The actions of an Endurance rider in the saddle amounted to abusive riding, the FEI Tribunal has ruled.
The tribunal was given competing accounts of the riding of Rashed Hamoud Humaid Al Junaibi in the CEI3* 160km President’s Cup race at Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi, in February last year.
The United Arab Emirates-registered rider argued that nothing about his riding warranted concern, while Pippa Cuckson, who lodged a formal complaint, argued his actions atop the horse 8 Minute constituted abuse. Her allegation, she said, was supported by video footage of the race.
The tribunal, comprising Constance Popineau, Cesar Torrente and Harveen Thauli, considered the evidence in the case before ruling that Al Junaibi’s actions amounted to horse abuse.
He was suspended for three months, fined 2000 Swiss Francs, and ordered to pay 3000 francs towards the cost of the judicial procedure.
The case centred around Al Junaibi leaning back in the saddle repeatedly and pulling on the reins.
The tribunal said it was crystal clear that, by riding this way, Al Junaibi was constantly and repeatedly jabbing the horse in the mouth, which undoubtedly caused unnecessary discomfort to the animal.
“The tribunal is reminded that even a single jab in the mouth falls under the definition of abuse,” the panel said in its decision.
“In this case, however, the jabbing was not accidental because it occurred consistently throughout the video and showed (Al Junaibi’s) method of riding, which the tribunal finds abusive.
“What the tribunal saw on the video was a very rough bit, used without any regard whatsoever for the horse’s mouth and welfare.”
Junaibi’s way of riding, by pulling back with his entire body and with such a rough bit, cannot be accepted in any competition, the tribunal said.
“Any person with a minimum knowledge of horsemanship would consider this riding and jabbing unacceptable.”
Cuckson had lodged her protest on April 4, 2019. It included footage and photos taken from the broadcast of the event.
She alleged that Al Junaibi’s riding was abusive at many stages due to his misuse of the bridle.
“8 Minute wore a long-shanked bit with a tightly secured cross-type noseband, the bottom strap comprising an exposed metal chain.
“This appears to be a flash noseband, but wrongly fitted so that the upper strap is angled, more akin to a grackle. This is used in direct combination with fixed short reins, held by the loops throughout all the available video evidence.
“Mr Al Junaibi used the reins solely off the curb. The combined effect gives extra leverage and means that once travelling at speed, the rider cannot release or ‘slip’ the reins, either in an emergency or to offer relief to the horse.
“The fixed-length reins enable Mr Al Junaibi to lean far back, applying his whole body weight against the horse’s mouth. The mare can often be seen licking – indicative of soreness and/or dehydration. It would be difficult to drink during the ride without the noseband being slackened.
“As the ride progresses, the more pronounced the rider’s hanging on the bit. At various stages Mr Al Junaibi is thrown about, meaning the horse’s mouth is repeatedly jabbed by the force of his body-weight.”
Cuckson argued: “Mr Al Junaibi did not have control of 8 Minute over many hours and it seems likely that severe gadgetry was employed as it was anticipated the rider would have no control.”
Cuckson also provided an expert opinion from William Micklem about the impact of the bit and noseband on the horse, as well as Al Junaibi’s riding.
Micklem concluded that, after initial discomfort and pain, the horse’s mouth and lower jaw area is almost certain to have become numb during the competition, making the horse a potential danger to both other competitors and spectators, and then hypersensitive in the days and weeks afterwards due to bruising and lacerations.
“The tight noseband also causes unacceptable pressure on the inside of the mouth, where the top jaw molar teeth are considerably wider than the lower jaw teeth.
“It is obvious in the filmed sections that there is no evidence of a good relationship between rider and horse, no harmony and no evidence of the training that makes for an efficient performance.
“The reverse is the case, with the horse being treated as a machine and produced in such a way that the use of strength and the strongest of bitting and noseband solutions is required to produce a competitive result, thereby contravening the FEI Code of Conduct, where it says that ‘Welfare of the horse must never be subordinated to competitive or commercial influences’,” Micklem said.
