On Jan. 14 American Endurance Ride Conference board members voted to terminate the AERC/U.S. Equestrian Federation endurance affiliate agreement at the end of 2019.
“There’s been some dissatisfaction from different segments of our membership for a number of years now over what has gone on overseas with [Regional Group 7],” said AERC President Monica Chapman. Group 7 is the geographical designation the Fédération Equestre Internationale assigns to the Middle East.
“The whole flat track race riding style is not palatable to some of our members,” Chapman continued.
Group 7 has come under attack in recent years for a variety of issues in endurance, including horse injuries and deaths from riding too fast, doping violations and outright cheating.
In 2015 the FEI suspended the United Arab Emirates Equestrian Federation for its endurance violations, and the FEI introduced new rules with harsher penalties for doping and mandatory rest periods for horses between rides.
In October of this year the FEI set up a temporary committee to: “Urgently assess the issues currently affecting the sport of Endurance and carry out an in-depth review of the rules in order to identify the most effective way of bringing the discipline back to its original roots of Endurance riding as opposed to Endurance racing, with horse welfare and horsemanship at its core, while still maintaining the competitive aspect of the sport.”
The AERC was established in 1972 as the national governing body for long distance riding and has just under 5,000 members today. As the USEF endurance affiliate, AERC represents the international discipline of endurance, which has a body of rules in the USEF Rule Book.
“We have a portion of our membership that doesn’t want to be associated with USEF; they feel USEF isn’t doing what they can to address horse welfare concerns,” Chapman said. “We don’t want the abusive actions of some riders in Region 7 to tarnish the whole sport; we don’t want to be guilty by association.”
AERC representatives began talks with USEF in September of last year.
“The AERC Executive Committee sent a letter on 9/27/18 to Bill Moroney, CEO, USEF, with specific requests that we believe were within the scope of authority and capabilities of USEF,” stated a summary of the Jan. 14 meeting decisions published on the AERC website.
The Executive Committee asked for two specific things in their letter to Moroney—that USEF withdraw all its funding for FEI endurance events outside of the United States, and that USEF present the AERC’s concerns for horse welfare to the FEI.
According to the AERC summary, Moroney responded by saying he wanted to wait for the report from the investigation into the issues at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games—where the endurance championship was eventually canceled—to see what action FEI officials were going to take before making any decisions.
“He would then like to have some ‘town hall’ meetings to discuss endurance and how to move forward within USEF,” stated the board meeting notes. “While the Executive Committee appreciates his willingness to discuss the situation farther we agreed that the response was inadequate in that the issues were not going to be addressed in the timely fashion as we have requested.”
The Executive Committee made a motion to the board to terminate the affiliate agreement between AERC and USEF “until USEF is willing to support AERC’s core values with action.”
Following the AERC announcement, USEF representatives released a statement.
“While USEF shares AERC’s concerns regarding horse welfare, the Federation considers this delayed disaffiliation to be contrary to the best interest of the future of endurance sport on a national and international level,” the release states.
“The biggest thing that AERC is concerned about is that they really like the idea of what American endurance riding is,” said Joe Mattingley, the head of the USEF International Disciplines Council and an endurance rider himself. “I grew up in it; I love the sport of endurance too. I know exactly what they’re talking about: ‘to finish is to win’ type scenario and programs.”
Mattingley was part of the FEI’s strategic planning group that helped devise new rules geared at addressing horse welfare concerns.
“[We] worked from a rules perspective to make sure horse welfare was in top order, helped with officiating, helped with a lot of really good things,” Mattingley said. “But the challenge is that we changed a bunch of rules; we changed a bunch of processes; we made things a lot better, but now we’ve got to get the culture to go. The culture needs to catch up. How do we make that happen?”
AERC representatives suggested phasing out of the affiliation agreement with USEF by Dec. 1, 2019, in order not to disrupt planned rides.
However according to the press release, the USEF has initiated proceedings to terminate the AERC’s recognized affiliate status as soon as possible.
“The Federation considers this delayed disaffiliation to be contrary to the best interest of the future of endurance sport on a national and international level,” states the USEF press release. “During AERC’s proposed period between now and December 1, 2019, USEF cannot be certain that AERC will comply with USEF’s affiliate requirements, including compliance with bylaws, rules, decisions of the Hearing Committee, and not impeding athletes’ ability to participate in international competitions, as protected under the Ted Stevens Act.”
There are only six USEF-sanctioned rides listed on the USEF website for the competition year, and one of those has already concluded. All are also FEI-sanctioned events. The AERC lists more than 275 U.S. competitions for 2019.
Moving forward Chapman said AERC would hire its own drug testers and officials for AERC-sanctioned rides, a service previously provided by USEF.
How international-level endurance riders will now qualify for FEI championships is still up in the air.
“The biggest thing is we have to make sure that the qualifications for our riders and our horses based on our selection procedures can still be co-sanctioned with AERC if they’re not the affiliate,” Mattingley said. “They’d have to be sanctioned with AERC and USEF.”
Chapman indicated the AERC would be willing to co-sanction events with the USEF, but no official agreement has been reached yet. The USEF stated it would appoint a special task force to address endurance-related concerns.