The FEI is urging all UAE endurance ride organisers to adopt local welfare rules successfully applied at Bou Thib in a bid to reduce the record speeds recorded in the current winter season.

The extraordinary move, which suggests the FEI’s own tighter measures to curb excesses have proved ineffective, follows the death of another horse at the  120km CEI Al Reef Cup on Saturday (16 January), five days short of the anniversary of the Splitters Creek Bundy fatality at the same event.

Idaho Rabba ran into a perimeter fence and broke a leg, having earlier been chased on the piste by a TV car, clips of which provoked horror on social media (pictured). Wollumbin Shahim, the horse upsides him throughout, recorded a first loop speed of 27kph. A final loop speed over 34kph was recorded by the overall fifth-placed horse.

On Tuesday (19 January) in a ladies-only 100km race at Dubai International Endurance City, winner Maria Julie Sciaroni of Argentina, recorded a final loop speed of 40.2 kph (25mph.) The next nine-placed horses all recorded final loop speeds well over 35kph. This is faster than the optimum cross-country speed at a four-star three-day event.

Speed a ‘major factor’

FEI endurance director Manuel Bandeira de Mello said: “It is abundantly clear that speed is a major factor in these [fatal] incidents and that it is necessary to introduce measures to slow down the horses in order to reduce the number of catastrophic injuries.

“The FEI is in urgent discussions with the Emirates Equestrian Federation and individual event organisers to introduce similar protocols to those used so successfully at the recent event in Bou Thib to reduce the speed.”

Idaho Rabba is the sixth officially-notified fatality since the UAE season commenced in October. The previous five were all at national rides, now staged under FEI rules under conditions attached to the lifting of UAE suspension, invoked last March, for major horse welfare violations last March.

HH Sheikh Sultan Al Nayhan, a senior member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, has long despaired of the lack of progress and introduced extra, more rigorous horse welfare rules at his own Bou Thib venue this season, including a maximum speed of 20kph and revised parameters for vettings.

Bou Thib uses FEI rules to find an “official” winner but only awards valuable prizes to combinations meeting Sheikh Sultan’s “top condition challenge.” Bou Thib has seen competition rates around 70% in three fixtures so far (compared with under 25% elsewhere) and no reported fractures or serious metabolic issues.

The FEI had already applied tougher measures to UAE endurance in the 2014-2015 season, after a catalogue of doping, fatality, cheating and ID fraud scandals, before pictures of Bundy perched on two broken forelegs went viral 12 months ago. Public outrage was the tipping point leading to the UAE’s suspension. However, extensive rule-breaking is still evident.

Unlike Bundy, Idaho Rabba’s fatal injury was not captured on film, though he can be seen on the first loop with rider Abdul Aziz Salah Abdulla Ameen apparently out of control. Later the TV car itself is apparently chasing the same two horses from directly behind, in a cloud of dust. It was originally alleged Ameen had fallen off, but the FEI confirms he was mounted when the accident happened.

The Sheikh Hamdan-owned Wollumbin Shahim “failed to complete” on loop two, though there is no record of his final vetting.

Mr de Mello said Saturday’s fatality is being fully investigated. Doping samples are now taken from all fatalities under the legal agreement between the FEI and the UAE. Fatalities in national rides must also now be notified.

“At a similar point in the UAE season last year, there had been three equine fatalities in international events so the number of deaths at international level has been reduced, but it is clear that we would like to see a similar reduction at national level,” said Mr de Mello.

“The official vets are now eliminating more horses at vet gates, meaning that the completion rates are lower, but this has not yet had the effect of reducing the level of catastrophic injuries at national events.”

Four of the previous deaths resulted from fractures. The other was a “sudden death” on the course, he added.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 21 January 2016