With pricked ears, the horse and its rider galloped through the sunny autumn day, a picture like a painting, to see on social media. It says: Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, European champion and Olympic champion in dressage, is ready to return to competitive sport after the birth of her daughter Ella. But this weekend at the international festival in Ludwigsburg, the woman who has dominated the dressage arenas of the world for the past two years is missing. She would have liked to show herself in the saddle after the baby break.
But the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) and, due to the rules, the German Equestrian Federation (FN) banned her from starting. The reason: Bredow-Werndl had applied for six months of maternity leave at the FEI, which she now has to comply with, although the 36-year-old feels fit again after an uncomplicated birth. She finds the FEI rule to be “simply unfair” and incomprehensible, an opinion shared by many fellow riders, including male ones.
Actually, it was a well-intentioned idea: Female riders who have a child should be given the opportunity after their break to return to where they were before the pregnancy. It’s about points for the world rankings. They are collected at international starts and expire after one year. The ranking list is recalculated every month, the old points are removed from the ranking and replaced by the current ones. In order to take maternity leave, the rider must apply to the FEI and state when she would like to take a break, at least six months and a maximum of one year. During this time, your points do not expire completely, only 50 percent. The other half stays put. The rider has a starting ban during this time, she can no longer decide otherwise if she feels fit earlier. Exactly the same rule applies in the case of a prolonged illness. Although Jessica von Bredow-Werndl would have waived the ranking list points, she was still not allowed to start. She is considered “not nameable”, as a letter from the FEI informed her and the German FN. Since there was no prospect of bringing about another decision by the FEI tribunal in time for the tournament in Ludwigsburg, Bredow-Werndl decided not to take legal action for the time being.
Show jumper Janne Friederike Meyer-Zimmermann lost all her world ranking points
The show jumper Janne Friederike Meyer-Zimmermann already had similar problems in the spring. She gave birth to her son Friedrich in January and competed in a tournament in Oliva, Spain, 14 days before the six-month deadline. She had not received permission to take off from the FN for the reasons mentioned above. “We told her that she cannot be named as long as she is on maternity leave,” said FN sports director Dennis Peiler. Meyer-Zimmermann rode anyway and not only paid for this with the loss of her world ranking points from the entire half-year period, but was subsequently disqualified from the tests in Oliva. “For violating multiple rules,” as the FEI database puts it somewhat vaguely.
For the professional rider Meyer-Zimmermann, who runs a tournament and trading stable near Hamburg, this was tantamount to a professional ban. She slipped in the world rankings from 107th to 270th, which meant that she hardly got any starts in major tournaments. She was only able to return to the front row with the help of national coach Otto Becker, who gave her starting opportunities from his contingent. For example, Meyer-Zimmermann managed twice a double clear round in Nations Cups, next week she will be part of the German team at the Nations Cup final in Barcelona.
Together with other colleagues, Bredow-Werndl is involved in the Equal Equest initiative for equal opportunities in equestrian sports
Together with other riders, Meyer-Zimmermann founded the Equal Equest initiative, an initiative for equal opportunities in equestrian sport. In addition to Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, it also includes Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, for whom this rule was applied for the first time in 2009 when she was expecting her daughter Brianne. Meyer-Zimmermann’s claim: “Every woman should be able to decide for herself and flexibly how much time she needs after the birth of her child.” The riders are supported by the German federation, which has submitted a proposal for a change to the world federation. It stipulates that pregnancy and illness-related absence will no longer be treated in the same way. A rider should not have to decide in advance when and how long she will take her baby break. It must be possible for her to decide differently during the baby break, depending on her personal well-being. Your points should be 100 percent preserved during the time she doesn’t start. National starts should be possible at any time.
As before, 50 percent of the points should be credited for breaks of four to twelve months caused by injury or illness. “Less than four months makes no sense,” says FN Secretary General Soenke Lauterbach. Otherwise he fears that the rule will be abused by an assumed illness, if only the horses are not in good shape. The proposal will only be discussed at the FEI General Assembly in 2023 and will come into force in 2024 at the earliest. If the FN finds enough comrades-in-arms.