The FEI is facing calls to remove the 2016 world endurance championship from Dubai, with the opinion of governing bodies now boosted by a public petition.

The latest crisis stems from shocking images, which went viral, from the official ride livestream of a junior event at Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi on January 30th.

Grooms flooded onto the field of play to help five riders bully their exhausted horses to the finish line. The riders were disqualified on the day, though it was only after outrage on social media that the Emirates Equestrian Federation (EEF) fined the stables involved a staggering $100,000 each.

The FEI and EEF last Wednesday (February 3rd) then halted all UAE rides till “at least” February 11th while further solutions were sought.

The American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) has also asked the US Equestrian Federation to demand a venue change, plus an immediate minimum one-year suspension on the EEF, while Swiss federation has suggested a boycott if the Dubai world champion goes ahead. The Dutch federation says that if the FEI cannot wrest back control of UAE endurance, it will consider measures of its own.

AERC chairman, Michael Campbell said last year’s suspension had only made an impression on HH Sheikh Sultan’s venue at Bou Thib, which is applying rigorous horse welfare rules of its own. These include a 20kph average speed limit, with 70 per cent of prizes going only to those who meet Sheikh Sultan’s best condition criteria. This has already resulted in greatly improved completion rates at Bou Thib this season of over 60 per cent – the norm in the UAE is under 25 per cent.

Campbell wrote to USEF: “Evidence of this equine abuse has been widely circulated on social media around the world.

“The suspension imposed on UAE by FEI last year has not made a lasting impression on most of the venues in the UAE, with the exception of Dr Sheikh Sultan in Bou Thib. As the endurance affiliate in the US, AERC requests that USEF register strenuous objections with FEI regarding the overriding and equine abuse that continues in UAE.

“This continued abuse is a blight on the sport of endurance riding throughout the world. The desert style racing of UAE is not endurance riding as most other countries define it. I know that endurance communities in many other countries are expressing the same feelings to their national governing bodies.

“AERC further requests that stricter sanctions be imposed on UAE to drive home the lesson that mistreatment of horses in endurance rides is intolerable to the US and the rest of the endurance world. At this point, a one-year suspension would be reasonable.

“Finally, AERC requests that the venue for the World Endurance Championship be removed from the UAE to a more suitable location. Should FEI resist moving the venue, AERC requests that USEF forego plans to send an endurance team to the WEC.”

A petition was launched on by the Swiss-based “Clean Endurance” community on Friday (February 5th) and by Monday had garnered nearly 3,000 signatures, some from FEI officiating vets. British signatories (800) are the most numerous at the time of writing, followed by France, Germany and the US. The petition has garnered support in other disciplines. The International Dressage Riders Club has promoted it on its public Facebook page. Notable signatories by Monday included the 1980 Olympic dressage champion Elizabeth Max-Theurer.