A loophole that enabled fatal or career-threatening equine injuries to be “airbrushed” out of FEI results has been tackled by the FEI’s new temporary endurance committee.

The FEI has used emergency powers to approve the new rule, just days after it was drafted under the chairmanship of Britain’s Dr Sarah Coombs.

From 1 February, endurance judges can apply a new severe injuries (SI) elimination code, which will carry the same sanctions for riders as the existing catastrophic injury (CI) category.

It is hoped the SI code will promote transparency and remove incentives to prolong an injured horse’s suffering.

The casualty rate in desert endurance was openly discussed the FEI endurance forum in 2014. Since that year, any horse euthanised at the competition itself has been marked CI.

Since 2016, two CIs in 12 months have meant an automatic six-month suspension for the rider, in an attempt to encourage slower speeds and more responsible riding. But there was an unintended consequence: some owners declined on-the-spot euthanasia, even removing the horse from the track without permission, then taking it off-site for private dispatch to evade sanctions.

Last winter, a study by campaigning group Clean Endurance identified 26 horses from the 2014-2017 UAE season coded FTC (failed to complete) in their last ever ride, but which were logged as dead a day or so afterwards on a separate database.

In a notice to national federations, the FEI admits that avoiding the CI code had “obvious serious welfare consequences for the horse”.

A video of one horse which slipped through this net went viral earlier this month. Castlebar Nato was filmed as he fractured a cannon bone in a 100km race.

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A Clean Endurance spokesman told H&H: “Nato shows how the FEI’s results are not accurate. It is clear he sustained a very serious injury, but he is recorded as ‘failed to qualify’ for GA (irregular gait,) the same elimination code you would allocate to a horse vetted out with a bruised sole.”

The new rule (815.3.7) defines severe injury as:
i: a musculoskeletal (fracture, serious tendon, ligament, or muscle) injury or;
ii: metabolic injury (serious colic, acute kidney injury, myopathy that fails to respond to treatment) or;
iii: other condition that, in the opinion of the treating veterinarian, foreign veterinary delegate, and president of the veterinary commission, requires further assessment and continued appropriate veterinary care beyond the period of competition.

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