British equestrian journalist Pippa Cuckson has been joined by the editor of Horse & Hound magazine in lodging a formal protest with the FEI over the treatment of the winning horse in the February 8 running of the King’s Cup 120km endurance race in Bahrain.
The letter, under the Horse & Hound letterhead, is co-signed by Cuckson, who is a freelance contributor to the magazine, and its editor, Lucy Higginson.
The letter to FEI Secretary General Ingmar de Vos included two video clips showing the incidents that raised their concerns.
One clip, apparently of the closing stages of the race and produced to the accompaniment of music, shows a significant number of vehicles being driven beside the desert course.
The horse ridden by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Mubarak Al Khalifa appears to slow, and two men emerge from a nearby pickup truck and run towards the horse. The footage appears to show one of them beating the horse on the rump with an object. The animal then quickens its pace, later breaking into a canter.
Towards the end of the clip the music subsides and a cacophony of horns can be heard as the rider thrusts an arm in the air.
Cuckson and Higginson maintain that the second video appears to show the rider hitting the horse with a lash, although they say digital enhancement may identify the object more clearly.
The race made headlines when Cuckson, attending an endurance conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, the same weekend, showed the first video clip to the FEI’s head of endurance, Ian Williams.
He told her: “We cannot do anything without someone properly supplying us with the evidence and an explanation of why they think a rule has been broken, and who is willing to maybe make their case to the [FEI] Tribunal at a later date.”
Cuckson, who reported the exchange in the Daily Telegraph, confirmed that she intended to lodge a letter of protest.
It emerged shortly afterwards that Al Khalifa had been given a yellow card and fined 500 Swiss francs. Al Khalifa and the groom involved were also suspended by the Bahraini National Federation until the end of the endurance season.
Cuckson and Higginson noted in their letter that, as members of the public, they were entitled to protest in hindsight only in respect of horse abuse. However, they urged de Vos to use the discretion granted to him under FEI rules to refer all the matters raised in their letter to the FEI Tribunal.
They told him: “The adverse publicity this incident has attracted around the world poses a risk to the image of equestrian sport, so we ask the Secretary General therefore to permit our further protests about rule breaches set out at the foot of this letter.
“They are offences in their own right, as well as contributing to horse abuse in this incident.”
The pair argued that the rider should have been disqualified, based on the content of the videos.
They also argued that the numerous following vehicles and the blasting of horns noted in the first video clip amounted to horse abuse through intimidation.
Rules which they allege have been breached, based on the video clips, include forbidden assistance; being provided with unauthorised aid; being followed, preceded, or accompanied by any vehicles; and accepting intervention by a third party, whether solicited or not.
At the time of writing, Cuckson had yet to receive a response from de Vos.
Welfare concerns centred on the Middle East have threatened to spark an international rift in the sport of endurance, with concerns raised by a number of national federations over worrying fracture rates, the number of drug infractions that have been dealt with by the FEI Tribunal in recent years, and other welfare concerns from the region.