Endurance in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has grown faster than the skills of trainers and riders, an American specialist in the discipline who once worked as a trainer in the region told an international conference.
Emmett Ross told delegates to the inaugural International Bou Thieb Endurance Conference of the need for education to further the sport in the region.
Ross is a past chef d’equipe to the US Endurance Team and is shortly to take on the organization of the endurance section for the upcoming World Equestrian Games in Bromont, Canada.
Ross suggested that the intense pressure to win from many owners and the high levels of prize money had given rise to many of the region’s problems.
He also commented on the changes in the tracks which had lost their technical qualities of the past.
He suggested that the stables and their staff needed help and education, not punishment.
The conference, at the Bou Thieb Endurance Village, was initially disrupted by extraordinary storms and a deluge of rain, forcing its postponement for a day.
Delegates discussed the so-called Bou Thieb Rules, an “in-house” set of regulations designed to keep speeds down and safeguard the welfare of the competing horses. The majority of the prize-money is allocated to the best-conditioned horses and not to the fastest finishers.
Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed Al Nayhan, who owns the endurance complex and is behind the Bou Thieb Rules, was present throughout the conference. He said he was pleased by the attendance and appreciated the strong support his ideas received from the speakers and guests.
His rules have sparked intense debate both nationally and internationally about the meaning of endurance, whether the long distance flat races run against the clock as seen in UAE can legitimately be called endurance, and whether other criteria which ensure the welfare of the horse are not more relevant to the spirit of the sport.
Sheikh Sultan said the Bou Thieb rules reflected his ideals. He had taken the view at Bou Thieb that the sport either had to reform or stop. The rules have gone on to exceed all expectations and, whilst there were some aspects that needed refinement, there was no doubt that, taken as a package, the welfare of all horses taking part in endurance rides at Bou Thieb had dramatically improved.
Speakers included Dr Dwight Hooten, of the US, who is FEI adviser to the Emirates Equestrian Federation (EEF) ; Dr James Bryant (Senior) from Canada; Major Kevin Croke, from Ireland, speaking about his six years of experience in UAE World Championships as the international disciplinary chief steward; Dr Ali Tweissi, EEF Veterinary Department head; Dr Henk Basson, South Africa’s Veterinary Commission head; and Francois Kerboul, from France, an FEI 4* judge and technical delegate who demonstrated the concept of the points system he had devised around which the Bouthieb rules are based.
Delegates also heard from Dr Sue Stover, from the University of California Veterinary Department, on the causes and prevention of limb fractures in horse.
Her work has proven that the vast majority of bone fractures in racehorses were due to a pre-existing condition and she suggested that the same applied to endurance horses.
She emphasized the need for necessary time in rehabilitation after injury, giving the bone time to regain its strength. Stover said over-training so often led to unnecessary injury which in turn can lead to fractures.
Among those who attended the conference was Dr Brian Sheahan, head of the FEI’s Veterinary Department.