The FEI has cut ties with two major reining groups over integrity issues — but both insist they have done nothing wrong.
The news that the organisation had ended its agreement with American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), both US organisations, was made public at the FEI general assembly on Monday (19 November).
A statement from the FEI said both are “in breach of the terms of their cooperation with the FEI”— a claim disputed by both reining organisations.
“In order to ensure the integrity of the discipline and maintain a level playing field for all athletes competing in FEI reining, the agreement with these two bodies has now been terminated,” said the statement.
“Both the AQHA and NRHA have been informed that a binding commitment to implement the FEI rules on anti-doping, stewarding requirements and the age of competing horses are prerequisites for any future cooperation.
“The secretary general advised delegates that FEI reining events will continue, and invited national federations to provide feedback to the FEI on how they see the future of the discipline at international level.”
Reining bodies respond: ‘welfare is our top priority’
Reining has been a FEI-recognised discipline since 2002. The 2014 cooperation agreement covers horse welfare, FEI rules, clean sport, stewarding and education, among other areas. It also gives the FEI jurisdiction over reining competitions for horses aged seven and older.
A statement from the AQHA said it “does not feel it has breached the terms of the agreement and welcomes continued dialogue with the FEI”.
“[In accordance with] the cooperation agreement, all events specifically organised for horses seven years of age and older are to be held under the jurisdiction of FEI,” said the statement.
“AQHA does not offer a class that is specifically organised for horses seven years of age and older. At AQHA events, [horses] in the open division compete in junior reining (ages five and under) or in senior reining (ages six and older).
“With respect to the welfare requirements addressed by the cooperation agreement, AQHA’s regulations and practices, in particular those associated with stewards and drug testing, are consistent with and meet such requirements.
“Simply put, our top priority as an association of horsemen is the health and welfare of our sport and of this great animal.
“The association has taken and will continue to take the appropriate measures to ensure the safety and welfare of the horses competing at AQHA-approved events.”
It added that it “actively implements measures” to protect horses and considers itself a leader in welfare among equine breed associations.
It also states that the AQHA stewards are trained and tested to protect horses and riders. The association adds that it started drug testing in 1973 and it works with the FEI on anti-doping and associated penalties.
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The NRHA added the “door is still open to a possible new agreement in the future”.
It added the decision followed “months of on-going discussions and negotiations”.
“This 2014 cooperation agreement, for the most part, was first put together to cover such reining competitions as the World Equestrian Games and a small number of other horse shows, primarily in Europe, and reining demonstrations at Olympic-related events,” said the NRHA statement.
“NRHA leaders had offered to travel to FEI in January to negotiate a continued relationship. However, FEI chose to decline the opportunity and terminated the agreement.”
It added the FEI wanted the NRHA to host a competition for horses aged seven years or old, under FEI rules, that could be included in its international calendar.
The NRHA stated this would mean all classes for this age group would need to be FEI-approved.
NRHA vice president Mike Hancock added: “After discussions with show management teams, we discovered how complex and expensive this would be for them.
“In the end, we felt it would be more detrimental to the growth of older horse competition to move forward with this concept. However, we are hopeful to discuss other opportunities for future growth and mutual benefit with FEI.”
The statement said other provisions included FEI stewarding requirements, medication regulations, and that any FEI penalties imposed on horses, owners, officials or riders be accepted and enforced by NRHA.
“NRHA has established its own rules and guidelines in these areas to protect the welfare of the horse at all times during NRHA events,” stated the organisation.
“The safety and well-being of reining horses is the utmost priority for NRHA, and it will continue to take appropriate measures to maintain and enforce those rules, including its own set of medications rules and penalties.
“The letter did leave open the possibility of a new agreement with FEI in the future. The termination does not appear to impact FEI National Federations, such as US Equestrian, and their ability to host FEI reining events.
“Even as the future of the FEI World Equestrian Games is being questioned, NRHA believes reining is on strong footing with members in approximately 40 countries.”