Andrew Finding, chairman of the Endurance Strategic Planning Group, has said there’s no intention to change the status of rider as the principal “person responsible” in doping and other disciplinary matters, as confusion has emerged ahead of the endurance conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Feb. 9.
Concern that trainers could be slated in preference to the rider is a strong theme of responses, circulated last week, to the ESPG’s drastic proposals to clean up endurance in the Middle East. Most consultees would oppose any such move, which was favored by ESPG member Saeed Al Tayer, a senior employee of Sheikh Mohammed, during his presentation at the Fédération Equestre Internationale Generaly Assembly in Montreux, Switzerland, in November.
Many feel that making the trainer the PR would disadvantage the amateur sport in the rest of the world while reflecting circumstances that are unique to the Middle East. There, horses are trained out of large professional barns and mostly allocated to riders “on the day” who could hypothetically then be excused from doping violations.
“I can see no circumstances where we, the ESPG as a team, would recommend any change to the responsibility of a rider in endurance,” said Finding. “I do though see a future, as we have recommended, where both the rider and trainer—where there is one—are responsible.”
The wording of the ESPG proposal appeared clear that the trainer would only be joined in disciplinary action where relevant, but many federations have written vehemently about their concerns.
The Canadian submission said: “A major goal of this strategic planning committee should be a revision of the sport to focus the testing of technical skills on the rider, not on support personnel. This [PR] initiative is entirely counterproductive, focusing on trainer skills and responsibilities. Registration of trainers is acceptable and keeping a log of medications should be part of their duties.
“However, the Persons Responsible MUST be the owner and athlete; pleading ignorance of medications given by a trainer is unacceptable," the statement continued. “In areas [of the world] where horses are owned by corporations or stables, an owner must be identified and issued a ‘license’ of some sort.”
Just 18 of the FEI’s 132 member federations returned the survey into the ESPG proposals, though they represent the major practitioners, a wide geographical spread and are largely supportive of ESPG measures.
However, there are growing signs of impatience from nations demanding even more urgent action. The American Endurance Ride Conference’s sponsorship committee has proposed a motion barring FEI rides from running alongside U.S. national events if the FEI doesn't achieve change in the Middle East by the summer. AERC board members have already floated the possibility of divorcing the international wing of AERC from the U.S. national sport.
Belgian federation president Jacky Buchmann has gone further, proposing exiling the speed-based Middle Eastern endurance sport into a separate jurisdiction that is not part of the FEI—though his view is not shared by other members of his federation.
Members of the Swiss federation, who led last year’s protests about endurance horse welfare abuses in the Middle East, have also taken direct action against riders that support the high-speed sport. Last month the Swiss dropped young rider Janine Bobsin from their national squad after she accepted an invitation to compete in the UAE.
“To start in a race where the speeds and the horse elimination rate are very high is to disagree with the general orientation of the Swiss for a clean sport,” said federation president Charles Trolliet.