Allegations denied by rider
Al Junaibi denied any allegation of horse abuse. He argued his riding did not fall within any of the categories of abuse listed under the rules, nor did he believe that the horse suffered any pain or unnecessary discomfort from his tack or riding style.
FEI veterinarians had examined the horse six times during the event and none of them raised any concern about head injuries. A veterinarian eventually eliminated the horse for lameness.
He admitted there were times when he was tired and his balance was less than perfect, but it was “a bit extreme to expect constant perfect riding position over 140km”.
He did not believe the horse would have performed as well as she did if she felt any pain or unnecessary discomfort from the tack or his riding style.
“At various times during the ride, when I felt 8 Minute was getting strong, I tried to use my body weight to control the speed. As most riders would tell you, moving your body weight back from a neutral position helps to slow horses down and leaning toward typically makes them speed up. This does not increase the amount of pressure applied to a horse’s mouth – it is a question of where your centre of gravity is on the horse.”
He continued: “I do not believe my riding was detrimental to 8 Minute. Everyone has their own riding style and so long as the horse is well taken care of, it is a dangerous approach to dictate about style.
“Contrary to Ms Cuckson’s allegation, 8 Minute and I worked very well together to complete 140km.”
He defended his bridle and bit selection. “This is the same bridle that I used for the President’s Cup 2018 and, to my knowledge, no concerns were raised about my tack in relation to that ride.”
“I would add that no part of my tack is prohibited by FEI rules for endurance competitions and I do not believe I misused the bridle.”
Turning to Micklem, he said the witness had provided his view on the rider’s tack without actually looking at it or seeing how it was fitted in person.
The FEI, in its submission, said bits and bridles are for communication with the horse.
“They are not handles in order to stabilize the rider in the saddle or instruments for pulling on the horse’s mouth.
“The FEI has carefully reviewed the photos and video of this case, together with the protest and the expert report of Mr Micklem.”
From the video, Al Junaibi can be seen clearly jabbing the horse’s mouth with the left and right hand repeatedly. He can also be seen putting his whole body weight on the reins, jabbing the horse’s mouth severely.
The FEI said it strongly disagreed with Junaibi’s assertion that his riding was normal in endurance.
The FEI was of the opinion that the bit and its setup, the reins, and the tight noseband in combination with Al Junaibi jabbing and pulling on 8 Minute’s mouth with all his weight were actions that caused or likely caused pain or unnecessary discomfort to the horse. This, therefore, constituted abuse under the rules.
The tribunal, in its decision, said it accepted Micklem’s expert report and oral testimony.
“Having examined the video and photos, the tribunal agrees with the protester and Mr Micklem that the riding of (Al Junaibi) is totally unacceptable because he was completely unbalanced as he leaned back and pulled on the reins, which he did over and over again during the competition.”
The tribunal said it strongly disagreed with the unacceptable position adopted by Al Junaibi when answering the FEI’s notification of the alleged horse abuse.
Junaibi had stated: “lt is unfortunately all too easy to sit at home, look at pictures and concoct hypothetical theories that a horse suffered but the reality is that the people who actually saw 8 Minute and checked her, including numerous FEI officials and several qualified FEI veterinarians, saw that she had no injuries and had no concerns for her welfare.”
The tribunal said, from its point of view, these are not hypothetical theories of horse suffering.
The continuous jabbing of the horse’s mouth undertaken by Al Junaibi during the video is totally out of line with all general principles of horsemanship.
It urged Al Junaibi to understand the importance of horsemanship.
“This begins with showing respect for the horse and understanding that in riding, horses must be treated as the living, breathing, sentient creatures that they are and commit to the priority of horse welfare.
“Of course, riders have different riding styles but no riding style, including jabbing on the horse’s mouth, should cause unnecessary pain to a horse. This contradicts old and all principles of riding that the FEI, riders, trainers and officials worldwide must uphold.”
The tribunal said it was comfortably satisfied that Al Junaibi had committed horse abuse.
It considered a three-month suspension appropriate, together with a fine and costs.
“Prior to returning to competition, Mr Al Junaibi is strongly advised to pass all tests with exams available at the FEI Campus regarding horsemanship.”