This blog might appear to be about a domestic issue this side of the pond, but there are important lessons for all. Please bear with, for there’s essential background reading first.
First, in endurance, mandatory rest periods are applied to horses after a ride, for obvious welfare reasons. The duration relates to the distance, with days added if you’re vetted out.
In 2016, FEI endurance also introduced a “de-merit” system, with penalty points for issues that prove the most problematic. Accumulating 100 points in 12 months means an immediate two-month ban for the rider with no appeal.
Metabolic elimination = 10 penalty points.
Essential invasive treatment by official vet = 25pts
Catastrophic [fatal equine] Injury during ride = 80pts
Competing horse during mandatory rest; failure to present to final vet; incorrect behaviour = 100pts each, plus automatic two-months rider suspension.
So, as you can see, the FEI puts competing a “resting” horse in its tier of most serious rule-breaches.
Secondly, a bit about “Clean Endurance” – a global alliance of folks with a common interest in salvaging their sport from doping, cheating and fatalities. I first encountered them in early 2015, about two years after I began writing about the UAE et al in-depth. I’d discovered the UAE was faking entire rides on an industrial scale. Some of the Clean volunteers helped me unravel how the Emirates Equestrian Federation (EEF) had forged results (and qualifications) of over 500 horses in 13 rides so convincingly that no-one noticed for years.
The FEI’s Equine Community Integrity Unit readily took up our research in its subsequent official investigation, and two senior EEF executives were eventually suspended (though other implicated officials went unpunished).
Since then, Clean Endurance has regularly engaged with FEI HQ in Lausanne, notably flagging up the many anomalies hiding in plain sight on the FEI database; this includes identifying the horses starting in rides they are not qualified for, which still occurs a lot, even on the basis of un-faked results.
Unfortunately, for every Clean Endurance supporter there’s also someone who just doesn’t get why anyone would devote their spare time to welfare and fair play. But I know the FEI values Clean Endurance’s input, because senior FEI figures including the secretary-general have told me so in person, many times.
One prominent Clean Endurance figure is a Brit, Marianne Ironside, who lives in France. A feisty lady who says what many others think but are too afraid to articulate, Marianne quickly became a thorn in the side of Endurance GB (EGB), member body of the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) and regulator of our national endurance sport.
Though Marianne was by no means to only person to criticise EGB’s unshakeable alliance with Dubai. EGB has for yonks been in thrall to Sheikh Mohammed’s money, even when UAE was suspended by the FEI in 2015 and when Dubai was stripped of hosting the 2016 world championships because of the FEI’s horse welfare concerns.
A few years ago, Facebook was clamping down on possible “business” use of personal pages. Someone reported Marianne’s personal page for allegedly breaching these conditions and Facebook arbitrarily deleted her. To start again, Marianne had to supply proof of ID. Again arbitrarily Facebook extracted information from her passport and driving licence to create her new Facebook name – Carol Hayter. Everyone of any consequence knows Marianne is Carol. I know of other people forced by Facebook to change their page name in similar circumstances. It is what it is.
We now move onto the wholly avoidable embarrassment for Team GB and 18-year-old Charlie Chadwick.
Like any rider, Charlie has a working familiarity with her sport’s rules. However, mandatory rest criteria are confusing. EGB and FEI apply completely different rest periods; FEI is proposing to change them yet again in 2019; and it’s easy for a horse on an EGB rest to slip through the FEI net – because EGB isn’t really very good at what it does, which includes taking an eternity to post national results online. This season, it’s taken them up to eight weeks with some rides.
Also, it seems, British endurance riders are conditioned into thinking that checking and complying with rest periods is 100% their responsibility, because that’s the ethos of the sport. However, the failsafe should be that the national governing body at least checks the small print when entering its official teams at FEI championships. I can’t see anything in Article 117 of FEI General Regulations which says national federations may fob off due diligence onto the riders themselves.
Charlie was selected for the FEI Young Riders European championships in Pisa, Italy, which took place on July 26. The GB team was confirmed on July 18. GB only sent three horses – a full team comprises five, with two drop scores. The trio had to meet their own expenses, including the 600 Euro entry fees.
They set off at dawn on July 20. At mid-day, when the team and their shared horse transporter had crossed the English Channel and was making headway across France, EGB alerted Charlie to a problem advised to EGB 12 hours earlier. EGB was trying to sort it out, but as Charlie could hardly unload mid-journey, she pressed on.
Upon arrival in Pisa she learned she was suspended – for riding another horse during its rest period, under the FEI de-merit system outlined above: a devastating blow for Charlie and the other two Brits – out of the team contest before they’d even got on a horse.
