WEG Endurance: A tough day at the office

Endurance silver medalist Marijke Visser and Laiza de Jalima.
Endurance silver medalist Marijke Visser and Laiza de Jalima. © Sindy Thomas

The FEI has been singing the praises of its world championship endurance race in Normandy, but I’m yet to be convinced that everyone will see it that way.

No doubt the views of the competitors will emerge over the next few days, but certainly there are questions swirling around a race in which only 38 of 174 competitors finished.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum land Yamamah.
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum and Yamamah. © Sindy Thomas

That’s 174 of the world’s elite endurance horses and 174 of the finest riders, competing in a race in which only 22.4 percent of them finished.

The 160km course around the Bay of Mont Saint Michel has always been described as a technical and challenging course. That is unquestionably as it should be.

The world championship needs to challenge each and every competitor. However, it was would seem that the five-loop course around Sartilly was overly demanding after heavy rain made the going even tougher.

There is, after all, a fine line between a challenging course and a brutal one.

The chairman of the FEI Endurance Committee, Brian Sheahan, declared himself happy with the event.

“This event really deserved the title of World Championships today,” he said.

“There has been a great deal of sportsmanship and co-operation with riders. It’s been a world-class event that I am proud to be associated with.

“This was a World Equestrian Games and the course was extremely technical and extremely challenging,” he said. “The weather made it even tougher and the vets were extremely careful to ensure that the horses were protected at all times, meaning that the number of finishers was unexpectedly low for a championship.”

Unexpectedly low? Some might consider the number of finishers to be disappointingly low.

Germany, New Zealand, Canada, the Czech Republic, Japan and Norway will be heading home with their collective tails between their legs, having failed to get even one finisher.

Bahrain, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Portugal, Uruguay, the United States, and Belgium each managed to get only one competitor home in their respective teams.

Sheahan is absolutely right to praise the careful vetting that ensured the protection of the horses. That, of course, is the first priority. And it is hard to disagree with his view that the low number of finishers proved the stringent veterinary protocols were working.

© Sindy Thomas
© Sindy Thomas

Unfortunately, the high rate of attrition rapidly reduced the field and, in the end, one has to wonder what kind of spectacle the latter half of the race presented for spectators, given that the event is intended to be the international showcase for the sport.

Tragically, a horse was lost and no doubt we will hear more of the circumstance in the next few days. The Costa Rican mount Dorado died instantly near the end of the first loop when its head struck a tree beside the the track in a forested area. His rider, Claudio Romero Chacon, required surgery for fractures and internal injuries. She is reported to be in a serious but stable condition in hospital after surgery.

The final verdict will only emerge once we hear from those who tackled the Sartilly course.

No matter what will ultimately be said of the course, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and his mount, Yamamah, are deserving winners. The race results show his speeds around the five loops were remarkably consistent. He took the lead early on and stayed there. Perhaps he wisely believed that the best footing would be in front of the field?

Interestingly, for a team that had a carefully planned buildup in Europe and must have held aspirations for the team gold (won by Spain), Sheikh Hamdan was the only one of five UAE riders to finish the race.

Boy, it must have been tough out there.


One thought on “WEG Endurance: A tough day at the office

  • August 29, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    By chance we were camping on a farm near Genets through which the horses passed three times during the day between 10.30am and 7.30pm and saw first-hand the effect of the grueling course on the diminishing number of horses and riders. News of the early tragic accident soon filtered back to the spectators. but generally communication of what we were watching was very poor. Even locals through whose land the event crossed were unsure of the timing and no-one had a programme listing the horses and riders. It was therefore very difficult to identify most of the riders apart from the few who had obvious helmet flags. The event would therefore have been even more exciting if there had been wider sale of progammes in the area, and the riders had carried clearer national flags in the form of bibs or bands on their boots.
    Nevertheless an unexpected bonus to our Normandy camping holiday! Thankyou all concerned.
    Geoff Purkiss


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