The American Endurance Ride Conference is leading calls for the Fédération Equestre Internationale to move the 2016 FEI World Endurance Championships from Dubai following an escalation in atrocities caught on camera by official live stream provider YAS during the current United Arab Emirates winter season.
AERC president Michael Campbell wrote Feb. 5 to the U.S. Equestrian Federation following the “appalling mistreatment of horses” in the closing stages of a 120-kilometer youth event at Al Wathba on Jan. 30.
Five tired horses were flogged over the finish line by riders and grooms who flooded onto the field of play, clips of which went viral. The global outrage led to suspensions and locally imposed fines totaling a staggering $500,000 on the barns concerned, as the Emirates Equestrian Federation finally spoke out about these “gross offenses” and wanted to be seen to take the initiative.
But Jan. 30 was just one of a catalog of abuses which, says Campbell, indicates the UAE has made little attempt to change, despite being suspended by the FEI last year and signing a legal agreement that it would improve.
UAE rides are now halted till Feb. 11, while new solutions are sought.
The FEI also confirmed that UAE knows Dubai risks losing the world championship, scheduled for December. However, many believe the championship should be relocated immediately. A petition demanding a new venue was launched on Change.org Feb. 5 by the Swiss-based “Clean Endurance” community. It attracted over 1,500 signatures, many from the United States, in the first 24 hours. As of Feb. 8, it has nearly 3,000 signatures.
Campbell wrote to the USEF: “Evidence of this equine abuse has been widely circulated on social media around the world. The suspension imposed on UAE by FEI last year has not made a lasting impression on most of the venues in the UAE, with the exception of Dr. Sheikh Sultan in Bou Thib. As the endurance affiliate in the [United States], AERC requests that USEF register strenuous objections with FEI regarding the overriding and equine abuse that continues in UAE.
“This continued abuse is a blight on the sport of endurance riding throughout the world. The desert style racing of UAE is not endurance riding as most other countries define it. I know that endurance communities in many other countries are expressing the same feelings to their national governing bodies,” it continues.
Campbell’s letter requests stricter sanctions for UAE endurance, including a one-year suspension, and that the world championships be moved to another location.
“Should FEI resist moving the venue, AERC requests that USEF forego plans to send an endurance team to the WEC,” his letter states.
The Dutch equestrian federation also lobbied the FEI, as has the normally quiet Endurance Great Britain. It is understood the Australian federation has written to the FEI about a possible boycott. A statement is expected shortly from the Swiss federation. On Friday, the FEI sent a notice to its 132 member federations, underlining the “tireless” efforts of FEI endurance staff and officials.
But even before Jan. 30, there was other ample evidence that it was business as usual in the UAE.
Record loop speeds of 40 kilometers per hour have been recorded, and seven horses are officially confirmed dead, with more fatalities suspected. Mobile crewing prevails, as does the total disregard of the five-crew per horse limit. Sheikh Mohammed, ruler of Dubai, has been filmed driving on the field of play for prolonged periods, against the rules, at four different rides since the season began in October. Completion rates are rarely better than 25 percent.
In stark contrast, HH Dr. Sheikh Sultan Al Nahyan, a senior member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, has introduced extra rules at his own venue, Bou Thib, in tandem with the FEI’s. Sheikh Sultan applies a GPS-controlled maximum speed of 20 kilometers per hour, and he allocates 70 percent of the prizes only to riders meeting his rigorous “best condition” criteria. He has seen completion rates of nearly 70 percent at eight rides since November so far—with no fractures and no serious metabolic issues.
The FEI has twice revised its rules in 18 months to reflect the UAE crisis. However, FEI endurance director Manuel Bandeira de Mello has openly confirmed he wants the other UAE venues, Al Wathba and Dubai International Endurance City, to adopt the Bou Thib protocols.
In the absence of Emirates Equestrian Federation rides, world champion Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum competed in Bahrain Feb. 7, where similar rule-breaking including mobile crewing was evident on the live stream.
An ex-Australian horse, Bellarine Rosebud, from Sheikh Hamdan’s premier barn Fazaa, has just been notified to FEI legal as testing positive to the banned sedative reserpine at Bou Thib on Jan. 2, when ridden by a junior.