An endurance rider whose exaggerated kicking towards the end of race did not “constitute normal riding” has been suspended 12-months and fined 4,000 Swiss francs (CAN $5,300) by the FEI Tribunal for horse abuse.

In footage of Mohamed Ali AL Marzouqi from the official livestream, the FEI Legal department counted 27 kicks, with long reins used as a whip 19 times, in “only a few seconds of video from a ride that was going on for 100 km over 6 hours.”

The incident occurred at the end of the CEI* 100km race at Al Wathba, the principal venue in Abu Dhabi, on December 8, 2018, in which the accused rider rode the horse Romeo to fourth place.

The rider was not sanctioned on the day. A Protest alleging horse abuse was then lodged by Rosemary Sloan, a member of the “Clean Endurance” community in the UK. She said the rider was kicking so hard “daylight could be seen between the entire length of the rider’s legs and the saddle. He struck the horse repeatedly with the reins and threatened to strike it with his left arm. The horse was visibly exhausted and unable to accelerate its canter despite Mr Al Marzooqi’s actions.”

The FEI Legal department said: “The FEI was of the strong opinion that the riding that can be seen in the video does not constitute normal riding. Kicking is never considered a normal natural aid. The legs of any rider should be still and with very small movements indicate to the horse to move forward. Any kicking or flapping with the legs like in this video was driving the Horse forward with force to ultimately abuse the horse both physically and mentally.
“According to the FEI Veterinary Department, one single very hard strike of the legs, hands, reins or whip etc. should be considered as excessive, regardless of the response from the horse.”

Whips are prohibited in FEI endurance. FEI Legal added: “To drive a horse in a competition with prohibited means was against the welfare of the Horse and such behaviour had to be sanctioned accordingly. It was also aggravating that this took place just before the finish of the 100 km ride, and the frustration of the rider in his efforts to drive the horse forward could be clearly seen in his actions.

“Any whipping may never be used to vent any Athlete’s temper, such use was always excessive.”

The video evidence can be seen here (continue reading below):

Mr Al Marzouqi is wearing bib 71, with light blue sleeves. Romeo is a bay (see 0.37 seconds onwards).

In his defence, Mr Al Marzouqi said: “I want to assure you that during the whole ride. I am looking after my horse and taking care of it and my horse is well trained. On the last loop of the ride, it is natural in any race around the world that the riders would encourage to move the horse to get the good position, and that my encouragement without abusing the horse nor beating the horse that I will never do so [sic].

“But as the video footage show is that because I am tall rider and having long legs maybe it will show you on your conclusion that I am hurting the horses for kicking him hardly and also I try loose the reins for the reason that the horse can run freely.”

He said the Ground Jury followed the leading 10 horses on the last loop and also watched them over the finish line, as did stewards. “If ever they noticed any abusive for the horse welfare they would have cancelled my result or disqualified me on the same day of the event but after my horse passed the Vet check they congratulate me and recognized my position,” he added.

“Whatever video that show you that I am abusing the horse, I would never be a true picture compare to the person or Officials who were there watched the live event.”

The Tribunal agreed with the FEI Legal opinion that repeatedly striking the horse with the reins on its neck is considered “whipping” and that it “does not matter whether the whipping was excessive or not, as the FEI rules and regulations prohibit any kind of whipping.” The Tribunal said Ms Sloan had discharged the burden of proof under Article 142.1 of FEI General Regulations; “abuse” is defined as “an action or omission which causes or is likely to cause pain or unnecessary discomfort to a Horse.”

The case resulted from one of several Protests lodged by Clean Endurance regarding alleged abuse at the same December 8, 2018 ride that resulted in suspensions for other riders earlier this year.

When handing down previous decisions, Tribunal has recommended the FEI to open disciplinary proceedings where appropriate against FEI Officials who fail to act against abuse on the day. Tribunal repeated this recommendation in Mr Al Marzouqi’s case and added: “For the avoidance of any doubt, the Tribunal rejects Mr Marzouqi’s claim that his actions did not consider horse abuse, as the officials did not disqualify him during the Event.”

Mr Al Marzouqi was also ordered to contribute 1,000 Swiss Francs towards costs, and forfeited all prizes and results from the competition.

The officials for the December 8 ride were not named in the decision notice, but the published FEI schedule lists the ground jury as Ismail Abdul Hakeem (UAE), Mohammed Ali al Hadrami (UAE,) Mohammed Shamsul Abdul Careem Azhar (Sri Lanka) and Mustapha Mafoudi (Saudi Arabia.) The chief steward was Abdul Rahim Hassan al Bloushi (Oman.)

Rosemary Sloan said “Someone has to speak up for our gentle partner, the horse. We know from anecdotal evidence that this behaviour is but the tip of the iceberg, and we are only able to lodge abuse protests and obtain sanctions because of our diligent monitoring of video footage provided by the official broadcasting companies of these events. I hope the rider in question learns from the sanctions imposed on him for the brutal treatment of a horse in his care.”

A spokesman for Clean Endurance said it did not believe the FEI has yet acted on the Tribunal’s recommendation to take action against the officials and added: “Until the FEI does, Clean Endurance regrets that it is apparently up to them to lodge abuse protests with the Tribunal in order to avoid that abusive riders continue to escape the sanctions they so well deserve, and which Officials fail to apply.”