Fears are growing among the French endurance community that the World Equestrian Games ride in Sartilly will see scandal, as controversies arising from the Compiegne FEI ride on May 23-25 rumble on.
They began with outcry on social media about the “skeletal” Bahraini entrant Shakla’s Sudden Impact, who was allowed to start. The Mayor of Compiegne swiftly announced he will not work with the ride organisers again, alleging endurance had brought his town into disrepute; the Compiegne organising team is largely the same as will organise Sartilly.
Then five senior vets who officiated at Compiegne issued a damaging open letter about the “excesses” of Middle Eastern endurance. Signatories including Jean-Louis Leclerc, a member of the Endurance Strategic Planning Group, queried the FEI’s commitment to driving through reforms, and alleged that advanced doping techniques were masking normal signs of fatigue and lameness at vetgates.
They also revealed that a raft of late-entries at Compiegne meant there were insufficient vets and officials to cope, and that too many horses needed further treatment for high heart-rates and dehydration bearing in mind the ideal weather conditions.
Concern about Sudden Impact arose from pictures taken at the first vet check. French rider and breeder Jean- Louis Tosque, who last year started an online petition demanding change, said: “This horse was seen several times by International Equestrian Federation (FEI) officials, who it let pass without saying anything. If this kind of horse was in the wild, someone would be reported for abuse.”
Roly Owers of World Horse Welfare said: “Our view as it has been throughout the endurance discussions – that effective enforcement of the rules is essential to support and protect horse welfare. Integral to the FEI rules is the Code of Conduct, which clearly states that no horse deemed unfit may compete. The photo is certainly disturbing, and could not be described as a good advert for the sport.”
A FEI spokeswoman said Sudden Impact was inspected by two different vets before and during the ride. He was eliminated at the second vet-gate for lameness but was not “metabolically compromised.” She added: “The horse was found to be lean but not emaciated, similar to many endurance athletes, including human marathon runners.”
Compiegne president Christian Dupuille likened the horse’s body condition to that of Olympic middle distance champion Mo Farah – a comparison many on social media also found inappropriate.
It later emerged that five of the yellow warning cards handed out at Compiegne went to Middle East riders for “abuse” and “maltreatment” of horses, and that a mare, L Emirita di Gallura, died after collapsing at the finish of the 160K. She had been bought from Italy by the UAE less than two weeks before, having started a ride which was abandoned due to sabotage. She was then shipped to the UAE’s UK base, then back over the English Channel to France for Compiegne. There, she was partnered with a French rider who says he tried her for just 20 minutes the day before.
The French vets’ letter says the common Middle East practice of putting up “strange” riders may be acceptable in Thoroughbred racing but is “harmful” in endurance. Rules regarding who may ride were not among the many proposed in the recent nine-month review of the Endurance Strategic Planning Group day.
The FEI has meanwhile given its “full support” to Nicolas Wahlen, who has organised a ride in Compiegne’s historic Grand Parc for 20 years.
A FEI spokesperson said: “Nicolas Wahlen and his team are among the most experienced FEI endurance organisers in the world. They have FEI’s full support. We are sure that they will deliver a safe and successful endurance event at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
“The welfare of the horse is of the upmost importance to the FEI. We have reviewed in detail all the reports from Compiègne and are absolutely confident that FEI rules and procedures were applied correctly.”
In 2012, the French Equestrian Federation lobbied the FEI to act against doping and fractures in endurance so as to avoid a “major welfare scandal” at the 2014 WEG. This will be the first time France has hosted a multi-sport equestrian championship since the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.
However, increased measures only started to be discussed in summer 2013, following the steroid scandals at Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin racing stables in Newmarket, UK which triggered closer media scrutiny of the high incidence of doping at endurance stables owned by the Sheikh, among others, in the UAE.
The FEI approved emergency new endurance rules on June 10, to apply from August 1.