Well, I thought I’d never see it, but little pink porkers genuinely have sprouted wings. The measures drawn up by Sheikh Sultan Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi to reform endurance at his Bou Thib venue gained massive credence in a short time, but did anyone seriously think the rest of the UAE would join him voluntarily in respect for the horse? But now, in the wake of yet another chaotic death on Saturday, they might just have to, for something extraordinary has happened. The FEI has grown a pair of something that isn’t wings and wants all UAE rides to adopt similar measures to Bou Thib, to reduce the killer speeds.
Yes folks, it’s true. For all the FEI working groups, strategic planners, consultancy exercises, seminars, rule reviews, and no doubt hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of legal fees over the past two years to sort out the travesty in the UAE, the FEI has now resorted to a single page of commonsense from by a wise, genuinely horse-loving Sheikh.
(You can read a statement from FEI endurance direct Manuel Bandeira de Mello about this development, and the general state of play halfway through the UAE winter season, at the foot of this blog).
Let’s hope that if the stakeholders refuse and call the FEI’s bluff, it will resolutely re-suspend the UAE forthwith and, this time round, strip Dubai of the 2016 world championship. I vote for Bou Thib as the new host!
In another significant occurrence, for the first time in print the FEI also has agreed there is a link between high speeds and catastrophic injuries. Hallelujah.
Five horse deaths had already been recorded this UAE winter season (all in national rides) with completion rates as dire as ever, except Bou Thib where Sheikh Sultan’s initiatives yielded fabulous results. You can find them in my previous blog. No fractures; no significant metabolics.
I still don’t know how ground juries are missing so many rule violations at the other main venues, Al Wathba and Dubai International Endurance City, when something yellow card-able/disqualifiable can be spotted in almost every clip posted online by the official live-stream provider, YAS.
The tipping point for the FEI’s endorsement of the Bou Thib initiatives seems to have come last weekend at Al Wathba. This was five days off the anniversary of the infamous double fracture suffered by Splitters Creek Bundy in the same event, the Al Reef Cup.
YAS was again assiduously filming, and maybe a tad too closely. Saturday’s cannon-fodder, Idaho Rabba (bib 44), was a former South African horse who has done just two FEI 80Km rides since being sold to the UAE three years ago. In this, his first UAE 120Km, he was filmed rampaging along on the first loop with rider Abdul Aziz Salah Abdulla Ameen lurching all over the shop. They are then seen being chased down in a cloud of dust by none other than the TV crew car itself.
Idaho later ran into a perimeter fence and broke a leg (that image not posted online by YAS).
We don’t know how fast he was going, but the horse upsides throughout recorded a staggering 27kph first loop average speed. This horse, Wollumbin Shahim (bib 148, owned though not ridden on this occasion by world champion Sheikh Hamdan) was then listed as Fail to Complete, though mysteriously there is no record of his final vetting.
Anyway, under the new conditions poor Idaho Rabba will have an autopsy and he at least will be checked for any chemical enhancement.
If the Bou Thib protocols are compulsorily applied everywhere, hopefully we also will see a reduction in extreme mobile crewing (the non-stop passing of slosh bottles to cantering riders, and worrying anecdotal evidence that few thereby stop to offer the horse an actual drink at official crew points).
The FEI has appeared resigned to discretionary “emergency” crewing measures that are only really meant for exceptional weather circumstances under FEI endurance rule 807.6 now being the norm in the UAE, to protect the horses. But as long as you can extreme-slosh, you’ll go hell for leather: catch 22. Even the fifth-placed horse on Saturday recorded a final loop speed over 34kph.
This is not sport. It’s a warped scientific experiment, not far removed from strapping a horse to a treadmill under a running faucet, turning up the heat in the room and seeing how long the helpless creature lasts.
Here’s the full text from Manuel (my emphasis in bold type):
“The equine fatality at Al Wathba (UAE) on Saturday was the result of an accident as the horse collided with the perimeter fence and fell, breaking its leg in the process. Sadly the severity of the injury meant that the horse had to be euthanised. The full details and cause of the accident are being investigated by the National Federation, in close cooperation with the FEI.
“Tragically, we have had reports of five other equine fatalities in national events in the UAE since the start of the new season in mid-October. Four of these horses were euthanised following catastrophic injuries and one was a sudden death out on the course.
“It is abundantly clear that speed is a major factor in these incidents and that it is necessary to introduce measures to slow down the horses in order to reduce the number of catastrophic injuries. The FEI is in urgent discussions with the Emirates Equestrian Federation (EEF) and individual event organisers to introduce similar protocols to those used so successfully at the recent event in Bou Thib to reduce the speed.
“Clearly the FEI views any equine fatality as an extremely serious issue and post mortems are always carried out to establish the cause of death. Additionally, samples are taken from all fatalities to check for prohibited substances. Post mortems and sampling were not previously carried out at national events in the UAE, but these now have to be done under the terms of the agreement between the FEI and the UAE which resulted in the lifting of the UAE suspension. Additionally, the FEI is now notified about all fatalities in national events, which was not the case in the past.
“At a similar point in the UAE season last year, there had been three equine fatalities in international events so the number of deaths at international level has been reduced, but it is clear that we would like to see a similar reduction at national level. The official vets are now eliminating more horses at the vet gates, meaning that the completion rates are lower, but this has not yet had the effect of reducing the level of catastrophic injuries at national events.
“While there were some high profile fatalities at national events, such as the death last year of Splitters Creek Bundy, prior to the agreement with the UAE National Federation the FEI was unable to get full details of all fatalities at national events. It is now obligatory for the Emirates Equestrian Federation to provide detailed information on all fatalities, regardless of whether these occur at national or international level.”