UPDATE #1: Horse Sport talked to the Canadian endurance team members as they prepared to mount up for the second time. They were in good spirits and said they were all part of the group who did the full 40 km loop. Their horses were all going well but when they were relayed the news about the restart they took it easy on the way back to the first compulsory hold, as their score from the first outing would not count anyway.
Unprecedented scenes of chaos and anger are unfolding on the opening day of the World Equestrian Games, with the ground jury’s decision to re-start the endurance race as 120km 2* event. Many horses had travelled most of the first loop’s 40kms already, but confusion reigned after some riders were misdirected at the start.
Angry scenes erupted amongst participants and their back-up teams, notably within the UAE camp. Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, is sponsoring the event through his Meydan corporation, and his son, Crown Prince HH Hamdan al Maktoum is vying to claim gold again following victory in WEG 2014.
Officials tried to stop the UAE 4* judge Ahmed AL Hammadi broadcasting his altercation with FEI officials on Facebook Live.
In recent days Al Hammadi has provided a lot of video and personal criticism from the site of the acres of unfinished facilities. Endurance is the discipline whose field of play is most behind schedule at the beleaguered Tryon venue.
Those following the official livestream could see a Spanish team member being wrongly directed soon after the start, while the GPS tracking showed two other horses running back in the direction of the vet gate when they should have turned right. About 20 riders then encountered others coming the other way at a bridge.
While FEI TV coverage has been sporadic, due to technical issues, Dubai Racing TV has followed the ride intensively and carried some interviews with knowledgeable officials who felt the whole ride should be cancelled in these astonishing circumstances.
The decision was made to re-start the event 45 minutes after the last rider had completed the first loop, with all horses having to pass a new veterinary check.
A statement – issued to media on paper but not put on the event’s website – said there was no possibility to re-schedule the ride tomorrow, and that the ground jury had to take a “pragmatic” approach. It added rules allow this sort of decision. “In any unforeseen or exceptional circumstances, it is the duty of the ground jury and the veterinarians to make a decision in a sporting spirit and approaching, as nearly as possible, to the intention of these rules and to the general rules of the FEI.”
The statement also confirmed riders had been “unfortunately misdirected.”
In the run-up to the ride, many fears had been expressed that there would be a scandal, but no-one expected this.
There are unconfirmed reports that the UAE has already offered to re-stage a world endurance championship in four months’ time and help all affected national teams with costs.
That would pose a further dilemma for the FEI, because it stripped Dubai of hosting the stand-alone world championship in 2016 “because horse welfare could not be guaranteed” at the Dubai venue.