Delegates largely backed proposals to clean up endurance at a long-awaited conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Sunday (9 February).

But frustration remains that Middle Eastern federations — at whom the measures are primarily aimed — were all absent.

The conference resulted from months of work by the Endurance Strategic Planning Group (ESPG), triggered by concerns about high levels of doping and injuries in the Middle East.

FEI vice-president John McEwen urged delegates to speak in general terms and avoid politicising. Many expressed concern that the cost of implementing stronger action against doping and fractures would be shouldered by the many small federations that already run a clean sport.

Pierre Arnould, Belgian national coach, said that “90% of the problems are caused by the federations who are not here”. He was rebuked by Mr McEwen who said this remark was “not helpful”.

But Mr Arnould was backed by US chef d’equipe Emmett Ross.

“Fair play is non-existent today,” added Mr Ross. “The young riders World Championships in Tarbes, France [last July], was a really bad scene for all of us.”

Mr Ross did not elaborate, but rule-breaking in Tarbes, the elimination and later death of a UAE horse called Eclipse, allegations of nerve blocking and yellow cards have been widely reported.

ESPG chairman Andrew Finding — who is also chief executive of the British Equestrian Federation— focused on the 5 ongoing controversial topics in endurance (of an original 37).

He cleared up misunderstandings that ESPG intended trainers to replace riders as the “person responsible” — the person to face a tribunal in the event of any rule being broken.

As previously reported in H&H, trainers, where they exist, will take secondary responsibility, but riders will still be primarily responsible.

Mr Finding stressed that the trainer-led set-ups popular in the Middle East could become the model for emerging equestrian nations such as China and should be legislated for.

Delegates also rejected exiling the high-speed desert rides to a separate discipline or even a non-FEI jurisdiction.

Four-star judge Juliette Mallison said: “The sport must remain as one. In the rules it is clearly a competition against the clock.

“What we do not need is the prepared, flat courses, or for the horse to be followed [by vehicles — conditions typically found in these desert rides]. It is a competition for the horse and the rider — not for his crew.”

The conference struggled to decide how improvements would be measured. This is partly because the FEI’s injuries surveillance project is in its infancy and there are no reliable statistics for comparison.

Suzanne Dollinger of Switzerland has extensively analysed FEI competition results. She queried why these are not already used to spot rides with potential for low completion rates.

However, ESPG member Brian Sheehan said: “Endurance is a race. One is tactical [true endurance rides]; the other is a straight long-distance flat race [a desert race].

“It’s a major philosophical matter and too early to make that change. We have to see what the injuries study shows — some of us may have to shift our thinking. Statistics are all important.”

This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (13 February, 2014)

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