‘No improvement’ seen at first Middle Eastern FEI endurance ride of 2020 *H&H Plus*

  • After the first endurance ride of 2020 to be run under FEI rules in the Middle East is held, campaigners have expressed their disappointment at the lack of progress following extensive efforts to clean up the sport

    No improvement has been shown in horse welfare or abiding by the rules in endurance, according to campaigners, as the first Middle Eastern FEI ride of 2020 had 85 finishers of 189 starters.

    Clean Endurance says it is “disappointed and extremely concerned” that despite all efforts to clean up the sport, the two-star 120km Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup in Saudi Arabia on 1 February showed no difference in “rule abidance, horse welfare or horsemanship”.

     As the UAE has only been running under national rules this season, this ride at Al Ula was the first time the raft of new endurance rules agreed at the general assembly in November had been put to the test.“This event, with record prize money of €3.6m (£3.04m) is a high-risk competition attracting inexperienced and unskilled riders, subjecting horses and other riders to the risk of injury,” said a Clean Endurance spokesman. “This competition clearly requires highly diligent, competent and conflict-of-interest-free officials, stringent rule application and FEI oversight.”

    The spokesman said Clean Endurance regrets that the FEI did not send a “much-needed” independent observer to report on rule breaches, horse welfare and officials’ performance.

    “The bulldozer-flattened track was filled with cars driving among the horses, there was unauthorised assistance and unidentified grooms handling horses,” the spokesman said. “There were many irregularities in results as reported by the UAE-owned results app, such as missing heart rates for dozens of eliminated horses .Horses forcefully being held by the ears during cooling, harsh long-shanked bits used with a single rein and tight triple nosebands, are some examples of rule breaches shown in the live-stream.”

    The spokesman added that there were two serious and two minor horse injuries, as well as seven disqualifications for not presenting at vet gates.

    Clean Endurance said the high levels of eliminations for lameness and/or metabolic issues were “no doubt largely owing to a lack of control and horsemanship among many starters”.

    “Some needed to steady themselves by holding the front of the saddle or hanging on to the reins — unacceptable at high-level competitions,” said the spokesman, adding that the “appalling amount” of dust, mainly generated by cars on the track, was a major concern. Riders wore face masks, but the horses had no such protection.

    An FEI spokesman said: “The FEI is aware of the issues at the CEI2* on 1 February and is following up closely. While we are awaiting reports from the officials, we have directly contacted the Saudi Arabian national federation and asked for their official position as the body responsible for putting the ride and other forthcoming [FEI] endurance events in Saudi Arabia.”

    The new endurance rules will be fully implemented on 1 July, with a transitional “blend of the new rules implemented as of 1 January 2020 and the 2019 rules” applying until then.

    H&H approached the Saudi Arabia equestrian federation for comment.

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