An online petition calling for the 2016 world endurance championships to be moved from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has attracted more than 2400 supporters so far.
The petition on Change.org is calling on FEI President Ingmar De Vos to act, following ongoing welfare concerns in the sport in the UAE.
Matters reached a head on January 30, when footage from a junior and young riders’ event at Al Wathba emerged and was widely viewed across social media.
The coverage of the closing stages showed a large fleet of vehicles driving alongside the riders, with a chaotic procession of support crew running on to the course with slosh bottles to service the clearly tiring horses. Five riders were subsequently disqualified for beating their mounts.
The online reaction was swift, with calls for the FEI to reimpose the provisional suspension from last year and for the endurance world championships, set for Dubai in December, to be moved elsewhere.
Last year’s suspension was imposed by the world governing body over welfare concerns and non-compliance with the rules. It was lifted only after the UAE signed an agreement in which it undertook to comply with the rules and agree to monitoring.
However, speeds remain too high, there are still too many catastrophic injuries, and races often record high elimination rates – although the latter is undoubtedly influenced by more stringent vetting.
The FEI has since held urgent meetings with the Emirates Equestrian Federation in a bid to have the nation adopt rules successfully applied this season at Bouthieb, in Abu Dhabi, to safeguard horse welfare. These “house rules” primarily reward the condition of the horse and impose strict limits on speed.
The petition, which had 2407 signatures at the time of writing, asserts that horse welfare has not improved in the UAE since the lifting of the suspension. It argues for the relocation of the championships to another country.
The latest endurance controversy in the UAE may prove to be a step too far for some nations. The board of the American Endurance Ride Conference has already asked the United States Equestrian Federation not to send an endurance team to the world championships this year unless it is moved from the UAE.
The petition can be seen here.