Lowering the Heart Rate- Solution or Heresy?

The Vet Gate at the World Equestrian Games
Credit : Scoopdyga

Sunday 13 January - 19h03 | Muriel Judic

Lowering the Heart Rate- Solution or Heresy?

Lowering the heart rate is a topic that has divided the endurance world since the announcement this week of a trial to test lowering of the recovery threshold to 60 beat per minute  instead of 64 bpm. The organizers of the CEI at Fontainebleau on March 22nd and 23rd, have attracted the wrath of a large number of French riders but also the staff of the National Federation. But the subject has merit throughout the sport of endurance and not only in France.

 - Lowering the Heart Rate- Solution or Heresy?

Teams have only a limited time in a vet gate to reduce the temperature and heart rate
Credit : Lulu Kyriacou

Anxious to contribute to the efforts aimed at the well-being of endurance horses, the team of Gilles Cabardos, had these last two years already experimented more strict principles in the field of recovery with the reduction to 10 mn max (against 20 mn) presentation time at intermediate veterinary checks. Why change the rules? At the end of each ride loop, the horse goes through a series of metabolic examinations, but all too frequently - especially on fast races running for the first 22 or even 25 km / h - exhausted horses pass the examination, but fail to complete the next loop. Some have legitimately mentioned the results of the Sheikh Mohamed Cup in Dubai, which had, in early January, only 89 couples who completed the ride and 250 who didn't during this 160km event.

More than a quarter of these eliminations were due to a metabolic problem while the leaders finished with an average overall speed of 25 km / h, having attained speeds of 30 km / h on the final loop.
At the beginning of this year, the controversy swells around this experimental trial that the FEI suggested which directly addresses the fifty organizers of events taking place over the next two months.

The organizer of Fontainebleau rescinded their participation just two days after having made the announcement on Facebook that they were participating in the trial. Some voices supported the FEI trial, like Carol Hayter, a national judge in France. "We have to try something, nothing is fixed but if we do not experiment, we can not appreciate the effectiveness of the measure!". According to her, the lowering of the heart rate and the presentation time does not only concern speed. "It's also about eliminating the struggling horses in the earlier loops, instead of letting them continue until it's too late and they need invasive treatment. There are many problems in European endurance too. We have seen deaths, exhausted horses, doping and too many horses requiring invasive treatment compared to years gone by. "

Not only the French.....

Not only the French..... - Lowering the Heart Rate- Solution or Heresy?

Reducing the heart rate parameters might encourage riders to go slower
Credit : Lulu Kyriacou

Other foreign voices have also been raised to support the lowering of the CF. Including an Australian rider whose national federation uses an even stricter regulation in the matter: "Our system using 60 or even 55 bpm which has been in force for decades in Australia, is based on the research of Professor Reuben Rose. And even when riders have 30 minutes to present their horse, the vast majority do not even wait 20 minutes, the best take less than 3 minutes. She concluded: "Australian riders show that good preparation and race management improves heart recovery".

The French riders were not convinced. Many riders have spoken out against this change, even calling on the moment to boycott any organizations that comply with this new exercise. Does this mean that the majority of endurance pros are reluctant to anything that could further protect endurance horses? It would be a shortcut for the least simplistic. : "Once again the cardiac recovery will be put forward. It will promote extraordinary genetic recovery”, rebels the breeder Jean-Luc Riou. Breeding is questioned in a brutal and profound way. Lines are disappearing little by little. Gregoire Tilquin says: "This is a useless step. When will they understand that there need to be more vet-gates in a ride? "Asks the international rider advocating the division into 6 loops races of 160 km (5 most often at the moment) and 5 (against 4 usually) for some 120 km. "The Heart Rate Recovery is not a foolproof guide to the well being of the horse," he said, however, he has nothing against reducing the maximum time of passage to the vet-gate.

Most vets and coaches are opposed to the lowering of the heart rate, according to Stéphane Chazel. "Low cardiac fitness is a natural ability that does not necessarily reflect the state of freshness, and instead will tend to have these horses accelerate with lower hearts naturally.” warns the member of the endurance technical committee at the FEI who also fears the outright eviction of certain breed lines. Stéphane Chazel is also still very angry after the disaster of the Tryon Equestrian Games. "In addition to this fundamental problem, there is a real problem of form. Riders feel they are undergoing rule changes without being consulted. National Federations have not been involved in this change initiated by the FEI. " He suggests categorizing endurance events by introducing Novice, Qualifying and Elite races. "Each horse could run in its category which is best suited to its abilities and experience. Why not differentiate regulations? ".

On fast races, it is necessary to "tighten the mesh of the net, harden and multiply the veterinary controls," says Stéphane Chazel, who does not want to see Group VII excluded, as they account for 50% of race starts each year. 

New rules from February

In addition to these optional measures relating to the "heart rate parameters" currently at the centre of the controversy, the FEI will adjust its endurance regulation from 1 February. One can see in particular new penalties towards the riders in case of serious injury of their horse in race. Thus any "severe and catastrophic injury" involving or not the euthanasia of the horse (but compelling him to remain under treatment for a minimum during the competition) during a CEI occurring a second time in twelve months to a horse ridden by the same rider will cause the laying off of the rider for six months.

Member of the Temporary Endurance Committee within the FEI, Tarek Taher (KSA) also confirmed he has taken many new proposals forward to the ETC. These proposals came from over 700 participants of his TEIRA survey.  Riders, officials, veterinarians worldwide took part from every FEI Regional group except Group 3.
TEIRA (True Endurance International Riders Association) should be ready to launch officially in Spring 2019.

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