The FEI has updated its rules on maternity leave ©Getty Images

The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) has updated it maternity rules in the wake of criticism from double Tokyo 2020 gold medallist Jessica von Bredow-Werndl.

New regulations claimed to offer athletes more flexibility have been approved by the FEI Board.

It means athletes who take maternity leave and have their places in the jumping, dressage and driving rankings protected will have the option of being out of action for just three months, down from the previous minimum period of six months.

Athletes will also be able to come back sooner than they had indicated when initially requesting the leave, under the new rules.

A four-week notice period will be required to do that in jumping and dressage and 10 weeks for the non-Olympic discipline driving.

Provisions for maternity-leave ranking protections are also to be introduced for endurance and Para dressage.

The Vaulting Technical Committee is examining doing the same, according to the FEI.

"It is good news that the Board has allowed for greater flexibility regarding maternity leave," FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez said.

Jessica von Bredow-Werndl had criticised the FEI's old rules on maternity leave ©Getty Images
Jessica von Bredow-Werndl had criticised the FEI's old rules on maternity leave ©Getty Images

"The FEI was one of the first international sports organisations to introduce provisions for maternity leave in April 2010 and we remain committed to protecting the welfare of our athletes. 

"These rules had been first put in place for jumping and were gradually extended to dressage and driving. 

"This had been done in order to allow athletes, who have had a baby, not to lose all their rankings points while off the circuit.

"The FEI has listened to the riders who have expressed the desire to have the option of returning to competition earlier than six months and the FEI Board is very much in favour of supporting athletes wishing to achieve the best possible balance between family life and a high-level sports career. 

"The Ranking Rules in all the FEI disciplines are living documents and we will keep on reviewing the maternity and medical leave provisions to make sure they remain relevant and fair."

Von Bredow-Werndl became an outspoken critic of the old rules in September, labelling them "simply unfair".

The German gave birth to her daughter in August but was told she could not return to competition until six months was up, or would forfeit ranking protection.

While modern pentathlon's place at the Olympics is in jeopardy, with the sport left off the provisional programme for Los Angeles 2028 in the wake of a horse-abuse scandal at Tokyo 2020, equestrian remains on the timetable for Paris 2024, Los Angeles 2028 and beyond.