I am sorry, folks, to write about endurance three blogs in a row, but I cannot deny my rising anger at the FEI’s abject failure to get a grip of the UAE. After just eight rides over three weekends, Sheikh Sultan Al Nahyan has achieved significant improvements – well documented on this blog and elsewhere – at his own Bou Thib venue by the simple but genius expedient of attaching best condition criteria to 70% of the prizes. (Why did the FEI’s much vaunted, six-figure budget strategic planning group not think of that?)
But elsewhere, the catalogue of rule-breaking, land-speed record attempts, knackered horses and brutal harassment (“hazing”) of horses by hooligans in four-wheel drives with no business to be on the piste, is worse than last season and all caught on camera by the official live stream, YAS. I am utterly bewildered why a renewal of the UAE suspension has not already been applied.
By the way, the 10th Catastrophic Injury of the current UAE season was recorded at this same ride, another landmark moment – not. We have been hastily advised that some CIs listed since October are mistakes and downgraded to Irregular Gait (IG). Is that all right then? Not really, as it says rather a lot about the competence of a vet who can’t spot the difference between a snapped cannon bone poking through the skin and a bit of unlevelness.
But this is not what has upset me most this weekend. Of course I am distressed about the latest CI, though if Ainhoa Catharissme really is dead then at least her miserable existence is over and she has found peace in horse heaven, where she has, no doubt, already hooked up with old chums from the barn.
No, I and a host of others are sickened by the closing stages of the Sheikh Zayed Al Nayhan Junior and Young Riders Cup at the infamous Al Wathba track (what an irony this so-called race is named after a relative of the inspirational Sheikh S). It’s a CEN, but lest we forget, under the FEI’s legal agreement with the UAE, national rides must be run under FEI rules.
Five brats, including the three leaders in the fourth and final loop, were disqualified at the end for beating their horses. What is Cuckson complaining about, then you may well ask, officials are finally is applying the rules?
But there is beating a horse and then there is this. It’s far worse, in my opinion than the running groom, horse-whacking incident at the CEI Sakhir, Bahrain, over which, in 2014, myself and fellow journalist Lucy Higginson lodged the first and only successful protest to Tribunal by members of the public against horse abuse in FEI competition.
Watch this video below, if you can bear it, for all seven minutes, but certainly from three minutes onwards, where a sweet little grey, Aussie-bred Splendacrest Adage (bib 13) starts to run out of puff. (If you are not used to watching desert endurance, by the way, hysterical commentary and blaring car horns are the norm).
His lolling rider – who couldn’t stay balanced on a chair nailed to the floor – gets after him with his suspiciously long reins (as whips are disallowed), while being “hazed” (harassed) by the accompanying motorcade. (At Bou Thib, Sheikh Sultan allows only one car per five horses).
When Adage falters to trot despite the gyrations of his rider, several grooms run onto the field of play and strike, shove and generally manhandle him the rest of the way. Adage can be seen later on in an aerial shot, moving even more slowly, hanging to the running rail.
If folks thousands of miles away can see on the live-stream that a horse is beyond spent, why can’t the ground jury? They should have stopped him there and then, not wait till the end!
Then Kalharabi Habana (bib 34) edges ahead and is also subjected to a raft of unauthorised “assistance.” The next horse home, Pintoresco (ditto), was the third of the five disqualified.
But it doesn’t end there. The next day, laptop warriors somewhat sharper-eyed than the officials at Al Wathba found another YAS clip showing the horse eventually adjudged the winner Dahoman (bib 39, around 1 min 29 secs) being bullied the same way. But he appears to have got off scot-free, as the violation wasn’t spotted in time.
Adage was bred in Australia by Jay Randle, former trainer of Splitters Creek Bundy, the horse whose double fracture at Al Wathba last year caused global outrage. As with Bundy, Jay had no part in his export to horse hell. Jay told me she was sickened and left in tears by a video that involved abusive grooms.
What kind of sanctions were meted out to the abusive grooms presumably in Sheikh Moh’s employ (didn’t I say? Adage is now owned by a Maktoum barn, MRM.)? Diddly, I’ll bet.
I would also love to know how many of the horses stretched way beyond their metabolic limits expire weeks later from organ failure. Bet they don’t make it onto the UAE’s official cadaver list.
No wonder riders in other sports are increasingly voicing their angst about the shocking double standards in the application of FEI rules.
At our Olympia World Cup show in London just before Christmas, Bertram Allen rode the most deft and stylish jump-off I have seen in my entire life to win the Grand Prix, but was then disqualified for a wee cluster of spur marks on the offside of his horse. These were clearly an accident, but Allen accepted the ground jury’s decision with a maturity beyond his years.
How, for the love of Mike, does the litany of deliberate aggression on this video warrant only the same punishment? The FEI had the opportunity, triggered by all the UAE scandals (frankly, Bahrain and other Middle East countries are as bad) to toughen up penalties for sustained cruel and violent treatment of horses last year, and to ease the very strict time limit (30 minutes after confirmation of results for lodging protests), but didn’t take it up.
If I competed in any of the other FEI sports, I would be mortified and anxious that the wider public might lump me in with this rabble. I am sure there are some decent horsemen out there, but certainly the callow youths spied crashing along on Saturday are not even worthy of licking the boots of Bertram and co.
There are now just two last resorts, in my view. 1) Before the brutality in Group VII brings down the whole sport, chuck the UAE out of the FEI, so the latter no longer has the burden of a responsibility it will never be able to fulfil to these wretched horses. 2) Put Sheikh Sultan in overall charge, for one way or the other, any horse not now competing exclusively at Bou Thib is doomed.