Two weeks after the Al Reef double fracture scandal, the FEI president has finally managed to say something, in this email today to national federations, a cut-and-paste embellishment of something sent to the many individuals and groups who have already written in to complain.
Call me a cynic, but it’s funny how the damage limitation machine only started to crank into action after the Daily Mail‘s Martin Samuel, a top sports columnist in the UK, queried on Monday if there was any sports body “less effective” than the FEI, and opined it was time for the International Olympic Committee to intervene.
I criticized the deafening silence from the FEI earlier this week, but maybe I should take it all back; it’s better for the morale of the global equestrian community to hang on to the hope that the FEI is taking this all seriously, than to see written confirmation that there is no such hope.
Here is Ingmar De Vos’s statement in full, with my comments bracketed in italics as we go along:
Dear National Federations,
Along with you all, I was shocked by the terrible images that came out of the national Endurance event held in Abu Dhabi at the end of last month, and share the concerns raised by so many of you within our equestrian community (meaning: I have only had to write this as we have been bombarded with complaints by the general public and realize that, just two months into my presidency, I am confronted with a PR disaster of epic proportions, even by the already depraved standards of Middle East endurance).
Incidents like this are absolutely unacceptable. (Unacceptable, that is, if someone catches them on camera and they go viral. Still acceptable if no one outside the offices of FEI HQ finds out).
Although the Al Reef Cup was a national event organised under the jurisdiction and the rules of the United Arab Emirates National Federation (ah: still playing the get-out-of-jail-free-card, then), we have raised our concerns with the UAE Federation and have requested (should it be a demand, not a request) a detailed report into the circumstances surrounding these incidents. (So you are admitting there was more than one fatality? Perhaps you’ll let us have the names of the other horses in due course).
The FEI takes this matter very seriously and the information received from the UAE NF (assuming it is the full picture – the UAE federation has form for selective memory and manipulating factual data) will be used to decide what measures and further steps can be taken to avoid similar occurrences in the future. (Are you actually saying you don’t already understand how this sort of catastrophic injury is preventable? This was a very young lad riding a strange and quite probably already injured horse far too fast).
I have asked the team at FEI Headquarters to prioritise this matter while also respecting good governance and the democratic process (get-out-of-jail-free-card 2).
We are all too aware that there have been major issues in Endurance over the last few years (don’t you mean decades?) and I, together with you all, am determined to solve them. The FEI requires each and every one of its member Federations to respect the principles of the Code of Conduct for the Welfare of the Horse and, as the discipline develops and grows in different parts of the world, we must ensure that the same standards of horse welfare apply in all geographical regions. (By use of the word “require,” the FEI does have a type of jurisdiction over member federations and how they conduct their national events).
The regulations imposed by the FEI for international Endurance are amongst the most stringent in world sport. (Indeed, but it would help if the rules were actually applied).
No other equine sport provides a greater level of veterinary attention and support to each individual horse than Endurance (but that’s because keeping the horse going when its tired etc is actually part of the endurance sport – doh) and our Veterinary Officials, Judges and Stewards work together throughout the event to safeguard horse welfare, (not all of them, which is why you have had to threaten sanctions for officials who turn a blind eye: no other equestrian sports has been reduced to publicly admitting many of its officials have no integrity) and while we as the international governing body have no jurisdiction over national events (dear me , those get-out-of-jail-free-cards must be getting dog-eared now), we urge NFs to implement those welfare principles at a national level. (Man-up and stop trying to dilute the blame. We are talking about Group 7 and the UAE in particular).
Please be assured that I have made this investigation our absolute top priority so that together we can maintain the welfare of the horse as a central pillar of the FEI’s work. (It should be the central pillar).
Ingmar De Vos, President
(End of Ingmar’s message).
Endurance is the only FEI sport in which someone who can barely steer can legally get on a strange horse at a competition and torment it for hours. The pair-up-on-the-day rule is allowed only in endurance and was cynically introduced years ago for the express purpose of fawning to the (mercifully) unique set-up of professional trainer-led endurance barns in the Middle East.
There is no record of Splitters Creek Bundy having competed before under Hamaid Al Falasi before being allowed to start in the prestigious, big money 120km race at Al Reef that was too all intents and purposes “international” and had no real business being staged as CEN.
In his 10 FEI starts since being sold to the UAE, Bundy had nine different riders. In his 21 FEI starts, young Al Falasi has ridden 19 different horses. This is the norm. Sheikh Hamdan junior had only competed Yamamah once before their winning run at WEG.
If horses and riders had to complete just one ride as a partnership before upgrading to each next level, the reformation would begin. There is no reason even why the apostates making a very good living of hastily producing horses for the sole motive of selling them for silly money to Group 7 should even lose out in the short term. (Not that the economic argument should come into it).
But the most logical, welfare-led solution will always be the one the FEI least wishes to take.