United Arab Emirates: Some Improvements in Horse Welfare?

Credit : Private collection

Monday 19 December - 21h12 | Ian Clayton

United Arab Emirates: Some Improvements in Horse Welfare?

A French equestrian official has lauded efforts by some Endurance organizers in the Middle East to respond to the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI)'s demands for improved horse welfare, following repeated and longstanding controversies in the region. 

 - United Arab Emirates: Some Improvements in Horse Welfare?

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Earlier this year, the FEI stripped the United Arab Emirates, which includes Abu Dhabi, of the 2016 World Endurance Championship, feeling that the national federation in the country was not able to guarantee horse welfare at the event. 

But while in neighbouring Dubai there have been recent reported cases of horses being euthanized due to ‘catastrophic injury’, in Abu Dhabi, the evolution of endurance riding is for some observers going in the right direction.

In any case, that is the view of François Kerboul, an FEI 4*-level judge, course manager and technical delegate. In a text released after the start of the endurance season in Abu Dhabi on November 25th, Kerboul describes organizers there as ‘pioneers’ who are improving desert courses. This is notably the case at Bouthib, which has given its name to the Bouthib Protocol on horse welfare. 

Among the positive changes to the course and rules at Bouthib, according to Kerboul, are:

 - United Arab Emirates: Some Improvements in Horse Welfare?

Credit : Private collection

- Water points strictly respected: “Just as last year, there is no continuous watering along the trail and the crew cars meet their competitors at the water points of the Organizing Committee. Water buckets having been placed there but we noted that inviting the horses to drink while watering them is not yet part of the habits, except very exceptionally. It is still too early to be "re-established."

"Nonetheless," he continues, "the creation of enforced water points killed the craziness which consisted in thinking that the smallest stop was a crippling waste of time. From now on in Bouthib, it is a normal behavior to stop one's horse for watering. It is a tremendous improvement because it shows that the horses' welfare is no longer sacrificed to the sole and obsessive race against the clock.”

- “The rest areas were enlarged by more than 30% to create more space and comfort for the horses. New deterrent cameras also added.”

- “The traditional profiled and compacted "highway like" trails of the region are now replaced in Bouthib by around 1/3 of new natural terrain trails.” These course changes are aimed at reducing speeds and deterring exhausting lengthy gallops. 

 - United Arab Emirates: Some Improvements in Horse Welfare?

Credit : World Horse Welfare

- “On the new sections, the crew cars are taken away from the trail and move at a distance of 50 to 200 m from the competitors. In some parts they do not even have any more visual link. This innovation (for the area) modifies the behavior of everyone. The trainers and the crews have to be content with seeing their competitors from afar. The latter are not permanently "remotely guided". They have to pay attention by themselves to the changes of directions, slopes, obstacles and optimum trajectory. They have to manage their own competition.”

- Better and more timely cleaning of discarded plastic bottles, which can be chewed on and sometimes fatally swallowed by camels.

As Kerboul notes, The World Horse Welfare Association invited HH Sh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan to discuss efforts to change the treatment of competitive horses in the region at its annual conference in London in October, whose theme this year was 'The Invisible Horse.'


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