Introducing analytics into FEI endurance events will be about “changing psychology and attitude”, according to EquiRatings co-founder Sam Watson.
The FEI announced it had signed a four-year agreement with Irish data science company EquiRatings in April, with the aim of “working together on risk management initiatives” in both endurance and eventing.
At an FEI endurance forum this week, EquiRatings’ Diarmuid Byrne and Sam presented a potential model for an athlete index — which would identify those at higher risk of non-completions.
A similar EquiRatings Quality Index was found to be effective in Irish eventing last year and the pilot has been extended for 2017. The safety analysis tool uses algorithms to calculate the potential for falls, giving officials and riders the ability to monitor risk.
“We need to create awareness and provide a tool that can guide the level of responsible horsemanship and help maintain a standard for the sport around the world,” he said.
A hundred delegates from 30 countries attended the forum, where the proposal was “received with interest” and its potential applications discussed.
Endurance has been under close scrutiny in recent years, having been blighted by a series of high-profile controversies.
Doping violations have been rife, with nine rider/trainers being suspended in Dubai in February, while in April a Qatari trainer was suspended for two years for injecting two horses with a banned substance.
There have also been serious concerns for horse welfare. This year, six horses died in endurance competitions in Dubai in just 22 days, after suffering “catastrophic injuries.”
Scientific presentations at the forum included Dr Euan Bennet from the University of Glasgow recapping the main results of the first year and a half of the FEI’s global endurance injuries study, and Professor Chris Whitton from the University of Melbourne presenting data on bone fatigue.
Both presentations highlighted speed and non-compliance with mandatory rest periods as the key risk factors to horses.
A combination of rule revisions and education for athletes, trainers and all involved in the sport was agreed as a route forward.
Proposals for a new 5* level of competition also received widespread support, as did plans for revision of qualification criteria.
Feedback from the forum will now be discussed by the FEI endurance committee as the next step towards rule change.
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FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said the organisation will now continue to arrange regular endurance discussion forums.
“Endurance is clearly appealing and has potential, but as we grow we need to secure the integrity of the sport with correct processes, and maintain the highest standards of horse welfare,” she said.
“We are all here because we want to ensure that endurance continues to develop and thrive around the world. And we are also here because we want to ensure the very best for our horses, for our athletes and for the greater endurance community.”