Canada’s Mark Samuel, FEI vice president, played a pivotal role in the unprecedented year-long review which resulted in a huge majority vote for reform of endurance at the FEI General Assembly.

During the dedicated general Rules session on Monday he was uncompromising in his message to delegates, prior to today’s (November 19) historic vote. “This journey has been a sacred trust”, he said in his opening. “The status quo was clearly unacceptable. It is the time now for action rather than more words. Our partner, the horse is counting on us.”

As board liason, Samuel brought a wider equestrian perspective to the work of the Endurance Temporary Committee (ETC) and an understanding of the extent to which endurance rules can be harmonized with those of other sports.

The significance of the imminent endurance decision also formed the central part of FEI president Ingmar de Vos’s opening remarks to the GA. He reminded delegates of the discipline’s serious doping and fatality record, and the threat of reputational damage by association to all horse sports.

After earlier initiatives failed to curb the excesses of the Middle Eastern racing-style sport, a year ago the FEI set up a special Endurance Temporary Committee (ETC.) It began the onerous task of re-writing the rule book from scratch, and consulted stakeholders on a scale unprecedented in any other equestrian discipline.

Sustained lobbying of the FEI’s 130-odd member national federations by the UAE in recent months led many reformers to fear the vote would be very close. De Vos could not hide his delight at the volume of support for the new rules, remarking it was the best possible present for ETC chair Dr Sarah Coombs whose birthday is today (November 19.)

De Vos said: “It has been a difficult and lengthy process. The ETC has been attentive to concerns of the community and taken on board the many comments and suggestions they received.

“We cannot compromise on horse welfare and we have to be accountable for our actions as decision-makers. We have the responsibility to uphold the values of our sport and we need to bring horsemanship back to this discipline.

“Are these rules perfect? Probably not; nothing in this world is perfect, regretfully. But at least they address the issues you want and that we need to address. If we want to remain credible and to inspire admiration for the effort and the partnership, we need to change.

“Let’s not forget the positive [doping] cases, the fractures, the fatalities. This is unacceptable and damages the image of endurance and all the remarkable people in the community who are committed to promoting the very best of the sport.

“Let’s also not be mistaken that the negative reputation of endurance also impacts on our other disciplines and on the organisation in general.”

The saga is far from over, though. The new rules will have no immediate impact on the region whose excesses caused the crisis: so far this winter season, UAE ride organisers have applied to run just a handful of FEI rides while awaiting the outcome of the GA vote. The principal Abu Dhabi ride venue, Al Wathba, has affiliated nothing, not even the headlining President’s Cup in February. Today’s clear setback in Moscow for “desert racing” has also renewed speculation about a break-away organisation.

Some of the ETC proposals first floated in April had unintended consequences for countries who practice “classic” endurance on a small budget and with few FEI ride opportunities. Those issues mainly related to imposition of minimum rider weights – which remain controversial – and more stringent qualifications in order to upgrade. Last-minute amendments to these rules were put to separate votes this morning, prior to approval of the finalised package.
A separate vote on implementation date was much closer. Partial implementation on January 1, 2020 was carried by 55-49. The FEI board had preferred to delay all new rules till July 1. It was mandated to advise which provisions can be implemented at a later stage and on the final wording of the transitional provisions. This means the new rules are not yet available to view online.