The FEI is to discuss with “urgency” the widespread use of severe bits at endurance rides in UAE, after images of a horse ridden by a former British team member caused a storm on social media.
Emma Finnie, 37, an ex-pat working in risk management for the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, was photographed at Al Wathba on December 3 using a long-shanked curb bit and looped reins of the type associated with para-riding. Her horse also wore a flash noseband, which partially comprised a chain link.
To compound the controversy, video footage showed the tiring horse dropping down to trot in the closing stages of the ride, with Ms Finnie energetically using her legs to keep him going, while accepting numerous a series of “slosh bottles” from grooms running on the piste. He picked up speed to finish fourth when another horse passed him. The top six all won cars.
Criticism raged on social media – notably on the public Facebook page of the American Endurance Ride Conference – for a week before Endurance GB, governing body of the UK domestic sport, announced on Twitter on December 13 that there would be an official investigation into the “incident.” The picture of Finnie that went viral was originally posted on the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club page but was removed after going “viral.”
A FEI spokesman also told Horse Canada: “The FEI is aware and is concerned that there have been some recent cases of harsh bits and nosebands being used in endurance. The Endurance Committee is looking into this as a matter of urgency.”
Finnie rides for the royal-owned Al Wathba stables. Her horse’s headgear is not the only one to draw controversy. Rides at Bou Thib are now adopting more natural terrain, but the permanent venues of Al Wathba and Dubai International Endurance City still use flat, straight, prepared pistes. Despite UAE riders’ preferred high cruising speeds in excess of 27kph, there is a fashion for severe control, with many using long-shanked curbs in conjunction with short running martingales and tight nosebands.
FEI endurance rules do not forbid any type of bit. They extend only to banning draw-reins, whips and spurs. Members of the “clean endurance” community say there is ample video evidence of horses wanting to drink at check points and the vet-gates but being unable because of the constraint around their jaws.
Under the legal agreement between the FEI and the Emirates Equestrian Federation, all national rides in the UAE must apply FEI rules. The FEI does, though, have no jurisdiction over these national rides. The same personnel usually officiate at both CENs and CEIs.
The British Equestrian Federation did not respond to requests for comment last week about Finnie, who has been involved in controversy before. In 2013 she rode another Al Wathba-owned horse for the British team at the European championships in Most, in the Czech Republic. At the time, Horse & Hound reported that some riders withdrew themselves from selection in protest at GB considering a UAE-based rider.
Finnie was eliminated at Most for being underweight, following a spot check. Her horse was also crewed by Al Wathba grooms. The chair of EGB’s international committee, Emma Miller, resigned shortly afterwards. Apart from the championship at Most, Finnie – who also show jumps – has never competed under FEI rules outside the Middle East.