Clean Endurance is disappointed and extremely concerned that despite the new 2020 FEI Endurance rules, the Al Ula CEI 2* 120 KM ‘The Custodian…” Endurance Cup in Saudi Arabia on February 1st showed no improvement in terms of rule abidance, horse welfare or horsemanship.
If you can’t see the video, please follow the link to Youtube!
The 2020 FEI Endurance rules were approved in November 2019 by an overwhelming majority of National Federations. Given that the most active endurance country, the UAE, decided to only run events under National Rules this winter season, the Al Ula competition is the first time the FEI’s new welfare measures were put to the test.
This event with record prize money of 3,6 million Euros is a high-risk competition attracting inexperienced and unskilled riders as well, thus subjecting horses and other riders to the risk of injury. This competition clearly requires highly diligent, competent and conflict-of-interest-free Officials, stringent rule application and FEI oversight of the highest level. The first edition in 2019 saw a record number of 7 doping positives, at least 1 dead horse hidden in the results, and speeds of over 30 km/h.
This year, the panel of Officials was largely unchanged from 2019: 16 out of 21 Officials were awarded (key) roles again. Clean Endurance regrets that the FEI did not send an evidently much needed independent observer (IGA) to monitor the event and report on rule breaches, horse welfare issues and the performance of the Officials. The increased involvement of Europeans such as the organiser of the upcoming European and Junior/Young Rider World Championship in the organization of the Al Ula competition visibly failed to improve matters, nor did the presence of FEI Endurance Temporary Committee member Tarek Taher (KSA) who had a horse in this competition.
The specially prepared and bulldozer-flattened track filled with cars driving among the horses, the unauthorised assistance and unidentified grooms handling the horses, the many irregularities in the results as reported by the UAE-owned results app such as missing heartrates 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, and a horse with henna covered legs ranked in 5th place are some examples of the rule breaches shown in the livestream of the event.
The 2020 edition saw high levels of eliminations for lameness and/or metabolic issues again, no doubt largely due to a lack of control and horsemanship amongst many of the 189 starters. Some needed to steady themselves by holding the front of the saddle or by hanging on to the reins – unacceptable at high level competitions and a poor advertisement for horse sport in general.
The provisional results show 2 Serious Injuries, 2 Minor Injuries, 7 Disqualifications for not presenting at the Vet Gate and 85 finishers out of 189 starters.
Perhaps the most concerning issue of all was the appalling amount of dust (mainly generated by cars driving along the track) in which horses were ridden hard: at an average speed of over 25 km/h for over 120 km, with final loop speeds of close to 32 km/h for the first 9 combinations. Riders protected themselves by wearing dust masks and clearly had no concern for the discomfort and potential long-term damage to the eyes and lungs of their horses. The Clean Endurance asks the FEI to revisit this issue urgently, on the grounds of horse welfare.
It is of the opinion that Officials who do not uphold horse welfare by failing to take appropriate measures as defined in the FEI rules and the FEI Codex for Officials, must be severely sanctioned and their qualifications withdrawn with immediate effect.
Clean Endurance is a global community which combats cheating, doping and horse abuse in endurance riding. They aim to improve horse welfare and achieve Clean and Fair Sport by collaborating with the FEI, National Federations and numerous other stakeholders.