“Bold steps” to help improve the welfare of horses in international endurance events — including athlete penalties, extended rest periods and increased accountability for riders, as well as a review of all 2,700 endurance officials — were revealed last week (29 April).
However, the proposed rules do not extend to national rides, such as Middle Eastern desert rides, and some would like to see them go further.
“I would like to see increased completion rates, reduced injuries and illness in the horse, and better course-design,” said Brian Sheahan, chair of the endurance committee at the FEI’s sports forum last week.
“To maintain integrity, we need a reduction in doping, improved compliance by athletes and trainers and rule enforcement by officials.”
Last year the Endurance Strategic Planning Group was set up to help clean up the sport and advise changes. There was a 70% increase in testing in endurance in 2013.
“It’s not just a matter of increasing testing, it’s important it now runs in parallel with education,” said chairman of the FEI veterinary committee John McEwen.
The main changes
Rules will define yellow card offences, rather than leaving this to the discretion of the ground jury.
Injured horses must be presented at a vet gate within 30min or a yellow card will be awarded and the horse is disqualified for 60 days.
If a horse is eliminated due to lameness, it will be stood down for 14 days. If there are two consecutive lamenesses, 21 days. A third means a 90-day suspension.
Each metabolic elimination — such as for dehydration — results in 10 penalty points. One that needs “immediate action” means 25 penalty points. A “catastrophic injury” (fracture) incurs 50. Accumulating 100 points leads to a two-month suspension.
Does it go far enough?
DR Tim Parkin from the University of Glasgow called for injuries at national events to be included in the Global Endurance Injuries Study, which he is running for the FEI.
“Adding in data from national events is only going to improve that situation,” he said.
World Horse Welfare’s Roly Owers said: “The need to make evidence-based decisions is so important for equine welfare.”
Fred Barrelet of the Swiss Federation said there was not enough accountability and the onus shouldn’t just fall on riders.
Others said that injuries might occur in training.
Juliette Mallison from the German Federation said the sanctions for catastrophic injury “aren’t sufficient”.
Belgian coach Pierre Arnould added: “Today’s rules are good and tomorrow’s will be better. But the problem is not the rules, it’s the application of the rules.”