Monday 16 January - 10h09 | Lulu Kyriacou
Endurance UAE- Good, Bad and Ugly
Endurance in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) continues to make equestrian headlines this week although not only for bad reasons. Although the FEI will be holding urgent talks with the UAE endurance organisers this coming week there was also a lengthy statement from 4* judge Francois Kerboul in support of Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan's Boudhieb Endurance Challenge which is aiming to change the current face of the sport within the Arabic nations.
In total three horses were listed as catastrophically injured during the recent Maktoum Cup meeting at the Dubai Endurance International City, the venue that was deposed as hosts for the 2016 World Championships when horse welfare could not be guaranteed according to the FEI. Since then a further sanction preventing international competition was imposed on the venue and the Maktoum Cup Festival of Endurance was the first CEI 160 to be held after this sanction was lifted. Another horse died during that race, making four at the venue in total and five in the Dubai area in the last three months. According to endurance expert Pippa Cuckson in her latest column for Horse Canada, the FEI are looking into improvements in training regimes as all four of the horses died on the first loop of the rides, leading to a suggestion that the horses may already have been suffering from pre-existing conditions caused by training techniques. It is also just as possible that these sort of injuries are caused by incidents during the mass starts of dozens of horse and it must be asked why the FEI are entering into what amounts to speculation on incidents that are not exactly a rarity.
A spokesperson for the FEI told Cuckson that "The catastrophic injuries that have occurred this season have all been in the first loop, so it suggests that these are pre-existing fractures and that there is a serious issue with training techniques. Data from all events, including national fixtures, is being fed into the Global Endurance Injuries Study (GEIS) and Equi-ratings is also providing the FEI with statistics for surveillance and monitoring.
“The FEI will continue to work closely with the new management at the Emirates Equestrian Federation and a strong course of action will be agreed upon depending on the outcome of these meetings, including a requirement for reduced speeds and heart rates, shorter presentation times to enforce slower speeds and/or potential suspension of CEIs in the calendar.”
All about the money?
Unfortunately, the FEI can do little to stop large amounts of foreign riders accepting invitations to compete, many of whom are no doubt lured by the €25'000 guaranteed prize money just for completing. This amount seems to be enough to draw support from all over the world (including the UK) which unfortunately lends some credibility to endurance racing in public perception. There is evidence that a significant amount of the horses ridden by foreign riders are sold after the event judging by the registration records on the FEI database and while no one would begrudge a rider the means to earn a living, it is hard to understand why any horse lover would sell their horse into an environment where there is so much death and injury
Signs of change?
Perhaps the threat of further sanction if no positives steps to improve the situation in Dubai are taken, is starting to have a slight effect as video posted on the Twitter feed of Arabic channel YAS Sports (@YASSports) shows to a degree. The winner and second placed horses in this weekend's Al Reef Cup are finishing in good style and trotting up well at the final inspection. However although the FEI has already insisted upon staggered starts when there are large numbers of starters are entered sadly videos on the channel also clearly demonstrate the high speeds being asked for and the fact that the FEI are not insisting that rules on following cars are being upheld. Also the FEI allowed a reduction in the minimum weight for this rate, which although is good for horse welfare, should rides even be run if the conditions are so extreme, special exceptions must be made to the rules? In Saturday's race, which was the one in which Splitters Creek Bundy broke both front legs two years ago, dozens if not hundreds of cars can be seen pursuing the riders and stirring up clouds of sand and dust next to the competitors. Also on the live feed the uncontrolled finish area is demonstrated along with horses being restrained by their ears during washing off. The video clip can be seen here and should be compared to the images from Boudheib.
And Now the Good News....
There is one light on the horizon of UAE endurance. Sheik Sultan's Boudheib facility is sparing no expense to promote horse welfare. Boudthieb Endurance has built 60 wash down areas, all under cover to provide shade and all monitored on CCTV to ensure no more than four horses are in any one at one time. The last race was live streamed over the internet so everyone could see how the race progressed. They have tightened the controls to prevent cheating such as swopping riders of losing weights and are replacing the heart rate measure which has up until now been a primary factor in judging recovery and fitness to compete with. The tracks are over natural terrain found in the area and most importantly the average speed per km has been lowered. There is also a strict no vehicles policy in place other than essential officials.