A four-star judge and technical delegate says only three horses required light medical treatment among the 242 who took part in three days of endurance racing in the United Arab Emirates recently.
François Kerboul provided an account of racing at Bouthieb, where horses race under additional welfare-related rules specific to the venue. The first day, on December 31, saw the staging of a CEN 1* race over 90km for women. It attracted 59 competitors.
The veterinary facilities remained unused through the day, which had not happened since the beginning of endurance in the UAE, he said.
Kerboul said the veterinarian spent an uneventful day, which delighted organisers, including Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the owner of the International Endurance Village at Bouthieb, which is in Abu Dhabi.
The second day of competition was similar, with two events staged – a CEI 1* over 80 km in three stages, which drew 89 competitors; and a CEN 1* over 100 km run in four stages for privately owned horses. It drew 39 competitors.
Kerboul said, among the 128 horses on the track, there was a single mild metabolic case, receiving five litres of fluid without additives in what he termed comfort treatment. The clinic had no other work for the day.
The third day brought a CEIJY 2* race over 120 kilometres run in five stages. There were 55 starters.
Kerboul reported that three horses were presented.
“They had lost their riders, who had fallen on the first phase in the light sandstorm with reduced visibility,” he said.
They were caught and taken to the clinic, but released immediately as nothing justified their presence.
Kerboul said there were three metabolic cases, two of which required no treatment. The other horse was given 10 litres of fluid without additives. There were three cases of lameness, of which only one was treated. It was given a small dose of anti-inflammatory medication.
“So, in three days of racing, four competitions and 242 horses, only three horses received light medical treatment, mainly out of caution.”
Kerboul said he gained the impression that both riders and officials clearly enjoyed the stricter racing regime introduced by Sheikh Sultan, which particularly rewards the conditioning of the horse over speed. Speeds must be kept in check and are monitored by GPS.
Sheikh Sultan’s welfare-driven requirements are over and above those imposed by the FEI.
Last year, the United Arab Emirates was suspended from the FEI over welfare concerns in the sport. The suspension was lifted only after the nation formally agreed to a raft of measures, including strictly enforcing FEI endurance rules.
“[Sheikh Sultan’s] new competition parameters, implemented regularly for the first time (including 10 minutes of recovery time, even for the finish with a maximum heart rate of 56 beats per minutes) produced more effect than we all hoped,” he said.
There was, he said, “an unprecedented atmosphere of surprise, satisfaction, analysis and research”.
Sheikh Sultan was permanently on site for the three days, Kerboul noted, and the new president of the national federation – a showjumping rider – visited many times during the competition.
Kerboul believes positive changes in endurance will be permanent.
“One had only to be there to realize and see the obvious: this is in fact a revolution taking place in Bouthieb under the leadership of Sheikh Sultan.”
He said it was clear the sheikh wanted to “return to sport and to the true spirit of endurance, preserve the horses and win with honor”.
Kerboul said the new rules had successfully kept speeds down. It was impossible to go over 23kmh and successfully pass the veterinary inspections.
Two riders risked it on the first phase of CEIYJ, he said, with speeds of 26kmh and found themselves bowing out because their horses had not recovered sufficiently in the time allowed.
He said some had yet to understand the spirit of the new rules and fully adopt them.
“This will be the aim of the upcoming events and it is probably in this context that an additional weekend was added to the Bouthieb calendar for the current season.”
It was, he said, no longer about speed and riders had to think carefully and act accordingly.
He noted that 30% of the prizes were given for the speed classification and 70% for “top condition”, based on points.
Endurance at Bouthieb, he said, was now more subtle and more difficult – but not for the horses.
“The horses come out winners – and the sport and the discipline, too.”
Includes updated edits 9/1/16