It transpired that on July 7 Charlie rode her mother Ruth’s horse Aragorn at a FEI event in the UK. Under EGB rest rules, which Charlie thought applied, this was OK. But under FEI rules Aragorn should still have been resting because with Ruth he’d been vetted out on June 23 at a national ride. However, no-one across the entire gamut of EGB noticed, for the June 23 results were not posted on the database till July 19.
However, Clean Endurance volunteers did notice, when manually checking the qualifications all 50-odd European entrants for Pisa. They’d left checking the Brits till last, because no-one expected any problem, and because relevant EGB results had only just popped up that day. As soon as they spotted the breach, Marianne notified the FEI endurance department and EGB – just after 11pm, UK time, on July 19. She received a personal (not automated) email response six minutes later. Not unreasonably Marianne assumed the matter was in hand.
However, when word spread after July 20 about Charlie’s plight, something very strange happened on social media: quite the worst bile I have ever seen. It was extended not to any of the parties who were responsible for the rule being breached but towards Marianne, the mere messenger.
Marianne has been called a wanker, a sadist, and an arsehole – those are the least insulting words.
Many accused Marianne (herself the mother of teenagers) of sitting on the information till the night of July 19 deliberately, so as to distress a young person, or to tarnish the reputation of the British sport; of causing “carnage;” and of spinelessly “hiding” behind the identity of “Carol.”
Some opined that Marianne should have alerted the Chadwicks in person – what, by making midnight flit up the auto-route in the hope of flagging them down at the port of Calais? Ergo, Marianne, should compensate Charlie for her disappointment and wasted trip. I think the only thing we haven’t read yet is that it’s also Clean Endurance’s fault Aragorn was allowed to start at King’s Forest on July 7. I expect Clean Endurance is responsible for global warming and for Brexit, too.
Charlie put her hands up straight away and freely admitted she was in the wrong. She tells me two other British riders have been caught out by the parallel sets of rules, and she feels there’s clearly a systemic failure.
Meanwhile, older riders decreed on social media that Charlie’s rule-breach was only “minor” (so minor it warrants a two-month FEI ban) and could have been overlooked. Obviously, teenage endurance riders are not the only people who haven’t digested FEI rules from A-Z; let’s hope they don’t grow up to be as galactically stupid as their elders.
But here’s the thing: how did folk know, within hours, that the rule breach was notified by Marianne? For sure, it was more likely to have been spotted by Clean Endurance than the average Joe. But it looks like someone from the regulatory end, realising they’d dropped the ball and there would be hell to pay, decided to leak a name and deflect the flak. That is a serious breach of confidentiality.
As things stand, 99% of the horse population is too frightened to report matters of concern. Now, this proof that anonymity isn’t guaranteed and you are likely to be crucified on social media will be a further major turn-off for those wanting to Do The Right Thing in future.
This comes at a time when FEI is beefing up important protocols over bullying, harrassment and sexual abuse – central to which is public confidence in anonymity for whistle-blowers.
Much defamatory language about Marianne was later deleted from Facebook, presumably when folk realised they’d gone too far, though I daresay it was screen-shot before it disappeared.
Charlie’s mandatory rest breach would have come to light eventually, one way or t’other. There could never be a happy outcome with this, so what was the least-worst scenario: to have found out at the 11th hour; or much later, when the team might have won a team medal (and at Pisa, a slow completion would most likely have got you one) and then embarrass your country by being stripped of it?
Meanwhile, EGB issued a long press release. While expressing “support” for Charlie, EGB emphasised that the onus is on the rider to check their own eligibility and to understand the rules: it was an FEI decision to suspend; that the Chadwick family has a lot of endurance experience and should have known; that while this was not under EGB’s remit, of course it endeavoured to help.
Yes, of course it’s up to riders to know and abide by the rules – but that doesn’t mean the regulatory body isn’t ultimately responsible for ensuring the riders representing their country fulfil all eligibility criteria. Many people seem to have difficulty in separating these two perfectly compatible notions, simply because it’s become the unchallenged norm in endurance.
I feel sorry Gung Ho, the external company that handles EGB’s public relations, and who have always struck me as prompt and efficient. However, things went suddenly quiet for five days after I asked Gung Ho how EGB would responds to the FEI’s assertion that the national body is definitely responsible.
I now realise why: on Monday (July 30) Gung Ho announced an EGB internal review into the Pisa issue, citing its “complexity and wide-ranging points that will need to be included.” I’ll say. I wouldn’t think anyone is feeling quite so “gung ho” about this fiasco now.