America’s top endurance officials have warned about the “dangerous disconnect” between the extreme flat-track racing over extended distances and the more traditional version of the discipline.
They want the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) to immediately withdraw all funding to FEI endurance events outside of the US for two years or until significant changes are made within the FEI. Funding should instead be directed toward US national events.
The American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) executive committee, in a letter to the USEF, described events at the endurance ride during the recent World Equestrian Games in North Carolina as chaotic and disturbing. (The race was shortened after some competitors were misdirected on the first loop, and later cancelled because of heat and humidity.)
“WEG has brought clearly into focus the dangers of flat track racing for extended distances being attempted in the framework of traditional endurance …
“While we agree that the start mix up and the incomplete facilities were a major issue in this particular WEG, as noted above, the decade-plus erosion of traditional endurance behaviors and equine welfare criteria are the greatest threats to the discipline.”
The committee, which wrote to USEF president Murray Kessler and secretary-general William Moroney, said their letter arose out of grave concern about not only the recent events of WEG, but also the years-long evolution of the sport of endurance in general.
“In the last decade a clear divide has occurred within endurance that many outside of our discipline are not aware of.
“This split is between the traditional endurance on one hand, and on the other hand, extreme flat track racing for extended distances (also referred to as extreme endurance racing).”
“AERC does not encourage or support the philosophy or resultant behavior of flat track racing at extended distances.
“We also feel that the nature and publicity involved with the extreme flat track racing is not in line with the mission statement and goals of USEF.
“Simply put, there is a dangerous disconnect between the extreme flat track racing for extended distances version of endurance and AERC/USEF’s guiding principles.
“And it is because of this we believe that USEF and AERC need to be a beacon of light and join together for not just horse welfare, but for the preservation of the true nature of endurance competitions.”
The committee continued: “While we do not know the exact steps forward to take or precise solutions we can effect at the FEI level, we do know there are some steps we can take within the confines of US competitions and in US representation on the world stage that can drive positive behaviors in our sport.
“For example, we can allocate funding towards US-based events, building our youth program, and selectively incentivizing the behaviors that grow our collective respect in the sport.”
Discussing events at Tryon, the committee said that while the start mix-up and the incomplete facilities were a major issue in this particular WEG, the decade-plus erosion of traditional endurance behaviors and equine welfare criteria represented the greatest threats to the discipline.
“Regretfully, equestrians within endurance and the greater equestrian community in general became witness to the schism within endurance during WEG.
“What people do not realize is athletes that participate in flat racing for extended distances know nothing about riding their horses within their capabilities according to the weather and terrain of the day.
“Their objective is often ‘winning at all costs’. This is incomprehensible to traditional endurance competitors where our sport’s motto is ‘To finish is to win’.”
The committee was critical of several decisions made in respect of the WEG endurance contest, which in its view had the potential to compromise horse welfare.
“When the veterinarians at Tryon wanted to slow the race down with a 60 bpm pulse rate, the FEI organizers reversed their decision.
“It is well documented that on this type of terrain horses need shorter loops to ensure more frequent veterinary monitoring of metabolic function but FEI officials decided that they wanted five loops instead of the six that had been originally planned by the organizers.
“Clearly horse welfare was not the priority when these decisions were made and suggestions made by those qualified to recommend stronger measures to slow the horses down were not considered.
“This event would have been greatly improved if FEI had listened to the people that have a great deal of experience in endurance riding in technical terrain and adverse weather.
“Unfortunately, it often appears the welfare of the horse is only given consideration after something goes wrong in some FEI events.”
Committee members also urged support for an online petition, signed by more than 5500 individuals, which put forward a series of proposals for the discipline.
These include tougher penalties over failed drug tests in horses, including possible life bans on owners/trainers/riders in some circumstances; more drug testing at 4* and 5* events; completion rate requirements that would see open horses return to restricted or controlled speeds if they fall below the threshold; and adding a requirement that all athletes must qualify on the horse that is to be ridden in a championship ride.
The letter was signed by AERC president Paul Latiolais, vice-president Monica Chapman, treasurer Mollie Krumlaw-Smith, secretary Connie Burns and past-president Michael Campbell.