Shock FEI decision to cancel UAE international endurance events

The FEI has removed United Arab Emirates (UAE) international endurance events from its official calendar in an “emergency” move to “protect horse welfare”.

The announcement comes after a series of serious issues involving doping and injuries during races in the region.

The decision was taken at the first meeting of the new FEI executive board, chaired by recently elected president Ingmar De Vos. The FEI has confirmed that secretary general Sabrina Zeender has removed the two remaining international events scheduled to be held in the UAE in March.

“The move follows a mandate from the FEI bureau to the executive board to urgently investigate horse welfare issues and non-compliance with FEI rules and regulations in the UAE,” a spokesman said.

The executive board will now finalise its recommendations to the bureau.

“We have made this our top priority and will make our conclusions as speedily as possible so that the recommendations can be presented to the bureau for urgent consideration,” the FEI president said after the meeting.

There was widespread shock when pictures of a horse breaking its two forelegs during a national race in Abu Dhabi went viral earlier this month (warning: contains graphic images). The FEI initially said that the event was outside its jurisdiction because it was a CEN (national) race. However, following pressure from other national bodies it has subsequently confirmed it will be investigating.

Endurance rules were strengthened last year in attempt to improve horse welfare in the sport following recommendations from the Endurance Strategic Planning Group.

The new measures include additional dope testing, injury surveillance and reporting, athlete penalties for equine injuries, and extended rest periods. Concerns were raised at the time that these rules did not extend to national events.

Campaign for clean sport

Meanwhile riders of all disciplines are being encouraged to wear a pale blue ribbon on their horses’ bridles to support clean sport. The initiative, tagged #endurancedurable, originates from the French clean endurance community.

The campaign has been picked up around the world, notably by similar endurance lobbying groups now taking off in Australia and New Zealand following the scandal of Splitters Creek Bundy (news, 12 February), who was Australian-bred.

A spokesman said blue was chosen as the colour is not used for ribbons used to denote stallions or kickers anywhere in the world.

The campaign’s slogan is: “I run on clean water”.