The incidence of fractures in endurance horses was among the topics discussed at the Endurance Round Table session on the final day of the FEI Sports Forum yesterday in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The subject was raised by former Endurance Committee member Jean-Louis Leclerc (France), who asked what was being done to address the issue.
FEI Director Non-Olympic Sports Ian Williams confirmed that the FEI has been looking into both the causes and prevention of these types of injuries “to ensure that the welfare of the horse is absolutely the central pillar of endurance in the future”.
He stated that there is an ongoing review in FEI Headquarters, compiling facts and figures to create the safest possible environment for Endurance horses.
FEI Veterinary Delegate Fred Barrelet (Switzerland), one of the FEI’s most senior and experienced 4* vets and head of Veterinary Services for the upcoming FEI World Endurance Championships in Euston Park (GB), said it was necessary to have assessment and understanding of when and where injuries occur.
“We can then know where the problems are and how they should be addressed. If the rules as they stand are implemented correctly, I am confident that incidents of career limiting and career ending injuries can be reduced back to a low level.”
Barrelet also reported that Annamaria Nagy (Hungary), based at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket (GB), is currently doing a PhD on orthopaedic injury rates in endurance horses globally. This data will also play an important role in the FEI study.
Representatives of National Federations and veterinarians contributed to discussion on proposed rule changes that will be presented to the FEI General Assembly 2012 in November. Various proposals made by the FEI Endurance Committee were debated before the meeting was opened up for general discussion.
The FEI Technical Committee has undertaken a full review of the present rules for Endurance Riding in the context of the rapid expansion of the discipline worldwide. The major rules changes, dealing with qualification, entries and the composition of championship teams, all received unanimous support from the participants.
Speaking after the session, Williams said: “to change the fundamentals of entries, qualifications and teams is a fantastic step forward.”
The changes involved the introduction of an Elite status for Junior, Young and Senior Athletes, the possibility of bringing spare horses to competitions, and adopting a format that would allow all six members of a squad to contribute to the final team result with the best three scores counting.
Under the proposed new rule, to achieve Junior/Young Rider Elite Athlete Status, athletes must have successfully completed a minimum of 10 CEI 2* 120km events or higher. To maintain this status, they must successfully complete at least one CEI 120km or higher event within every successive 24 months.
Senior Elite Athlete status would be awarded to riders who successfully complete a minimum of 10 CEI 3* 160km events or higher. To maintain Senior Elite Athlete status, Athletes must successfully complete at least one CEI 160 km within every successive 24 months.
Barrelet suggested that, apart from these qualification criteria, any disciplinary action within the 24-month status-maintaining period should be taken into account. The suggestion was taken on board by the Committee.
There was also strong support for changes in the rules relating to establishing the field of play, and the creation of the role of course designer. This new role will have a direct bearing on the level of safety and challenge of the courses.
The FEI Technical Committee also sought feedback on the final horse inspection and whether to change it to make it more spectator friendly.
FEI Endurance Committee Brian Sheahan (AUS) was adamant that horse welfare was not negotiable. “We can’t put public adulation before horse welfare or we can throw our rule book away,” he said. “We should think of ways to make the inspection easier for spectators to understand but we will never compromise our welfare standards.”
In his wrap-up of the key discussion points, Williams said: “The FEI is absolutely aware of the issues that this discipline faces and the rule changes have addressed what issues we can, but we are looking for more information to create a safe environment for our horses to perform in endurance.”
Endurance Committee chair Ruth Carlson brought the meeting to a close. “Please know that it’s not just in a forum like this that we welcome input,” she said. “If you have a concern, a suggestion, a problem, we want to hear about it. Please get in touch with us. We will take everything seriously and get back to everyone.”