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Social media is reacting with horror and disbelief to videos posted online of Middle Eastern endurance horses undergoing amputation of the lower limbs, often in non-clinical conditions.
World Horse Welfare, the Fédération Equestre International’s advisor, has challenged the justification for putting horses through this ordeal, while FEI spokesmen have said they were “extremely disturbed” by the videos. The FEI will raise the issue, as well as the general treatment of sport horses in retirement, at a forum in FEI Group VII (Middle East) on a date to be fixed.
Cultural and religious mores in some Middle Eastern countries discourage the euthanization of an animal (apart from as a source of food); redundant horses are often turned away in the desert to take their chance. A number of photos of carcasses have already been posted on social media accounts such as Iconosquare.
But now, according to comments translated from Arabic, amputation is looked to as a solution to this dilemma in cases of traumatic injury.
In one video, a bay mare with a missing foot is seen being loaded into a trailer, with a caption that the surgery followed injury in the CEI* 100 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in January of this year. She is still bearing her ride number, 45. It was posted on Iconosquare by a professional equestrian photographer.
In another, posted on Instagram by the Asayel Al Kuwait Endurance Team, a gray horse has his off foreleg amputated at the knee. The horse is shown being led along slowly, on a makeshift prosthetic attached to a small wheel.
No direct connection has yet been made with endurance in a third video to emerge, but it shows a Arabian-type, lean gray standing with its near fore only just removed at the knee, in a desert situation. The removed limb is then shown to the camera. The same account shows a still image of the same horse just after breaking the leg, being supported by a hoist at the roadside.
“This development is very troubling and will do nothing to improve the reputation of equine welfare within some areas of endurance,” said Roly Owers, the CEO of World Horse Welfare. “Amputations in horses are not unheard of but are still very uncommon, and there are huge potential welfare implications. One has to ask what is equine welfare justification for putting them through this ordeal compared to humane euthanasia?
“And above all, nothing should detract from what must remain the primary focus here, namely the reduction in the incidents of fractures in endurance across the board,” he added.
FEI endurance director Manuel Bandeira de Mello said: “The FEI is extremely disturbed by these videos. All member federations are bound by the FEI Statutes and agree to abide by the FEI Rules and Regulations. These include the Code of Conduct for the Welfare of the Horse that demands that ‘horses must be treated sympathetically and humanely when they retire from competition.’ ”
In cases of competition-related injury, FEI rules require horses to be collected by ambulance and transported to the “nearest relevant treatment center for further assessment and therapy” and to be given “full supportive treatment” before transportation. If injuries are “sufficiently severe,” FEI rules state that a horse “may need to be euthanized by a veterinarian as soon as possible on humane grounds, with the sole aim of minimizing suffering.”