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America’s leading endurance vet has entered the escalating scandal about the “skeletal” horse in the 160km ride at Compiègne on 23 May.

Dr Susan Garlinghouse disputes the FEI defence that, although Bahrain’s Shakla’s Sudden Impact was eliminated for lameness at gate two, the horse was not “metabolically compromised” by his “lean but not emaciated” state.

Her extensively published studies from the USA’s tough Tevis Cup endurance contest showed average completion rates of 9.5% in horses with low body condition scores of 3, but zero in very thin horses rated below 3.

“While the majority of the excessively thin were eliminated for metabolic reasons, thin horses are more likely to fatigue sooner. They either develop muscle myopathies, or simply take a bad step due to tiredness and then suffer a biomechanical injury,” said Dr Garlinghouse, a director of the American Endurance Ride Conference.

“The research is readily available, with strong statistics behind it.

“How is it that those involved in allowing this emaciated horse to compete, including this money-is-no-object Group VII team, are either unaware, or apparently willing to disregard it?”

The FEI has backed ride organiser Nicolas Wahlen after Compiègne’s mayor accused the ride of dragging the area into disrepute. The municipality has loaned its Grand Parc for endurance events for 20 years, but Mayor Philippe Marini says he will not work with Mr Wahlen again.

“The ‘benefits’ in terms of image for our ‘city of the horse’ are now disastrous, “ said Mayor Marini. “Endurance leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.”

Debate is still raging about how the thin-looking horse passed the pre-ride inspection. Images went viral and World Horse Welfare branded them “disturbing”.

Hundreds on social media have noted that Compiègne used virtually the same panel of officials appointed to this August’s World Equestrian Games (WEG) ride at Sartilly.

An FEI spokesman said: “Nicolas Wahlen and his team are among the most experienced FEI endurance organisers in the world. They have the FEI’s full support. We are sure they will deliver a safe and successful endurance event at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

“We have reviewed in detail all the reports from Compiègne and are absolutely confident that FEI rules and procedures were applied correctly.”

Death possibly ‘neurological’

Mayor Marini is also angry about the horse death — Compiègne’s first since 1999.
The FEI confirmed a post-mortem into L Emirita Di Gallura has taken place. She started a race at Golasecca in Italy on 10 May with her owner-rider Luca Berardi, but the ride was abandoned at gate one.

The mare was sold to Sheikh Mohammed’s French agent, shipped to England, then to Compiègne within days, where rider Sebastien Miermont was hired. He tried her for the first time on 21 May for 20min, according to his statement on Facebook. She collapsed after the finish with suspected neurological problems.

The FEI spokesman added: “FEI rules for endurance allow any rider to ride any horse in any competition, as long they both are correctly qualified.”

This article was first published in Horse & Hound on 12 June 2014