The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is under renewed pressure to clean up its endurance racing, after the FEI cancelled the remaining two FEI rides of the UAE winter season and Endurance GB “suspended” sponsorship talks with Sheikh Mohammed’s Meydan corporation.
The FEI has been under fire for its slow response to Middle East welfare scandals. But the FEI executive board took this unprecedented action “to protect horse welfare and to preserve the integrity of the FEI rules and regulations at FEI events”. Significantly the FEI publicly named the UAE in connection with endurance abuses for the first time in its press statement on 26 February.
One of the cancelled rides due to take place this month was a 240km event, staged across three days.
“We have made this [welfare issues] our top priority, and will make our conclusions as speedily as possible so that the recommendations can be presented to the FEI Bureau for urgent consideration,” said Ingmar De Vos, who was FEI secretary general before succeeding Princess Haya as president in December.
On 1 August 2014, the FEI introduced tougher endurance rules — including athlete penalties, extended rest periods and increased accountability for riders, as well as a review of all 2,700 endurance officials. However, FEI rules do not extend to any country’s national rides.
During the current UAE international season (October-March) there has been no evidence of improvement. Instead, many longer distance rides have been switched to less rigorous UAE national rules.
It was from a national ride at Al Reef, Abu Dhabi, on 31 January that pictures emerged of Splitters Creek Bundy breaking both forelegs, provoking further global outrage and threats from Switzerland and Belgium to boycott the 2016 world championship in Dubai.
Equestrian federations from France, the Netherlands, Denmark and New Zealand have issued statements about UAE endurance, with Denmark also banning riders from competing in non-FEI rides in geographical Group 7 (UAE).
Endurance bodies in the US, Australia and Germany have also issued statements criticising the UAE, with the American Endurance Ride Conference due to vote on motions at its convention next week (6-7 March).
Söenke Lauterbach, secretary general of the German Equestrian Federation, said: “We are relieved that the FEI has taken this step, because we cannot accept this contemptuous behaviour against animals.”
He noted that the new measures the FEI had applied with worldwide support, had been ignored by the Middle East.
“Therefore, we expect an even stricter approach by the FEI.”
The British Equestrian Federation has written to the FEI at the request of Endurance GB (EGB), but will not be publishing what it said.
EGB obtained a mandate from members to pursue its controversial Meydan deal, but its announcement on 28 February seemed inevitable after the FEI’s decision.
Three international rides scheduled for the Maktoum-managed Euston Park, Suffolk, venue this summer have also been cancelled.
ECG chairman John Hudson wrote: “This has been an extremely difficult decision but we believe, in view of the current national and international sensitivities and pressures surrounding the sport of endurance, it would not now be in EGB’s interests to enter into a sponsorship agreement.
“We will be looking at ways to try to deliver at least some of our exciting plans,” he added. “Although without sponsorship this will be a significant challenge.”
Barbury Castle CEI organiser Linda Kidd campaigned for a members’ vote on the deal.
“This is absolutely the right and proper decision in light of the circumstances,” she said.
“The EGB board now needs to turn its full attention to the new endurance season here in England and Wales, and continue to deliver its strategic objectives which it has set itself, particularly participation levels.
“Hopefully members who did not rejoin EGB in 2015 due to the proposed Meydan sponsorship will now find it palatable to do so.”