“How do we shift the focus of endurance away from racing and more to completion and riding?” was the question at the heart of the endurance discussions at the 2019 FEI Sports Forum, held April 15-16 in Lausanne, Switzerland. In the hopes of pushing forward proposals that would help ground the discipline in its roots, the Sports Forum spent an unprecedented entire day devoted to a single topic.
After years of endurance turmoil, including many horse welfare issues and the cancellation of the championship at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina), the FEI Bureau announced that it had set up the Endurance Temporary Committee on Oct. 22, 2018, to assess the sport through an in-depth review of rules and research.
“We need to bring the discipline back to the principles of the FEI where welfare of the horse and horsemanship prevail,” said FEI President Ingmar De Vos at the time. “The temporary committee will conduct a thorough review of the discipline with the aim of getting back to real endurance riding, with the focus on horsemanship and partnership between horse and human. The sport has evolved, and there needs to be a recognition of that, but the essence of the sport must remain the same. What we need are rules that place greater emphasis on completion of the event, rather than the ‘win at all costs’ mentality that is more and more threatening our sport.”
Led by Professor Tim Parkin and his team at the University of Glasgow, the Global Endurance Injuries Study looked at the causes that commonly led to a Failed To Qualify event in a race. They determined that longer periods between competition, fewer rides in a span of 120 days, more rides as a combination, and rides with more loops of similar length reduced the likelihood of an FTQ. In addition, the group found that if a horse’s heartrate is greater than 64 bpm during the first presentation, there is a greater chance of an FTQ during the second half of the ride.
With the help of these findings, the Temporary Endurance Committee presented 16 proposed rule changes at the Sports Forum.
“Please remember the spirit of collegiality here, and that we’re all working towards a better future,” said FEI Vice President Mark Samuel, the liaison between the Endurance Temporary Committee and the FEI Board. “There is an imperative for change here, and we need to not ignore that, and we need to work collectively and constructively for positive pragmatic solutions.”
One of the proposed changes is to create a pyramid qualification system based on completion rates, starting at the one-star and continuing into the championship level. To qualify for a CEI2*, combinations must have three successful CEI1* completions with a maximum speed of 18 kph. Starting after the first CEI2* start and continuing to the championship level, completion rates will dictate the maximum speed for a combination, with free speed allowed only for those with completion rates at 66 percent or over.
“You ride smart, you take care of your horse, you have successful completions, the faster you can go,” said committee member and U.S. endurance rider Valerie Kanavy. “We’ve brought horsemanship and successful completion percentages back into the qualification process. Ride smart, ride safe, you can get to the top.”
The committee also proposed changes to heartrate parameters and presentation times. The GEIS research shows that in the 15 minutes of presentation time, the heartrate should drop to 60 bpm. The committee proposes that at venues where the top 10 finishers over the last three years had or exceeded a speed of 20 kph over the same distance, the presentation time should meet the GEIS research’s time—with 15-minute presentation times at vet gates, and a 20-minute presentation time at the finish. At venues where top 10 finishers over the last three years had an average speed of less than 20 kph, the existing rules will apply. In addition, if a horse presents with a heartrate greater than 64 bpm at the first vet gate after the halfway point in a ride, that horse will be designated with FTQ.
This change will allow top competitors who are not overtaxing their horses to continue to succeed while forcing others to slow down for the sake of horse welfare.
Although previously proposed in 2017 and 2018, the committee again recommended that horses with visible blood should be disqualified with an FTQ, bringing endurance into a similar line as dressage and show jumping.
Other proposed changes include: limiting crew members to three in crew areas, to reinforce responsibility of the rider; reducing minimum rider weight to 70 kg for senior rides at the CEI2* level and above; capping the maximum number of starters at competitions; establishing new criteria for championship test events; implementing a new minimum loop length of 20 km with a maximum of 10 km between water points and 5 km between crew points; adding targeted mandatory “out of competition” periods; and placing an extension on the reporting rule violations. See all 16 proposed changes here.
These proposed rule changes will next go to the National Federations and stakeholders as part of the consultation rule process. The final rules changes will then be put to a vote at the FEI General Assembly in Moscow in November.
Other topics discussed during the FEI Sports Forum:
• Since the American Quarter Horse Association and the National Reining Horse Association split from the FEI in November of 2018, the FEI Sports Forum representatives have discussed the future of the sport within the organization. FEI representatives at the Sports Forum stressed that there cannot be two existing international governing bodies for a discipline since it goes against several statutes—and that any future relationship between the NRHA/AQHA will be done after the organizations comply with FEI rules on anti-doping, horse welfare and stewarding. Reining Committee chair Sven Friescke emphasized the organization’s desire to form a new cooperation agreement.
“I want to congratulate the FEI for taking on this very important topic and for having the courage to take this on,” said U.S. reining representative Rick Weaver. “So now we have an opportunity to use the National Federations and to go ahead and to build a business plan that will create a pathway for us to recruit and retain FEI members.”
(Read more on the split between the organizations here.)
• David O’Connor presented a proposal dealing with risk management sanctions in eventing. He proposed that athletes receive a recorded warning if they are deemed to be riding dangerously. If three such recordings are received in one year, the rider will be given a two-month suspension. In addition, two yellow cards within the span of a year will lead to a two-month suspension. (Under current rules, two recorded warnings lead to a yellow card, while two yellow cards for the same offense within one year lead to a four-month suspension.) The proposal also gives FEI officials power to designate a later start date for a suspension if it runs into the eventing off-season, thus having no real effect on the athlete.