It is hard to escape the conclusion that the FEI has chosen to play a get-out-of-jail-free card over the harrowing demise of an Australian-bred endurance horse in a race in Abu Dhabi.
An image which has circulated in social media, and was published by Britain’s Daily Telegraph on Friday, shows Splitters Creek Bundy standing helplessly, having snapped both his cannon bones in the Al Reef Cup, staged a week ago.
The problem? The race over 120km was not an FEI-sanctioned event. It was run under less stringent rules adopted by the United Arab Emirates’ equestrian federation for some domestic endurance races. On that basis, the FEI has no jurisdiction, or, as the Telegraph reported, the world governing body asserted it was “powerless to act”.
The controversies around endurance are well known to those who follow the sport and, thanks to widespread media coverage, pretty well known beyond the sport’s sphere.
It hardly needs to be said that images of horses with broken legs are incredibly harmful to the reputation of all horse sports.
The whole endurance fuss arose over rising global concern within the sport over the high fracture rates and the number of drug infractions centered on the Group VII nations, in particular Dubai, Bahrain and Qatar.
There was even talk of an international split in the sport.
The FEI conducted a review and brought in tougher rules last August, but few believed it would be the end of the problems.
There have always been fears that the Middle Eastern nations would struggle to reconcile the tougher rules with their aggressive style of desert racing.
It has certainly not escaped attention that some of these nations are choosing to run more races outside the auspices of the FEI, under local rules.
So, the demise of Splitters Creek Bundy remains a matter for attention under local rules – the national code of the United Arab Emirates – with the FEI supposedly powerless to act over the incident.
This is a high-stakes game for the FEI and it has to be acknowledged that none of the options are especially appealing. However, whipping out a get-out-of-jail-free card and asserting it is powerless is not really an option it can use again, in my view.
Perhaps it is hoping that no further such horrors will occur. In the end, they have done nothing but bought some time.
Surely it is incumbent upon every national federation to uphold the ideals of quality horse sport and, on that basis, the rules and records of all national governing bodies should stand up to international scrutiny.
These issues are not going to go away. I would hope that the FEI will choose to make this its own business. If not, I could pretty confidently name half a dozen major equestrian nations that will very quickly make it the FEI’s business.
Britain’s Andrew Finding, who headed the planning group that looked at the rules of endurance during the FEI’s review, put it eloquently in November 2013 during a special endurance session at the FEI General Assembly in Switzerland.
“There is no room or place in our sport for rule violations leading to cheating,” he told delegates.
“There is no place for doping. There is no place for our partner the horse to end an event suffering from a life threatening, irreversible or untreatable illness or injury.”
He continued: “The strategic plan we propose sets out a vision and a set of values we will expect everyone to adhere to if they genuinely want to be an active part of our family. Those who do not should be asked to leave us.”
Surely, on that basis, “local rules” shouldn’t exempt any member nation’s governing body from upholding the highest standards of welfare and integrity.
If the FEI is, indeed, powerless to act, as it claims, then I would suggest this represents yet another gaping hole in the rules of horse sport.