gator’s story, visit (you will need a membership to read the story).

Many riders have been disqualified or eliminated at some point in their competitive career, typically to minor infractions such as going off course or carrying a whip that exceeds the length allowed. As many riders bemoan the rules, they are there to keep both horse and rider safe.