Fines and suspensions have been imposed on three Endurance riders in Abu Dhabi for horse abuse, with the FEI Tribunal noting that event officials had not taken action themselves.
The three complaints that gave rise to the cases were instead laid by Pauline van Drumpt on behalf of the organisation, Clean Endurance.
The tribunal said it encouraged the FEI to investigate and open disciplinary proceedings if officials at the events were found to have failed to act on evidence of horse abuse.
The heaviest suspension of 30 months was imposed on Khalid Jumaa Salem Al Khatri for his treatment of Castlebar Nato in a CEI1* 100km ride at Al Wathba on December 8 last year.
Al Khatri was also fined 9000 Swiss francs and ordered to contribute 1000 francs towards the cost of the proceedings. Castlebar Nato ultimately suffered a fractured cannon bone in the ride.
Mohammed Saeed Al Blooshi, riding Songbird FF in the same ride, was suspended for 18 months and fined 6000 francs. He was similarly ordered to contribute 1000 francs towards the cost of the judicial action
In the other case, Abdul Rahman Saeed Saleh Al Ghailani, riding Sarab in a CEI3* 160km event at Al Wathba on February 9 this year, was suspended for 12 months and fined 4000 francs. He was ordered to contribute 1000 francs to the tribunal action.
Clean Endurance commended the tribunal for its action, saying the penalties applied were exemplary.
The group said the cases were the first three in a series of abuse protests it has submitted to the FEI this year.
It said it regretted having to file a series of abuse protests with the FEI in order to avoid the possibility that the athletes in question remained unpunished. It said its protests would not have been necessary had the officials done their jobs on the day.
The group renewed its call for the FEI to start publishing the records of officials on its public database, similar to what is currently available for athletes and horses.
“It is vital … that organising committees, officials and other stakeholders have the basic information on where and in which capacity officials have been active,” Clean Endurance says.
“This information is key for enabling organising committees to choose the best officials for their event, to respect minimal rotation requirements and to avoid conflicts of interest.”
It says the FEI must urgently provide transparency about officials “as a first step in this no doubt long and complicated improvement process”.
The three cases, heard by tribunal members Cesar Torrente, Harveen Thauli and Constance Popineau, followed a similar vein.
Video evidence – the livestream of the events – were provided in support of the protests, in which abuse of the horses was alleged.
In the case of Castlebar Nato, van Drumpt said Al Khatri struck his mount multiple times with the reins.
He is seen to kick the horse and violently flick the reins towards the horse’s head repeatedly. The horse is seen foaming at the mouth and breathing hard. It collapses to its knees, tries to get up but collapses again. When it puts its right foreleg down to try to get up, the cannon bone can be seen bending backwards with a fracture.
“The incidents occurred during the home stretch of the last loop, only a few hundred meters from the finish line, in full view of hundreds of spectators and logically, of the officials waiting at the finish line,” her complaint noted.
Al Khatri confirmed that he used his reins, but only to “encourage” the horse. No force was used to cause the horse any harm and discomfort, he asserted.
The FEI, in its submission, said it was of the strong opinion that using the reins to whip a horse and kicking it violently to force it forward was strictly prohibited.
It was very serious that the rider kept on pushing the horse despite it being clear from the video that the horse was tired, it said.
The tribunal said it disagreed with Al Khatri’s explanation that he only encouraged the horse and that “no force was used to cause the horse any harm and discomfort”.
“The video evidence shows that Mr Al Khatri repeatedly struck the horse with the reins on its neck, and such action is considered ‘whipping’.”
Whipping, it said, is not permitted. Even one strike is considered excessive. In this case, the horse was struck repeatedly.
“It is clear from the video that Mr Al Khatri was aiming to make the horse go faster as he realised that he was about to be overtaken by another horse.”
Before fining and suspending Al Khatri, the tribunal said it encouraged the world governing body to ensure that FEI officials in such events act on apparent horse abuses happening during competition.
