Reining, already a minority discipline within the FEI, has been further marginalised by the shock news that formal cooperation between the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) and FEI has collapsed.
FEI secretary-general Sabrina Ibanez announced its decision to terminate during the FEI General Assembly in Bahrain, saying the two north American lead bodies had breached terms agreed in 2014.
“To ensure the integrity of the discipline and maintain a level playing field for all athletes competing in FEI reining, the agreement with these two bodies has now been terminated,” she said.
“Both the AQHA and NRHA have been informed that a binding commitment to implement the FEI rules on anti-doping, stewarding requirements and the age of competing horses are prerequisites for any future cooperation.”
Particular bones of contention are the minimum age at which horses should compete internationally – FEI prefers seven, the independent associations six – and doping policy. Many substances prohibited by the FEI may be used up to threshold levels under NRHA rules.
FEI reining events will continue. National federations have been invited to provide input about the future, with further debate at the FEI sports forum next spring.
Only 388 reining horses worldwide are registered with the FEI, mostly from Europe. Belgium’s Bernard Fonck became the sport’s first individual gold medallist from Europe at WEG 2018, riding What A Wave. There are just six FEI reining horses registered from Canada and 69 from the US. Reining has not graduated to taking a seat on the FEI bureau alongside the other disciplines, and failed to return an representative in the first ever athlete elections in 2014.
The split is unlikely to affect the majority of North American reiners, for the established bodies run an expanding schedule of high value competitions around the world. NRHA membership surpasses 15,000; including more than 1,400 youth members. There are 1,200 NRHA approved shows each year, paying out more than $13 million in purses.
Reining is unique in being the only discipline whose historic governing bodies were globally recognised before that sport was admitted to the FEI in 2000. The reining at the 2002 WEG was a practice run by NRHA.
Neither the NRHA or AQHA websites mention the FEI tie-ups prominently, and they have not published any response to the FEI decision. Horse-Canada.com has reached out to both for comment. The NRHA is expected to respond shortly. Updates will be included when available.
By coincidence, Canada’s Bob Thompson has also come to the end of his eight-year term as chair of the FEI reining technical committee. Paying tribute to Thompson, a driving force behind the now defunct agreement, FEI president Ingmar de Vos said: “Bob made important changes and was always a strong defender of the interests of the FEI.
“We have been trying to convince these organisations that anti-doping is the fight and to adapt to our anti-doping regulations, which regrettably they did not manage to do.”