UAE endurance: Come on FEI, you’ve got to be kidding me

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gallop-endurance400Normally, when my colleague calls me over to her computer to watch a video, it’s going to show a fluffy kitten doing something insanely cute, a horse unlatching his stable door, or a dog proving that he’s smarter than his master.

But yesterday I was instead subjected to 7 minutes and 53 seconds of endurance from the United Arab Emirates. More specifically, the Sheikh Zayed Bin Mansoor Al Nahyan Junior & Young Riders Endurance Cup, raced over 120 kilometres on Saturday at the Emirates International Endurance Village in Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi.

I wrote about this particular race the day after the event, having read the results.

The results, I felt, spoke for themselves in terms of the issues with UAE endurance. There were 55 starters, only 18 of whom successfully completed the four-loop race. Of the 37 eliminations, 19 were recorded as going out because of an irregular gait (including one before the race even started); another because of an irregular gait and metabolic issues; three were listed as failing to complete; five were retired by the rider; one was disqualified for departing 10 minutes early; one was listed as being out of time; and six were disqualified for beating their horse. A horse named Ainhoa Catharissime, a grey Arab mare, went out on loop three after suffering a catastrophic injury.

Now, having watched the video, which shows the closing stages of the race, I find myself almost lost for words. There is no point in me providing a forensic analysis of the video – you can watch it for yourself – but it is not pretty. In fact, it’s appalling.

The sea of support vehicles vastly outnumber the horses, some of whom are visibly struggling in the long straight haul for home. The coverage shows individuals running on to the course in their droves, spraying the horses with water and hoozling the animals along.

One leading contender, a grey horse, is seen to struggle. It finally falls back to a trot, clearly unable to maintain a canter. The rider is damn near having a fit on the horse’s back in a bid to encourage the animal to keep going, when any rider with any kind of affinity with their mount would have known it was done long ago. A few minutes later, we are shown the same combination again, and the horse is back at the canter. The rider was one of those later eliminated for beating the horse.

All this unfolds amid a cacophony of car horns, all accompanied by an edge-of-your-seat blow-by-blow account from a breathless commentator.

Is it sport? Not in my book. Is it fair on the horse? Not even close.

Surely, it is time for the FEI to act decisively and reimpose the suspension on the UAE.

Problems around rule enforcement and welfare led to the FEI suspending the UAE from the world governing body last year. Negotiations unfolded, and a few months later a deal was struck in which the UAE promised to abide by FEI rules, during which it would be carefully monitored. It was, for the current UAE endurance season, a test of the sport’s rules and the FEI’s ability to maintain a handle on the situation.

It has not gone well, as most endurance train-spotters had predicted. Liberties are still being taken, there are too many eliminations for lameness, and too many fatalities, with at least seven catastrophic injuries so far this season.

We are led to believe that the FEI is in urgent talks with UAE endurance officials about whether local rules similar to those being used just down the road in Bouthieb could be implemented across the Emirates.

The Bouthieb endurance facility is owned by Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who has spearheaded stringent local rules designed to safeguard the welfare of horses. They are designed to keep speeds down and primarily reward the condition of the horse, for which 70 percent of the prizemoney is allocated. It has worked spectacularly well.

The FEI’s endurance director, Manuel Bandeira de Mello, has issued a statement saying it is abundantly clear that speed is a major factor in the catastrophic injuries to date and that it is necessary to introduce measures to slow down the horses.

One hopes that such abundant clarity translates into decisive action.

I have said before that the core problem with UAE endurance is that the combination of fast tracks, jockey-style riders and big prizemoney is a lethal cocktail for the horses.

We have no idea how much progress has been made in the talks between the FEI and the UAE. One suspects that lawyers will be involved and the FEI will carefully be following “process”. Meanwhile, horses continues to suffer and endurance continues to attract bad headlines.

Much is at stake, of course, with this year’s World Endurance Championships set to be held in Dubai.

