The Bahrain incident in which an endurance horse was struck across the rump by support crew as it neared victory in a prestigious 120km desert race resulted in a formal warning to the rider and a ban, the FEI confirmed early today (NZ time).
However, equestrian journalist Pippa Cuckson, who brought the matter to wide attention in a piece in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, questioned why the incident resulted in the winner of the event receiving only a warning, despite what appeared to be multiple breaches of endurance rules.
The manager of press relations for the FEI, Malina Gueorguiev, said early today that the organisation had now received the official report from the chief steward at the CEI2* at Sakhir International Village in Bahrain, which confirmed that the incident revealed in the video was reported to the president of the ground jury.
Gueorguiev said that once the facts were verified, through the use of video evidence and witness statements, the ground jury issued a yellow warning card to the rider, Sheik Mohammed Bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, of Bahrain, as the Person Responsible under FEI rules.
A fine of 500 Swiss francs was also imposed.
“Additionally, the Bahraini National Federation has suspended both the rider and the groom involved in the incident until the end of the endurance season,” Gueorguiev said.
Cuckson yesterday indicated her intention to lodge a formal complaint with the FEI over the contents of the video footage, having been invited by the FEI’s head of endurance, Ian Williams, to do so, after showing it to him during an endurance conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, last weekend.
“I have not got round to sending in my formal complaint, but will still do so, for the record,” Cuckson said.
“Altogether, nine rules have been breached, if you also consider the second video clip which the ground jury may not have seen,” she said.
“I have asked the FEI for comment from the ground jury on why they thought a yellow card and fine would suffice, and not disqualification.”
Al Khalifa rode his mount, Tarabic Carl, to victory in what was the most important championship of the Bahrain season, the His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa Endurance Race Cup.
The footage showed the 14-year-old bay Anglo Arab on the last leg of the race. The footage, which has been viewed by Horsetalk, was produced to the accompaniment of music. It shows a significant number of vehicles being driven beside the desert course.
Tarabic Carl 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 striking 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.
FEI endurance rules state that a rider shall not be followed, preceded or accompanied on any part of the course or immediate adjacent access tracks by any vehicle, and shall not accept aid on any part of the course by someone not authorised to provide it.
Cuckson was one of two journalists who attended last weekend’s endurance conference in Lausanne, where delegates considered changes to rules sparked by growing concern among several national federations over welfare concerns and drug infractions centred on the FEI Group VII nations of Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain.
Nations primarily targeted by the proposed rule changes – the result of an international consultation process – had not shown up for the conference. Cuckson labelled their absence a boycott.
She reported that, while at the conference, she showed Williams the footage, which had been posted online by the Bahrain event live-stream broadcaster. She said he invited her to lodge a formal complaint.
Welfare concerns centred on the Middle East have threatened to spark an international rift in the sport, 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.
The FEI held a round-table conference and appointed a planning group to investigate changes, which led to this week’s conference.