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June 2, 2014

Thin Horse Uproar Adds Fuel To Endurance Welfare Fires

Shakla's Sudden Impact was allowed to start the Compiegne, France, 160-kilometer CEI despite his thin body condition. He was vetted out at the second gate for lameness.

The Fédération Equestre Internationale’s campaign to clean up endurance has suffered a setback due to an escalating outcry over a “skeletal” horse at the 160-kilometer CEI in Compiegne, France, on May 23.

The FEI has defended officiating veterinarians for allowing Shakla’s Sudden Impact, an entry from Bahrain, through the first horse inspection, but other experts have described the 12-year-old Arabian’s condition as “disturbing” and “disgusting” as debate still rages on social media 11 days after the event.

French rider-breeder Jean- Louis Tosque, who last year started a petition calling for reform, said: “This horse was seen several times at the competition by FEI officials, who let it pass without saying anything. If this kind of horse was in the wild, someone would be reported for abuse.”

World Horse Welfare chief executive and veterinarian Roly Owers said: “Our view, as it has been throughout the endurance discussions, is that effective enforcement of the rules is essential to support and protect horse welfare. Integral to the FEI rules is the Code of Conduct, which clearly states that no horse deemed unfit may compete. 

“With regards to this particular incident, the photo is certainly disturbing and could not be described as a good advert for the sport,” he continued.

Outrage on social media even eclipsed the confirmed death of a different horse, and the story has been picked up by the general news media in France and the United Kingdom. Le Courier Picard has run almost daily updates, the Daily Telegraph’s report is the most-read “Olympic sports” online story of the past seven days, while Horse & Hound’s account notched up 4,000 Facebook shares in 24 hours.

Compiegne organizer Christian Dupuille’s comparison of Sudden Impact with the body condition of Olympic 10,000 meters champion Mo Farah has also been strongly criticized. French riders are especially concerned that the ground jury members who endorsed Sudden Impact are virtually the same as will officiate at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France) in August.

An FEI spokesman understood “that some people would find the images of Shakla's Sudden Impact concerning,” but stressed he was inspected by two different veterinarians before and during the ride. He was eliminated at the second vet-gate for lameness but not found to be “metabolically compromised ” when examined later at a clinic.

The spokesman added: “The horse was found to be lean but not emaciated, similar to many human endurance athletes.”

British veterinarian Mark Lucey, who has officiated extensively in both horse racing and four-star eventing, said that on picture evidence he would condition-score the horse between 1-2. This is below the parameters set by the American Endurance Ride Conference.

Lucey added: “The horse is absolutely skeletal, a disgusting sight. The FEI has got to sort it out.”

Sudden Impact is Australian-bred and produced. This was only his fourth FEI ride and his second for Bahrain. Raed Mahmood rode him in the competition.

Autopsy results haven’t yet come back for L Emerita di Gallura, who died after being vetted out for metabolic reasons at gate 2 in the CEI. Dupuille said she’d been bought from Italy by the United Arab Emirates a few weeks earlier. Frenchman Sebastien Miermont was riding her for the first time. He is answering media enquiries through a lawyer.

Middle Eastern teams have been at the center of doping and injury scandals that have rocked endurance for more than a year. On June 9, the FEI bureau is due to pass tough new rules resulting from the work of its Endurance Strategic Planning Group, for immediate implementation.

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