Mill Spring, N.C.—Sept. 13
The endurance community is searching for answers as to what went wrong after its FEI World Equestrian Games race, sponsored by Meydan, was first restarted and then cancelled entirely on Wednesday, Sept. 12.
Issues began early Wednesday morning when some riders were misdirected down the wrong trail and missed a 5-kilometer loop at the beginning of the race.
“Following this morning’s false start, the FEI has tasked the independent Equestrian Community Integrity Unit, which is onsite here at Tryon, to do a full investigation into the circumstances that resulted in some horse/athlete combinations being misdirected,” stated a Sept. 12 release from the Fédération Equestre Internationale. “The investigation will include interviews with the officials, volunteers, Organizing Committee and all other relevant personnel to provide a full picture of what happened. The findings will be presented to the FEI Bureau, and the conclusions will then be made public.”
Two-time world champion endurance rider and Hall of Famer Valerie Kanavy was on the ground at this year’s games in Tryon to cheer on her daughter Danielle Crouse and the U.S. team. She explained her understanding of the reason the race was restarted.
“At the start, the trail made a big, left-hand circle and came down and around and again through the similar start area,” Kanavy said. “Some people didn’t make the circle; they just went straight.”
Kanavy postulated there were a couple of contributing factors to the confusion.
First, the endurance horses were being housed in two different barns due to the quarantine for horses from abroad that tested positive for piroplasmosis, a tick-borne illness that can be present in a horse’s blood without any clinical signs. As part of the measures taken to keep the piro-positive horses isolated, horses were brought from the barns to the starting area in two groups.
Secondly, the start of the race was supposed to be delayed 15 minutes, but confusion over whether the original start time was supposed to be honored could have caused the official to send horses out in different groups.
“The issue was then: Do you disqualify 60 people who came from all over the world, or do you restart? Because according to the rules, they could have been disqualified, but how can we blame the riders when an official released and started them, and a second official held the other horses?” Kanavy said. “How do we solve this horrible mistake in a fair way? And I don’t think there is an answer, but I feel like they were trying to not have to cancel the event.”
In the end the decision was made to cancel the race late Wednesday afternoon.
“The remainder of today’s endurance competition has been canceled due to a potentially dangerously high combination of heat and humidity, and the conditions out on the trail following heavy rain this afternoon,” a statement from the FEI reads. “The decision to cancel, which is in accordance with FEI General Regulations, Article 109.12, was unanimous between the president of the ground jury, technical delegate and president of the veterinary commission and the Organizing Committee.”
Reactions to the decision ranged from disappointment to outrage, and police officers were called to monitor the situation as tempers flared. Words were exchanged, and some people got physical in the vet box area, with reports of people flipping over fence barricades with sponsor banners. There was speculation on social media and among spectators that conditions weren’t actually that harsh and the race was called off for various political reasons, but a vet gate groom disputed that.
“The FEI has a job to do, and their job is to look after the welfare of those horses, and with what was going on out there with the heat, after the rain you could hardly breathe,” said Brenda Henrikson, a vet gate groom for Canadian rider Colleen Devry. “They have to consider the welfare of the horses. I’ve called off rides as a ride manager; they made the right call.”
Henrikson estimated about 50 horses sought medical attention for dehydration and heat-related problems after the race was called off.
“Look at how many horses ended up getting treated, and think how many more would have ended up there had they continued,” said Henrikson.
The U.S. Equestrian Federation put out the following statement Thursday:
The [USEF] agrees that the cancellation of endurance competition at the [WEG] Tryon 2018, while extremely disappointing, was necessary. Officials from the FEI, the President of the Ground Jury, the President of the Veterinary Commission, the Technical Delegate and the Organizing Committee made the decision to cancel the endurance competition to protect the horses and athletes facing dangerous, unseasonal levels of heat and humidity combined with a deteriorating track following heavy rainstorms during the day.
“Protecting horse and human welfare remain USEF’s paramount concern, and the Federation, of course, will support decisions at WEG consistent with that. Weather conditions are being carefully monitored as Hurricane Florence approaches the North Carolina coast, and the USEF has been assured that the organizer has solid preparations in place to deal with any further weather-related safety issues if they were to occur,” said USEF President Murray Kessler.
Will Connell, USEF director of sport, commented, “We are very proud of our horses, our team and their crews. They persevered through difficult circumstances and poor conditions. The U.S. Endurance Team kept the welfare of their horses at the forefront and worked together.”
The USEF would not allow its endurance athletes to speak to the media after the event.
A press conference at Tryon International Equestrian Center is scheduled to be held later this afternoon to address concerns over how the race was handled.