Endurance officials are being urged to be vigilant by two of the most senior figures in the discipline, who warn that serious welfare incidents had the potential to irreversibly harm the sport.
The chairman of the FEI’s Endurance Technical Committee, Brian Sheahan, and the FEI’s endurance director, Manuel Bandeira de Mello, in a letter to officials, said endurance had developed into a highly professional equestrian sport over the past decade.
“In parallel with the increased popularity of endurance, we have seen a significant increase in the value of star rated sound horses, as well as the development of a growing international trade in qualified horses.”
They said the increased value of endurance horses had affected the sport in several ways, including increased international demand for the animals and higher market values. However, there has also been pressure to qualify novice horses as soon as possible, and increased competition at CEN and CEI events, leading to faster times.
Faster times, they said, led to increased welfare risks to horses.
The sport’s development had led to highly skilled endurance officials and veterinarians, who carried increased responsibility to protect the welfare of the horses.
Officials, they said, needed to remain vigilant against horse abuse.
“As FEI officials, your primary role is to protect the welfare of the horse, maintain the integrity of the competition and to hold accountable athletes, trainers, grooms and officials who fail to meet the high standards of behaviour that are expected and defined in the FEI Rules and Regulations.”
Officials, they said, had significant authority to intervene in a competition where horse welfare was threatened.
“We remaind you that all it takes for a serious and damaging incident to occur is for one athlete to ride his/her horse beyond its capacity to perform or one official to turn a blind eye to rule violations or one veterinary official not to recommend the removal of a horse from competition suffering from lameness or metabolic issues.
“The consequences of such an action could compromise the welfare of the horse and destroy the integrity of the competition and irreversibly harm our sport.
“Fortunately, the need for significant intervention by officials in the conduct of the competition occurs infrequently when officials place horse welfare first, understand their role and responsibilities and communicate with their colleagues throughout the competition.”