With the way things stand, I can’t understand why any self-respecting endurance nation would go.

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11 thoughts on “UAE endurance: Come on FEI, you’ve got to be kidding me

  • February 2, 2016 at 12:54 pm
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    Excellent piece of writing. Last comment…spot on

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    • February 2, 2016 at 6:36 pm
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      Absolutely agree Neil Clarkson… but its these countries who are still getting away with cruelty to the max and blatantly so even in front of media which goes round the world… for a long time now! It just demonstrates yet again how FEEBLE and GUTLESS FEI are when dealing with these strong minded Arab countries… yet FEI jumped all over Irish World Class SJ rider Bertram Allen for a scratch showing a speck of blood on his horse at London late last year. FEI were over him like a ton of bricks…. which many of us felt was unjustifiable.

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  • February 2, 2016 at 10:53 pm
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    All horses in the video were disqualified for “beating the horse”. What more can they do. It will continue to improve as they continue to enforce the rules.

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  • February 3, 2016 at 1:31 am
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    Totally agree! I spent two years in Qatar and went to Dubai and happened to see an endurance competition. So bad it beggars belief how this so called sport is allowed to continue. On the one hand many of the horses are well looked after in the stable but once out for competition its a different story. Its a similar situation with camel racing where scores of vehicles (often Toyota Land Cruisers) are driven within a short distance from the camels.

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  • February 3, 2016 at 3:31 am
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    What would be wrong with optimum time being used for the different legs. That surely would slow the idiots down.

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  • February 3, 2016 at 9:55 am
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    Very nice article, over a very poor subject… hope there will be some action against this practice

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  • February 7, 2016 at 4:03 pm
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    You call that ‘sport’ it beggars belief … Forget the ‘being nice’ to keep them in the game, get rid of them, NOW, until the horse is number one and not the prize money at the end of extreme endurance. When are they going to get the difference between correct and cruel.. Probably never, money talks.
    This is the first post of a video I have seen, by choice, and never will see another willingly. Just disgusted.
    Thank goodness all of the other disciplines seem to be very well controlled. (Judging by some of the outcomes for so called misdemeanours in the other disciplines) I assume this is because you
    won’t see SJ, XC, DRESSAGE, REINING, VAULTING, outside in the UAE.
    Out of sight, out of mind, though somebody doesn’t like it, we all got to see it.

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  • February 12, 2016 at 10:36 pm
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    Hmmm, I see some pretty poor riding skills in this video. Riders simply bumping along on the horses’ backs, sometimes not even bothering with stirrups – uncomfortable and extra tiring for the horses. Clearly not trained to ride in two-point, which has been proven to save the horses’ backs more. BTW the comparison with jockeys is unfair – they ride in much more balanced fashion. These guys are acting like it’s a donkey ride on the beach.

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    • February 13, 2016 at 7:59 am
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      The reference to “jockeys” means that they’re hired riders, not how they ride!

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  • August 30, 2016 at 9:09 pm
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    It’s a sport weather endurance races are really popular in more than a country including UK, France, USA ,Germany, Slovakia and the list goes on .
    Endurance races are Authorized by FEI and it’s listed in their website ,
    As for the comments stables cheat so they’re out , you’d know all the details if watched the entire race , I read what you said about 55 participants start the race and only 18 make it through that’s pure bullshit , first of the reason some of these elimination are made to help the horse how can a horse finish the race if there heart race was troubled and some stab, the part were you mentioned spraying water on the horses Race have you ever been to Dubai or Abu Dhabi we’re talking about one of the hottest countries in the world , so you if the races are held there you have spray them to keep the cool , and lastly you mentioned something on how some racers were disqualified because they passed a certain horse this is pure madness .. anyhow you’ll need to get your facts straight just because an Arab country you start shitting about it , lastly I’m not saying the this race is sometimes brutal and tiring to the horses but alot of expertise ,professional doctors and vets studied this case and found that there is no harm …

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