FEI Tribunal suspends rider in ‘landmark’ horsemanship decision *H&H Plus*

  • Campaign group Clean Endurance said the ruling ‘sets a landmark precedent for endurance’, while the rider denied his riding was abusive to his horse...

    A rider who repeatedly jabbed his horse in the mouth with a harsh bit and “no regard for the horse’s mouth or welfare” has been suspended from competition and advised to pass exams in horsemanship.

    The FEI Tribunal found UAE endurance rider Rashed Hamoud Humaid Al Junaibi’s actions in a ride in Abu Dhabi last February were “totally out of line with all general principles of horsemanship”.

    Pippa Cuckson, a former H&H news editor and long-term campaigner against poor welfare and rule-breaking in endurance, brought the abuse case.

    She submitted video of the ride in which the 22-year-old can be seen leaning back and pulling on the reins “over and over again”, the Tribunal stated, adding that the rider was “completely unbalanced” and his riding was “totally unacceptable”.

    Ms Cuckson described his horse 8 Minute’s bit as long-shanked, with a tight, cross-type noseband, the bottom strap of which comprised an exposed chain, used with fixed-length short reins, held by the loops.

    She said the fixed-length reins allowed Al Junaibi to lean all his weight against the bit.

    “At various stages, Mr Al Junaibi is thrown about, meaning the horse’s mouth is repeatedly jabbed by the force of his bodyweight,” she said.

    She also pointed out that the mare can be seen licking, “indicating soreness or dehydration”.

    Expert witness William Micklem, a Fellow of the British Horse Society, gave the Tribunal his thoughts on the bit.

    “The result of these forces and pressure on nerves and blood vessels will mean after initial discomfort and pain the mouth and lower jaw area is almost certain to become numb during the competition, and hypersensitive afterwards due to bruising and lacerations,” he said.

    He added that the noseband would have caused “unacceptable pressure”, which would cause numbness and pain, and that there was no evidence of a good relationship between rider and horse.

    “The reverse is the case, with the horse being treated as a machine and produced in such a way that the use of strength and the strongest of bitting and noseband solutions is required to produce a competitive result,” he said.

    Al Junaibi denied abuse, stating that he did not believe the horse suffered any pain or discomfort from his tack or riding. He said 8 Minute was inspected by FEI vets six times during the event and they raised no concerns about head injuries. The mare was eventually eliminated for lameness.

    He admitted there were times when he was tired and his balance was “less than perfect”, the Tribunal report states, but it was “a bit extreme to expect constant perfect riding position over 140km”, and he did not feel she would have performed as well as she did had she felt pain or discomfort.

    He said when he felt the mare becoming strong, he tried to use his bodyweight to control her speed, and that this did not increase pressure on her mouth.

    “Everyone has their own riding style and so long as the horse is well taken care of, it is a dangerous approach to dictate about style,” he said, adding that he believes the mare’s licking was caused by her drinking before a vet gate.

    Al Junaibi said the bridle was chosen to “minimise the risk of her becoming out of control while ensuring her welfare was maximised”, that the bit was similar to a Dutch gag, with a milder chain than a standard curb chain, and that he used the looped reins as he has trouble holding reins normally owing to his blisters.

    During the hearing, Ms Cuckson said she had been involved with equestrian sport for over 40 years, and this ride was one of the worst she had ever seen.

    In its conclusion, the panel stated: “It should be obvious for any person with minimal horsemanship knowledge that leaning back and totally out of balance for so long and continuously, with the bit, bridle and reins used, increases the amount of pressure to a point that [it] causes or is likely to cause pain or unnecessary discomfort to a horse. Of course, riders have different styles but no riding style, including jabbing on the horse’s mouth, should cause unnecessary pain to a horse. This contradicts old and all principles of riding that the FEI, riders, trainers and officials worldwide must uphold.”

    The panel noted that several items of tack worn by 8 Minute are now banned under 2020 endurance rules, and said, as it has in similar cases, that the FEI should investigate why FEI officials did not react on apparent horse abuse during competition.

    Al Junaibi was suspended for three months, fined 2,000 Swiss francs (£1,730) and ordered to pay 3,000 francs in costs. Before he competes again, he is “strongly advised” to “pass all tests with exams available at the FEI Campus regarding horsemanship”.

    “This decision sets a landmark precedent for endurance – where more and more harsh bits and tight nosebands are being employed in an attempt to compensate for poor riding skills and lack of proper training of the horse,” said a spokesman for campaign group Clean Endurance.

    “This is the sixth allegation of horse abuse in UAE endurance that has been sanctioned by the FEI Tribunal in the past 12 months. Four of these resulted from protests to the FEI by Clean Endurance, the other two by Ms Cuckson including this latest.”

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