The FEI has admitted it is difficult to monitor the entire field of play in endurance, and that it welcomes observer intervention, in a letter sent to members of the public last week.
The letter responds to social media furore over severe tack that is the norm in desert endurance. Photos from the recent endurance festival at Al Wathba, the principal venue in in Abu Dhabi, have been shared more than 2,500 times from Facebook – the originals since removed by the photographer.
One image in particular shows Techno de la Bassanne ridden by Hassan Salman al Sabri, in the CEI** 120km, wearing the typical desert arrangement of long-shanked lever bit. There is also very low set, tight grackle noseband, which has caused huge comment and comparison with the strict rules of other FEI sports.
Many of the horses and riders pictured are caked in sand, and there is also concern why the ride was not called off during the desert storm.
Many people wrote directly to the FEI and have received the same detailed reply. This, and screen shots of some of the images under discussion, can be seen on the Clean Endurance Facebook page.
By comparison, in FEI dressage last year, a rider was given a yellow warning card for “Abuse” after failing the new noseband fitting test. In the past month, four FEI jumping riders have received an Official Warning for tight nosebands. Yet FEI endurance has no rules about permissible bits and bridles.
Tack is a high priority topic for the FEI’s temporary committee, whose proposals to reform the sport will be presented at the FEI Sports Forum on April 15-16, where the entire second day is devoted to endurance.
Over two years ago the FEI told Horse-Canada.com it would review endurance tack as a matter of “urgency” but provided no follow-up decisions.
In its letter, the FEI states: “We welcome third parties providing the FEI with evidence if they see incidents impacting horse welfare. This is particularly important in Endurance where the nature of the discipline makes it difficult to monitor all areas of the extensive field of play, so we very much appreciate you expressing your concerns to us.
“Please be assured, we follow up on every single case that is brought to our attention and, where there is solid evidence of horse abuse, a case will be taken to the FEI Tribunal.
“Please be assured, the FEI is working very hard to tackle the problems in Endurance head-on. We know that we have a long way to go on this, but we will not stop until the issues are fully resolved.”
The FEI letter, variously as from the Endurance Department or the Communications Department, describes the image as “distressing.”
Notably, the FEI is following up why the rider was not disqualified and given a yellow warning card. It is claimed that the horse was stopped on the first loop and the noseband removed, and the rider given the less serious Official Verbal Warning, though, so far, there is so far no public record of the latter. The letter says the horse was checked by a vet and confirmed uninjured. There is no explanation why the badly fitted tack was not noticed at the start.
One of the people who wrote to the FEI is Liz Hatten, who worked 14 years for the International League for the Protection of Horses (which charity became World Horse Welfare, the FEI’s official adviser). She shared her letter on Facebook and said: “I would like to know why it is that Endurance has been allowed to become such a dreadful ‘sport’? Why, as the governing body do you [FEI] allow such abuse and abject cruelty to horses?
“The photographs of horses being badly ridden in appalling tack that would not be allowed in any other equestrian event, often by people who can barely rise to the trot.
“I have seen footage of horses being chased and beaten, horses exhausted to the point of death and so much drug abuse. You are the governing body and you allow this – you are bringing all equestrian sports into disrepute by allowing this to continue.”
The photos have also attracted the attention of the dressage and eventing communities. One notable commenter is Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg, former First Chief Rider of the Spanish riding School of Vienna. He commented: “It is sad and a disgrace – where are the stewards?”