The Meydan Group-sponsored endurance ride at the World Equestrian Games is still only in its early stages at lunchtime, US time, after an unprecedented decision to re-start the ride due to competitors being directed the wrong way by officials soon after the start.
There were chaotic and furious scenes at Tryon while the ground jury took the only “pragmatic” option; the 160km championship is now officially a 120km, with the first loop voided.
In another sensational twist, many individuals are now signing a petition for the ride to be re-staged elsewhere, with funding supplied by Sheikh Mohammed, who is sponsoring the ride at Tryon through his Meydan corporation.
Many horses had travelled most of the first loop’s 40kms already, but confusion reigned after some riders were “unfortunately misdirected” soon after the start around 6.30am local time, according to a FEI statement.
On the official livestream a Spanish rider could clearly be seen being wrongly directed. The GPS tracking showed two other horses running back in the direction of the vetgate. About 20 riders then encountered others coming the other way at a bridge. It is also understood that two groups were started 15min apart, instead of the expected “mass start” including all participants.
While the ground jury debated what to do, Dubai Racing TV carried interviews with experts who felt the ride should be cancelled completely. Meanwhile, officials tried to stop the UAE 4* judge Ahmed AL Hammadi broadcasting his altercation with FEI secretary-general Sabrina Ibanez on Facebook Live.
Torrential rain is now making riding and crewing conditions even more difficult, with the vet-gate and cooling area now close to flooded at the time of going to press (7pm, UK time.) The trails, which underwent extensive grading works of the clay soil instead of leaving the trail “natural” due to the risk of horses being bitten by ticks during the ride, are also sodden.
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The decision was made to re-start the event 45min after the last rider had completed the first loop, with all horses having to pass a further new veterinary check – ruling out 25 of the original 126 starters. However, this poses another issue under the rules. Sheikh Mohammed’s son Crown Prince HH Hamdan al Maktoum is vying to claim gold again following victory in WEG 2014. His 2018 ride Castlebar Corsair was originally shown as vetted out after loop 1 on the Yamamah timing app, but once the ride was re-started Hamdan was shown as reinstated.
The FEI said there was no possibility to re-schedule the ride tomorrow. “In any unforeseen or exceptional circumstances, it is the duty of the ground jury and the veterinarians to make a decision in a sporting spirit and approaching, as nearly as possible, to the intention of these rules and to the general rules of the FEI,” it said.
Horse & Hound has two journalists and a photographer in Tryon for WEG. Keep up to date with all the news onand in the magazine issues dated 20 and 27 September.