Pippa Cuckson: Low completion rates sparks concern [H&H VIP]

  • There were exhibitions of great sportsmanship, transparency at vetgates and heart-warming stories throughout the endurance competition at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) last week. Who can ever forget Jordi Santacreu jumping for joy as Mystair Des Aubus pinged down the final trot-up lane, ears still pricked, to secure Spain’s team gold?

    But there weren’t many horses like him. By vetgate four, some survivors looked dead-eyed, as if all they could do was support their own weight.

    If this represented the world’s best, why the mere 22% completion rate? Yes, the going was horrendous early on and the temperature clammy, but the idea of endurance is to conserve energy, which means slowing down where you have to.

    FEI qualifications remain so slack Sheikh Mohammed could have defended his 2012 title despite attempting just one CEI in 733 days. The UAE’s Qurun Al Elm has had eight riders in 11 FEI starts. This was only his second outing under Abdullah Ghanim al Marri; they won Compiègne’s 120km CEI riding a last loop at 33.2kph in May.

    Spectators gasped when the grey collapsed at vetgate three with colic.

    FEI rules perpetuate a poor standard of equitation. Many nationalities were initially towed along, out of control, by fast-riding Middle Eastern teams on expensive purchases produced by professional trainers. UAE and Qatar each provided three of the 44 horses now grounded for 60 days with metabolic failures that needed veterinary intervention.

    When FEI endurance chairman Brian Sheahan told media he was “proud to be associated with this championship” I thought I was in a parallel universe. The FEI still has a mountain to climb to rehabilitate endurance.

    ➤ Pippa Cuckson was presented with the International Alliance of Equestrian Journalists’ 2013 Bureau Award at WEG for her exposure of the endurance scandal in H&H and other media.