World Horse Welfare has been joined by major equestrian nations in applauding the FEI’s suspension of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), over the escalating crisis in desert endurance racing.

The charity’s Roly Owers hoped the FEI’s unprecedented move heralded the end of a “dark period”.

“In many ways this is a sad day,” he said. “However, the FEI’s drastic move to suspend the UAE federation is a reflection of the seriousness of the situation.

“We hope this action will be the end of a dark period in international endurance and demonstrate to all that the FEI Welfare Code of Conduct must be at the heart of international equestrian sport.

“The focus is now on the UAE to undergo a fundamental change in attitude.”

The FEI bureau took its “unanimous” decision last Thursday (12 March), also ordering an investigation into allegations, first exposed by H&H, that the UAE has been faking ride results for several years.

The UAE is suspended for an “indeterminate” period and is not permitted to organise any FEI competitions or attend FEI-related events. UAE endurance riders are grounded, other than for national rides.

Riders from other disciplines may compete internationally, but under the neutral FEI flag.

Ingmar de Vos, FEI president, said that “any potential” reinstatement depended on the UAE agreeing to uphold horse welfare and comply fully with FEI rules and regulations.

“We were confident that strict enforcement of the new rules implemented on 1 August 2014 would be effective, but regretfully this has not been the case,” said Mr de Vos.

“There have been other major non-compliance issues, so in the end we had no other choice than taking this drastic measure to deal with an unacceptable situation.”

Germany, Switzerland and the US have publicly backed the move, with the American Endurance Ride Conference also calling for Dubai to be stripped of the 2016 World Championships.

The significance of the suspension is not yet fully understood by UAE riders.

There was one horse fatality during a CEN (national ride) at Bou Thib on Saturday (14 March) and eye-witness reports of two during the previous day’s desert triathlon.

The UAE ladies’ endurance team travelled to Bahrain, unaware they could not compete.

The FEI said it will contact every UAE rider to explain the situation.

Showjumper Abdullah Al Marri told Sport 360 that riding under the FEI flag was a “slap in the face”.

A Facebook campaign for the UAE’s reinstatement is being supported by endurance producers — of horses and equipment — who sell regularly to the UAE.

Meanwhile, at least 13 “bogus” rides are set to be investigated by Quest, former Metropolitan Police Chief Lord Stevens’ integrity services agency.

Volunteer researchers, all experienced endurance riders, have found data of the suspect rides embedded in the results of earlier rides.

The odds of average speed and loop times for as few as 40 starters being repeated exactly on a single occasion are impossible to calculate.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 19 March 2015