Two horses sustained catastrophic injuries in a 40km qualifier at Dubai international Endurance City (DIEC) on January 23rd, bringing the total to five deaths at this venue in three weeks, and six since its winter FEI programme recommenced in mid-December.

After three fatalities earlier this month, the FEI met organisers and officials in Dubai. The renewed suspension of rides mentioned by the FEI as a possibility before the talks took place has not eventuated.

Instead the FEI will continue to work with new management at the UAE national federation, while the FEI endurance committee will revisit topics such as age of horse and rider, who can often be younger and less experienced than riders in other regions. It will also look at the “elite rider” status which, unlike other equine risk sports, allows riders in that category to start in championship events on horses they have not ridden before, never mind qualified.

FEI endurance director Manuel Bandeira de Mello said: “Earlier this month the FEI president had constructive meetings in Dubai with high level officials as well as with the new administration of the UAE national federation at which the current issues were all discussed in detail.

“The two latest equine fatalities during a national event (CEN) at DIEC on 23 January are very worrying, and there is an urgent need to understand from a veterinary and scientific perspective what is causing these catastrophic injuries.

“As I’ve said before, it’s clear that over-training is probably the major cause and respect of rest periods is also crucial. The new senior management at the UAE federation is very much more hands-on than the previous regime and we will continue to work closely with them to address these serious issues.”

The FEI Endurance Committee will also look at rest periods, and the further possible additional sanctions for trainers. It has also promised a reviewing of bitting, following social media furor last month over the long-shanked lever-style bits seen in inexperienced hands.

Last April DIEC was stripped of hosting the 2016 world endurance championship as the FEi felt that “horse welfare could not be guaranteed.”

At the same time the FEI announced it would decline schedules from DIEC until further notice. DIEC was readmitted to the FEI calendar on November 25th after signing the FEi’s new Ride Organiser’s Protocol.

There has been one recorded fatality so far this winter season at Al Wathba, the main Abu Dhabi venue, and none at all and with drastically reduced attrition all round at Boudhieb, also in Abu Dhabi. There, a new best condition award devised by HH Sheikh Sultan al Nahyan is starting to restore understanding of the classic endurance premise of “fit to continue.”

The two horses who died at DIEC on January 23rd were Tong, a 11-year-old Russian-bred gelding sold to the UAE in 2013, and Highlands, an eight-year-old from South Africa who had been in the UAE just six months.
FEI endurance rules have been updated several times since 2013 to try to counter the welfare and cheating crises in the Middle East sport. The FEI also applied emergency powers to beef up endurance rules prior to the 2014 World Equestrian Games.