Delegates largely backed proposals to clean up endurance at the one-day Fédération Equestre Internationale conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Feb. 9, but the Middle Eastern federations at the center of the doping and fractures scandals were absent.
FEI vice president John McEwen urged delegates to generalize when speaking, rebuffing Belgian national coach Pierre Arnould for not being “helpful” when he claimed that “90 percent of the problems are caused by the federations who are not here.”
But Arnould was backed by U.S. Chef d’Equipe Emmett Ross.
“What Pierre says is correct,” said Ross. “Most countries do the right thing. I spent 10 years in Group 7 [Middle East] and am proud of that. I have good friends there. We were teaching and learning. But we can’t avoid what’s going on there now. Where has our leadership been?
“The American Endurance Ride Conference is the largest organization in the world, with 973 races last year and 19,000 riders, and they are about the kick us [FEI endurance] out,” Ross continued. “We cannot afford to stage our own races.”
Ross also expressed fears about the sport’s apparent inability to control the four-star races. “When I spend thousands of dollars to shift six horses [to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France)] this summer I want to know there is more than one steward in a car supervising the field of play. That is not adequate.”
Ross was a main speaker from the floor throughout the day. His suggestions included selection of venues not raced for several years for major championships; this would slow down riders because they’d be unfamiliar with the loops. “We didn’t have one serious horse in the treatment tent at Kentucky WEG 2010, and I think they will achieve that in Sartilly (at the WEG),” he said.
Andrew Finding, chairman of the Endurance Strategic Planning Group, focused on the five topics (out of 37) that did not garner unanimous support from the 19 national federations that responded to the recent ESPG questionnaire.
Finding cleared up misunderstandings that the ESPG intended trainers to replace riders as the Person Responsible. Trainers, “where there is one,” could take a secondary responsibility. Finding stressed that the trainer-led barns popular in the Middle East could become the model for emerging equestrian nations such as China, and so the trainer role should be provided for.
ESPG member Saeed Al Tayer had presented the original trainer proposals to the FEI General Assembly in November by video link from Dubai, where he works for Sheikh Mohammed. He missed Lausanne too, citing business commitments in the United States.
Delegates also rejected an earlier suggestion of exiling the high-speed, desert rides to a separate discipline or even a non-FEI jurisdiction.
Four-star German judge Juliette Mallison said: “It must remain as one. In the rules it is clearly a competition against the clock. What we do not need is the prepared, flat courses, or for the horse to be followed [by vehicles]. It is a competition for the horse and the rider, not for his crew.”
The conference struggled to decide how improvements would be measured in the future, partly because the FEI’s injuries surveillance project is in its infancy, and it’s too soon to claim there are reliable statistics for comparison.
Suzanne Dollinger of Switzerland has extensively analyzed FEI competition results and asked why these aren’t already used to spot rides with potential for low completion rates—30 percent average in Group 7, 50 percent in the rest of the world.
However, ESPG member and FEI Endurance Committee chairman Brian Sheehan said: “Endurance is a race. One, the classical, is tactical; the other is a straight flat race. It’s a major philosophical matter and too early to make that change. We have to see what the injuries study shows. Some of us may have to shift our thinking. Statistics are all important.”
Maarten van der Heijden from the Dutch federation stressed that the negative perception of endurance is affecting other equestrian sports. Long-term major sponsor Rabobank is threatening to stop supporting the Dutch riders. The company recently axed its involvement with Dutch cycling as a result of doping scandals in that sport.
The ESPG will use the input from the conference to finalize its report, which will be presented to the FEI Bureau for further consideration. The FEI Bureau and the Endurance Committee will report at a special session on endurance at the FEI Sports Forum, April 28-29 April.
Read additional stories about the ongoing crisis in endurance.