“In addition, the tribunal encourages the FEI to investigate and open disciplinary proceedings, if necessary, against the FEI officials officiating at the event for potential breaches of the FEI rules and regulations that they may have committed by not acting on the present horse abuse case during the actual event.”
It continued: “The tribunal considers it of the utmost importance to clearly express that horse abuse must be taken very seriously to minimize unnecessary suffering of horses, and that proper enforcement of horse abuse rules and regulations by the FEI and FEI officials is crucial for the future and for the survival of equestrian sport in general and specifically the discipline of Endurance.”
Flicked with reins
In Al Blooshi’s case, van Drumpt described actions by ground crew at an out gate, tapping the horse on the abdomen, presumably to make it walk faster. The horse is seen to be hit on the hindquarters twice by ground personnel, and shortly thereafter seven people can be seen chasing after the horse on the other side of the outgate, waving their arms and gesticulating to make the horse go faster.
Al Blooshi is seen several times flicking the horse with his reins, including at the animal’s head and ears, as well as kicking it violently, to keep it going. The intervention of ground personnel occurs several times, in an apparent effort to get the horse to go forward.
Al Blooshi, in his explanation, said the horse was young and had limited experience in Endurance.
“Therefore on the day I was riding and guiding the horse in order to help; I did not cause any pain or abuse [to] my horse.”
The crew members described were also helping and guiding the horse.
The FEI, in its submission, said the footage of Al Blooshi amounted to a prima facie case of abuse.
The FEI’s Veterinary Department had reviewed the footage and concluded that the horse was exhausted.
It did not respond forward to intense kicking and hard riding with the seat etc. It could not keep its speed or balance and on several occasions, it changed gait into a trot despite hard riding.
The tribunal said it did not agree with Al Blooshi’s explanation that he was helping to guide the horse.
Al Blooshi had used his reins to flick the horse and continued to push an exhausted animal, which was likely to have caused pain and unnecessary discomfort.
The tribunal in fining and suspending Al Blooshi, noted that the FEI reserved its rights to open a case against any other support personnel involved, and again encouraged the governing body to investigate whether officials at the event may have breached regulations by not acting on the present horse abuse.
In the case of Al Ghailani, the protest describes at least eight people hazing the horse once it left the out gate on to loop six. At various times, Al Ghailani is seen to use his reins aggressively on the horse, kick the animal repeatedly, and flick it with a water bottle.
He rejected the allegations. “I did not at any point in the ride whip or beat Sarab at all, use any whip or spur nor receive any forbidden assistance. I did not compete on an exhausted, lame or injured horse. I also do not believe I misused my aids.”
The FEI said it carefully watched the video footage and found it clear that the rider was pushing his horse by excessive kicking and pulling the reins with high hands. These actions were likely to cause pain or discomfort, and therefore constituted horse abuse.
The tribunal found that his actions constituted horse abuse. In fining and suspending him, it again encouraged the FEI to investigate whether officials had been remiss in not acting on the abuse described.
Significant restructuring needed
Clean Endurance, in a statement following the release of the tribunal decisions, said it acknowledged the efforts of the FEI and its Endurance Temporary Committee to come up with an extensive list of rule proposals aimed at restructuring the sport.
However, the group said it was adamant that, unless endurance moved away from purely speed-based competitions, the current pattern of increasing horse destruction and abuse will only worsen.
It believes the current rule proposals as presented at the FEI Sports Forum 2019, although positive in many respects and long overdue, will not be sufficient to achieve a significant restructuring of the sport and the necessary reduction in speeds.
Clean Endurance has submitted an alternative competition format proposal to the FEI, based on the long-standing French and Swiss national systems which rank horses based on their speed in the competition and their final recovery (heart rate).
“This simple and well-proven system is the only option to move the sport away from the still ever increasing and destructive speeds, and back to rewarding strategic riding skills, horsemanship and the respect of horse welfare.”