Disappointment as ban overturned for rider of horse who suffered fatal fracture in competition *H&H Plus*

  • H&H finds out what the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled on the case, and what the reactions of the FEI and welfare experts were to the decision

    THE FEI and World Horse Welfare have both been disappointed by the overturning of a record ban given to the rider of a horse who suffered a fatal injury in competition.

    The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has eliminated all sanctions — a 20-year ban and a fine of 17,500 Swiss francs (£14,500) — given by the FEI Tribunal to UAE endurance rider Abdul Aziz Bin Faisal Al Qasimi last year, ruling that the burden of proof of horse abuse had not been sufficiently met by the FEI, so no sanctions for horse abuse could be imposed.

    H&H reported on the Tribunal’s findings (news, 18 June 2020) on the case of Castlebar Contraband, ridden by Al Qasimi in a CE1* at Fontainebleau, France, in October 2016. The 10-year-old gelding sustained what the event organiser described as “the worst fracture I have ever seen”. Castlebar’s leg, the attending vet said, was “only hanging from the skin and ready to fall off”.

    Post-mortem samples from the horse showed the presence of controlled medication xylazine, used as a sedative, analgesic and muscle relaxant but prohibited in competition. The substance, which is rapidly excreted from the body, is known to be used in endurance to lower the heart rate.

    The FEI Tribunal accepted the treating vet’s statement that she had followed standard protocols, which do not include use of xylazine, in putting the horse down, denying the defence claim that the drug had been used in the process.

    The post mortem found “multiple lesions with a highly targeted location, consistent with recent injections”, which the FEI said showed that the horse had been nerve-blocked in training, before and during the competition.

    The FEI’s view was that this desensitisation, in combination with osteoarthritis in the right front fetlock, led to stress fractures that caused the catastrophic injury. The Tribunal was “comfortably satisfied” that the horse had been nerve-blocked during the event, which “likely caused pain and unnecessary discomfort”.

    But the CAS panel ruled that neither the rider nor his vet could have “reasonably detected” alleged bone fatigue in the horse.

    “Despite extensive veterinary evidence presented by the FEI and its expert witnesses, the panel found there was no proof the horse had been nerve-blocked or abnormally desensitised in competition,” an FEI spokesman said.

    The CAS panel said as the horse had passed the horse inspection the day before the event, and the vet checks during the competition, it could not be ruled as unfit to compete. The panel found the FEI had failed to establish that the athlete competed on an exhausted, lame or injured horse or committed “an action or omission which caused or was likely to cause pain or unnecessary discomfort to a horse”.

    FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez said: “Although we respect the CAS decision, we are extremely disappointed. The FEI has to stand up for horse welfare and clamp down on horse abuse, and the FEI endurance rules have been improved from a welfare perspective since this case.”

    FEI veterinary director Göran Åkerström said the FEI is “incredibly frustrated” to have lost the case, but that the incident was a main driver for the development of the FEI’s hyposensitivity control system, which provides physical evidence of nerve-blocking.

    “The CAS decision has resulted in a system that is already being used and which will help prevent similar tragic injuries in the future,” he said.

    World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers said the charity is “bitterly disappointed” by the decision. “The one positive that has evolved since this case is the development of better methods of detecting physical evidence of nerve-blocking which will hopefully help to deter this dreadful practice and benefit horses in the future by preventing similar tragic and unacceptable losses,” he said.

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