Today, endurance racing resumes in the United Arab Emirates, with 10 four-wheel-drives up for grabs in a 160km contest at Al Wathba, in Abu Dhabi.
It all seems rather hasty. The Emirates Equestrian Federation (EEF) has forwarded its list of proposed changes, and the FEI seems happy enough at this stage.
It will be a busy day. On a day when one of biggest rides of the season in the United Arab Emirates unfolds, its endurance people will be meeting with FEI officials to finalise the exact details of the measures.
So, understandably, details are still a little sketchy.
However, we do know that today’s big race, the CEI 3* 160km HH The President of UAE Endurance Cup, will be raced with a number of new measures in place, including changes to the presentation times and a heart-rate reduction.
These, I think, will make a huge difference to speeds on the course, and pretty much everyone in the wider endurance community now seems to acknowledge that relentless speed on the fast desert courses is a major factor in the number of catastrophic injuries in UAE endurance horses – at least seven so far this season.
It has not been made clear whether we will see a solution in this event to the ridiculous procession of vehicles following the riders, and it has not been spelled out whether the crewing free-for-all, which seems to have been permitted under rules to cover extreme climatic conditions, will also feature.
So, we will have to wait and see.
I think the altered presentation time – which I presume will be shorter – and the reduced heart rate will not be an easy adjustment for riders, unless they have had a taste of this at the endurance venue of Bouthieb, where local “house” rules impose similar restrictions.
Today’s riders will compete in a contest which offers a Mercedes Benz four-wheel-drive as first prize. Second prize is a Range Rover Sport four-wheel-drive, and the eight other finishers in the top 10 will each get a Nissan Patrol four-wheel-drive.
A total of 60,000 dirhams will be distributed to those who successfully complete the ride.
So, we have big prizes at stake for a contest on the usual fast desert course that is a hallmark of the region.
The changes, on the surface, are extremely positive.
After all, what is wrong with the UAE – or any country for that matter – declaring that local conditions are such that shorter presentation times and a heart-rate reduction are warranted? In the case of the UAE, we are talking about climatic challenges and the fast nature of desert courses.
One has to have a great deal of respect for the organisers at Bouthieb, who recognised the problem, saw the solution, and implemented it. The Emirates Equestrian Federation cannot claim the same moral high ground because it acted only after being thrust, once again, into the spotlight over endurance shortcomings.
Perhaps this will be the sea change those in endurance have wanted for so long.
Perhaps reduced presentation times and reduced heart rates will be embraced globally.
We will have to wait and see.
FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez, in a letter to national federations to let them know that it was happy enough with the proposals presented, said: “The EEF are fully aware of what it is in the balance.”
That surely would be its membership of the FEI, its right to compete internationally, and the fate of the world endurance championships to be held in Dubai in December.
A last chance? I would think so.