Endurance rides in the UAE have been allowed to resume in time for the prestigious 160km President’s Cup tomorrow (Saturday, 13 February), on th condition that new measures are applied that bear close resemblance to the “Bou Thib initiative”.
Sport was halted last week after a further escalation of horse welfare issues. The Emirates Equestrian Federation (EEF) was given until Thursday 11 February to propose new controls and gain agreement from the FEI.
The FEI has tightened its own endurance rules twice in 18 months to try to curtail the doping, horse fatality and cheating scandals that have blighted the sport in the UAE. However, they have proved largely ineffective during the current season.
Last month FEI endurance director Manual Bandeira de Mello openly asked other UAE endurance organisers to follow the Bou Thib lead. Sheikh Sultan Al Nahyan has achieved high completion rates and zero catastrophic injuries at the venue by awarding 70% of the prizes to horses meeting Sheikh Sultan’s strict “best condition” criteria. There have been eight rides trialling his protocols since November.
The FEI’s request was not voluntarily taken up. Now it appears to be being enforced.
FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibanez said: “The Emirates Equestrian Federation is fully aware of what it is in the balance. The FEI is working with the EEF to overcome these challenges and is confident that agreed upon measures will have a deep impact on the sport in the region long term.
“The actions proposed also go beyond the discussions held between both parties. The proposal also includes further measures for the UAE’s upcoming season, such as a new registration and qualifications system for trainers as well as a grooms’ registration programme.”
Measures to be applied at the President’s Cup at Al Wathba include a reduction in heart-rate recovery time, longer rest periods between loops; and a clampdown on cars chasing horses along the field of play.
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The UAE federation was suspended last March by the FEI for four months for horse protection reasons relating to endurance.
At least seven horses have been confirmed dead this season. On 30 January, video clips of five exhausted horses being bullied over the finish line in a juniors’ 120km race caused global outrage.
Meanwhile, there are growing calls for the FEI to remove the 2016 world endurance championship from Dubai International Endurance City. A petition on Change.org was launched last week by campaigners in Europe. The first 4,000 signatures were sent to FEI president Ingmar de Vos yesterday (Thursday, 11 February).