France, whose riders were in medal contention when the Tryon endurance race was cancelled close to the end, is one of the leading endurance nations to speak out over the conduct of the first day of the World Equestrian Games. Benedicte Emond-Bon, the team’s long-standing chef d’equipe, believes the chaos that unfurled yesterday could “sign the death of endurance.”

Even before the ride, the ground jury was pressured by some chefs d’equipe into reversing a special measures that had been put in place specifically to encourage a slower speed. While the ground jury retained  the reduced presentation times, it was persuaded to raise the heart rate parameters back up to 64 bpm from  60 bpm. Shorter presentation times and  lower heart-rate requirements usually have the  effect of slowing riders down on the  loops, so that the horse has less exertion from which to recover.

Dr David Marlin, adviser on climate effect on horses, was involved in the decision to cancel. He says the decision was made soon after there were 13 metabolic eliminations from 29 horses presented. He said on his personal Facebook page: “If it was stopped then the medallists are unhappy. If it had continued and horses had died I’m not sure what effect that would have had on me. Not good though.

“Maybe the rules need changing but all teams were warned about the conditions. And stricter vetting criteria introduced. But three times as many [eliminations for] metabolics and lameness – I’ve never seen that before. Heat, hills and soft going.”

A Bad Start

The beginning of the race was marred by confusion. The start location had been changed three times and took place in the dark around 6.30am which caused some riders to take the wrong route. Some ended up on public roads, overtaken by cars.  As a result, the decision was made to re-start the race over 120km (at 11.30am) once all had returned from the first 40km loop and passed an extra vet check.

To make matters worse, the graded track and clay sand cooling area became a slithery mess after a torrential downpour. By late afternoon, however, it became very hot and humid.

Representatives of the UAE – who are also sponsors through Sheikh Mohammed’s Meydan corporation – had been very vocal about cancelling the competition after the false start. After the second start, their riders were out of contention and their connections are understood to have lobbied for the halting of the competition, citing welfare reasons.

As the country is regularly criticized for serious violations of equine welfare, their motivations were questioned by many. In fact, a petition had been started earlier to re-run the race at another venue, with Dubai offering to foot the bill, though less than half the participating nations are understood to have signed it.

When the announcement was made that the race was being stopped a near riot broke out, and armed police were called.

In an interview with Grand Prix Replay–inacceptable-et-scandaleux—-benedicte-emond-bon  Emond Bon firmly blamed the last-minute construction of facilities at Tryon, and the alleged weakness and incompetence of some officials.

“It is obvious that we have raced before in more difficult conditions than these … and there were not so many horses eliminated,” she said. “How was it not possible to indicate to all competitors the starting area of a race at the World Equestrian Games? Everything was built yesterday and the day before yesterday. We did not even know where would be the rest area for the horses.

“We did not know the loops either, which may explain the mistakes of this morning’s course. I have never seen such a mess.

“Despite all these difficulties, our four horses were in perfect shape, our tactics worked. We could hope to win two medals.

“And then, we cancel the race, supposedly to preserve the wellbeing of the horses because some might have been taken to the clinic. If so, the responsibility lies with the officials, who should have eliminated them sooner. They are at fault here too.

“Through this decision, they punish all the horses that have travelled at the right pace and whose riders have taken into account the conditions.
“Horsemen who show respect for their animals are punished and those who do not listen to their horses are credited by cancelling an event, because they can no longer be placed in the standings.

“This is unacceptable and scandalous. Our collective revolt was pretty clear I think. Unfortunately, I fear that this will sign the death of endurance. We cannot continue like this.”

Meanwhile leading French rider Jean-Philippe Francès who was in individual bronze medal position with Tarzibus when the race was stopped has announced he is retiring from international sport because of the negative experience.

He said: “Our sport is changing fundamentally, and is managed by people under influence or not sufficiently competent. All week, we have prepared in deplorable conditions. This morning, the officials were not able to really start the race, which is not that complicated …

“We were among several influential riders to ask that this race be cancelled because it made no sense to continue with horses that did not run the same distance, with differences of several kilometers. The requested rest period [before re-start, 45 minutes] was not fair to all competitors.

“It was already no longer a world championship. But the FEI did not listen to us. After that, we suspected that it would end in disaster, and that is unfortunately what happened. We ran our horses for nothing. We had chances of medal. Tarzibus is a very special horse.

“As far as I’m concerned, whatever the results, I have made the decision to end my international career.”