The FEI Sports Forum 2024 covered hot topics from the 2025 European Championships to Gender Inequality in Equestrian Careers

The European Championships and gender imbalance in equestrian sport were among vital topics discussed at the 12th edition of the FEI Sports Forum, held on 29 and 30 April 2024, in Lausanne, Switzerland. Attendees presidents and secretaries of National Federations from around the world and many journalists.  IJRC Director Eleonora Ottaviani and President Francois Mathy Jr were also in attendance, representing the International Jumping Riders Club.

The conference kicked off last Monday morning, with a welcome from FEI president, Ingmar de Vos. Six sessions, covering topics from Ethics, to Sustainability, to Safeguarding, made up the packed agenda over the following two days.

Monday, 29 April

Session 1, on ‘Equine Ethics & Wellbeing’, began with an explanation of the FEI commitment to develop guidelines ensuring that ethical training methods are pursued. A scientific investigation of ‘hyperflexion’ and ‘rolkur’ will be resumed, to address the issue’s complexity. 

Next on the roster was a discussion of how to handle ‘Abuse of the Horse’ (Article 142).

If the horse is FEI registered, anyone can report mistreatment, and there is no time limit on when to act.

When the talk turned to the first subject of concern – tack and equipment, IJRC president Francois Mathy made an intervention about double-bridle use. ‘The discussion about double-bridle feels alien.  We need to be able to use precision tools.  You need to involve riders in the discussion. A loose noseband is described as bad, but when my horse puts his tongue over the bit, it is worse for him,’ he declared, to general applause from the auditorium. “It is good with lawyers and vets, but I think we are the ones who are riding with this equipment,” IJRC President added “We are the ones involved. It's like if you start talking to a Formula One driver about taking away his steering wheel and his brakes; I mean the precision that we have to ride with in these courses – not only for the results, but also for our safety; if you don't want to see crashes, we need to be precise. We need to be able to use these tools. It's very, very important to keep us involved in those discussions.”

IJRC director Eleonora Ottaviani then intervened, commenting on legal developments regarding horse welfare in Italy. ‘The Italian federation did a good job with the Italian government. The horse is now, since last year, officially recognized as athlete by law and receives the same protection legally.  In cases of abuse, the horse has the same rights as a human,’ she explained.


Several key themes stood out in the two-hour session on ‘Sustainability in Equine Sport’ in Session 2. Growing in importance, the definition of ‘Sustainability’ goes far beyond its environmental impact. As a broader definition is adopted, the process must be thought through from the grassroots, at a national level, to elite competitions, at the top of the tree. Youth ambassadors need to be involved from the get-go to sensitive everyone associated with the equestrian world right from the start. Participants emphasized that the Paris Olympic Games will be the first with lower emissions of CO2. Sports in all categories must work together to lessen the impact of climate change, it was  generally agreed.

Somesh Dutt concluded the session with an illustration of the FEI’s creation of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions calculator, in collaboration with Quantis. This tailormade tool addresses the requirements of NFs, national and international equestrian events, as well as riding facilities, to measure their carbon footprints, and to develop effective solutions to reduce emissions via practical means.


A lively discussion on ‘FEI Equine Anti-Doping and Medication Control Regulations (EADCMR)’ animated participants in Session 3. ‘Who is responsible for the horse when it comes to testing for controlled medication and/or doping,’ was the main question addressed.

The FEI now plans to begin out-of-competition testing, to ensure horse safeguarding beyond the competition environment. But ‘who is responsible for out-of-competition testing? Trainer, owner, athlete (rider or driver)?’ the audience was asked.

Eleonora Ottaviani pointed out that not only riders, but the entire team and anyone involved in caring for the horse, should be considered potentially responsible, if a case of doping is found.

An Owners Club representative then stated that owners rarely travel with their horses and their horses are often on different continents, while the IJRC pointed out that sometime many riders are riding horses that belonged to traders.

Towards the ends of the session, FEI veterinary director Göran Åkerström led a debate on the use of hair and saliva samples as possible non-invasive methods of testing for substances. This could lead to an improved testing protocol, prolonging the detection window by several months.

Göran Åkerström -FEI Veterinary Director ©FEI/Richard Juilliart Göran Åkerström -FEI Veterinary Director ©FEI/Richard Juilliart

Finally, the issue of gene doping was discussed. Ongoing efforts are being made to stay ahead of new technologies and practices that could compromise equestrian sport.


In addition to the three official sessions, the IJRC found time for a Monday meeting with the International Grooms Association. This was prior to a meeting, on the same day, with a group of equestrian athletes, organizers, owners, trainers and officials’ stakeholder organizations who had signed the Grooms Charter, drawn up by the FEI. Built around the principles of horse welfare, integrity, education and safety, the document was created to ensure that grooms have the tools to provide the highest level of care for horses in their charge, and that they are respected and supported in this important role.

