The FEI is having another attempt at tidying up undesirable aspects of endurance, appointing a temporary committee to identify ways to bring the sport back to its “original roots”.
The world governing body says it hopes the committee will create a roadmap for the future of the discipline.
It is not the organisation’s first attempt to reform the sport.
Five years ago, an Endurance Strategy Planning Group released its findings during a two-hour endurance session at the FEI’s General Assembly in Montreux, Switzerland.
That group had been set up following a European outcry over the high level of doping infractions and excessive fracture rates in endurance competition in the Middle East.
However, problems have continued within the discipline, with speed and injury rates remaining serious concerns, especially so in the Gulf region. Changes have largely failed to curb desert-style endurance racing, with some rule changes adding cost and complexity for competitors in lower grades.
Critics have long argued that substantial prize money, fast tracks, and jockey-style riders who can be unfamiliar with their mounts, amount to a dangerous combination for horses.
The new Temporary Committee has been set up by the FEI Bureau. It has a remit to urgently assess the issues affecting the discipline.
It has been asked to carry out an in-depth review of the rules to identify the most effective way of “bringing the discipline back to its original roots of Endurance riding as opposed to Endurance racing, with horse welfare and horsemanship at its core, while still maintaining the competitive aspect of the sport.”
The Temporary Committee, established under the FEI Statutes, will be chaired by Dr Sarah Coombs, of Britain, an FEI Endurance veterinarian who has many years experience of officiating at FEI endurance events.
Coombs was formerly the British Endurance team vet. She is a trustee of the global equine charity World Horse Welfare and is also chair of its Veterinary Advisory Committee.
The committee members are Tarek Taher of Saudi Arabia, an international endurance athlete who was recently elected by his peers as a member of the FEI Athletes’ Committee; Pieter Wiersinga of the Netherlands, who is chef d’équipe of the Dutch Endurance team, a police commissioner and former head of the mounted police in his home nation; Dr Margaret (Meg) Sleeper of the United States, who has competed in FEI Endurance since 2005 and is also a trainer, official veterinarian and veterinary cardiologist; and Dr Tim Parkin of Britain, who heads the scientific research conducted at the University of Glasgow as part of the FEI’s Global Endurance injuries Study (GEIS). He is also a candidate for election as a member of the FEI Veterinary Committee.
The FEI’s second vice-president Mark Samuel, of Canada, will also be involved in the work of the committee, in order to underline the importance of the review and to aid communication between the committee and the bureau.
“We need to bring the discipline back to the principles of the FEI where welfare of the horse and horsemanship prevail,” FEI president Ingmar De Vos said.
“The Temporary Committee will conduct a thorough review of the discipline with the aim of getting back to real endurance riding with the focus on horsemanship and the partnership between horse and human.
“The sport has evolved and there needs to be a recognition of that, but the essence of the sport must remain the same. What we need are rules that place greater emphasis on completion of the event, rather than the ‘win at all costs’ mentality that is more and more threatening our sport.
“We have a strong chair in Dr Sarah Coombs, who has a long-standing and in-depth understanding of the sport, particularly the horse welfare and veterinary aspects,” he says.
“With this new role she will be helping steer this crucial next step by leading a committee of extremely knowledgeable members that is focused on regulatory change driven by science with horse welfare at its heart.”
Changes to endurance leadership
Before creating the committee, the bureau had received and accepted the resignation of Dr Brian Sheahan, of Australia, as chairman of the Endurance Technical Committee due to ill health. His eight-year term in office was due to expire in 2020.
De Vos thanked him for his dedication and passion for the sport and wished him a speedy recovery.
In a further development, the bureau has provisionally relieved Ignasi Casas Vaque, of Spain, of his rights and duties as deputy chair and member of the Endurance Committee due to pending legal proceedings for alleged incorrect behaviour at the FEI World Equestrian Games in North Carolina.
The FEI Legal Department last week initiated a disciplinary action against Dr Casas Vaque, based on evidence provided to the independent Equestrian Community Integrity Unit during its investigation into the cancelled Endurance event during the Games on September 12.
Any additional disciplinary actions against other individuals involved in events at Tryon last month will be announced in due course.
Due to the resignation of the chair and the pending legal proceedings involving the deputy chair, the Endurance Committee is currently unable to function as a full committee.
However, its remaining members – Shanie Bosch-Fourie (NAM) (2014-2018), Rocio Echeverri (CRC) (2015-2019) and Stéphane Chazel (FRA) (2016-2020) – will remain as members for their terms and until further notice.
The Temporary Committee will be asked to consult with them to ensure their expertise is not lost during the review process. It will start work as soon as possible, with the plan to hold a session dedicated to Endurance at the FEI Sports Forum 2019, allowing the Temporary Committee to provide an update to delegates.