FEI Sports Forum 2024  Grooms Charter Signature  © FEI/Richard Juilliart Grooms Charter Signature © FEI/Richard Juilliart


Tuesday, 30 April 2024

Tuesday morning opened with a fourth, important session on the FEI European Championships.

Usually, the location for the Senior European Championships is allocated two or three years in advance – but so far, no venue has submitted an official candidacy to host next year’s jumping, eventing or para dressage championship.

FEI Sports Forum 2024Session 4 - FEI Championships ReviewNayla Stössel - President, Longines CSIO St. Gallen© FEI/Richard Juilliart Session 4 - FEI Championships Review Nayla Stössel © FEI/Richard Juilliart

As panelist Nayla Stössel, President of CSIO St. Gallen, explained, following the pandemic, economic factors are probably to blame.  

Simone Perillo, General Secretary of the Italian Federation, added that as a result, the cost share model must be examined, and the FEI may need to share the risks. The fact that there is no bid for EC jumping says all that equestrian sports operators need to know.

The IJRC’s Francois Mathy stressed the importance of the European Championships in forming riders for future events. ‘The championships are the stage where the real sport happens, where the best sport wants to participate. The EC is very important in gaining experience ahead of the WC and OG. Younger riders gain unique opportunities at the EC.’

With thirty years as an Events Director under her belt, Eleonora Ottaviani added that despite the lack of prize money, participating at the Olympics is most riders’ ultimate dream. To avoid making big mistakes, it is vital that the FEI appoints experts with the necessary experience and connections to organize a championship. In the past, many championships were handled by experienced horse people. In addition, she strongly suggested that individual riders must be treated in the same way as those who compete in teams; and that riders must take care of their grooms’ accommodation. Finally, she stressed that organizers should occupy themselves with sport, while the commercial aspects should be the FEI’s responsibility.

Further comments on the importance of the ECs came from Michel Sorg, former Swiss jumping Chef Equipe. ‘We were at the ECs to win. Even if it was not a qualifier for Olympics, his riders competed with the aims to win and to be part of the team. We need both CSIOs and championships. For NFs, championships are crucial, and they are equally important for riders. Money is not the driving factor,’ he said.

Sönke Lauterbach, Secretary General GER, pointed out the attraction for the general public of the ECs: ‘The general public basically only understands the championships, the rest is complicated, and we need them.’

Áine Power, FEI Deputy Legal Director, rounded up the session with a summary of the  next steps. A report will be made at the FEI Board In-person Meeting in June, with the aim of developing a strategy for presentation at the FEI Board Meeting during the FEI General Assembly in November 2024.

FEI Sports Forum 2024Session 4 - FEI Championships ReviewÁine Power - FEI Deputy Legal Director© FEI/Richard Juilliart Áine Power - FEI Deputy Legal Director © FEI/Richard Juilliart


Following lunch, Tuesday afternoon began with Session 5 on ‘Safeguarding – What NFs need to know’.  The session aimed to raise awareness and to provide key tools for NFs that have still to take action on this crucial theme.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been working on safe sport for over two decades and has put in place measures including the IOC Consensus Statements and the need for all Olympic sports organizations to implement safeguarding policies.

The FEI plays an active role in supporting NFs to take the initial steps in implementing their own safeguarding policies, ensuring that their own countries have the necessary protective measures in place. The FEI will run Safeguarding Webinars for all NFs on 23 May at 9:00 and 16:00 CEST. 

The two-day conference drew to a conclusion with a Sixth Session on a deeply-felt topic: ‘Equity in Equestrian Sport:  Assessing gender equality across key roles and levels’.  It was moderated by Jessica Kurten, FEI Athletes’ Commission chair.

Kurten began with an explanation of the difference between ‘equality’ and ‘equity’.  The former involves treating everyone identically, whilst the latter focusses on individual differences, ensuring that everyone has equal opportunities for success, both on and off the field-of-play.

Equestrian sports are usually considered gender-neutral, allowing all to compete on an equal footing.  However, the reality is that gender inequalities still exist.

To illustrate the point, FEI vice-president Jack Huang highlighted key gender statistics, gathered by the FEI's Technology and Sports Services Department (TSS).

Mandana Mehran Pour, Head of Participation and Development at the British Equestrian Federation (BEF), made a further contribution to the topic, sharing findings from the Federation’s #HorsesforAll research (November 2023). This highlighted that the UK equestrian industry is ethnically underrepresented.

HRH Nanda-Dévi Norodom, Secretary General of the Cambodian Equestrian Federation (CEF), ended the session with real-life examples and personal anecdotes about how equestrian sport has fostered equity and inclusivity in Cambodian communities.

Further debate centered around the reasons for fewer women attaining higher ranks in Jumping and other disciplines. Many top female riders, it seems, priorities their horses and family over World Rankings.  However, the freezing of ranking points for female athletes during pregnancy, introduced at the request of the IJRC, has facilitated their temporary exit from top level competition, it appears. It was generally agreed that following constructive discussions, it was now time to act!