FEI Endurance Group Calls for Immediate, Sustainable Action

FEI Endurance Group Calls for Immediate, Sustainable Action

The Endurance Strategic Planning Group’s series of far-reaching recommendations and strategic plan for the sport for the next decade were well received by delegates.

Photo: Edouard Curchod/FEI

Immediate and sustainable action to safeguard the welfare of horses and reinforce the Fédération Equestre Internationale’s (FEI) anti-doping and fair play policies at endurance events globally were the key takeaways from the Endurance Strategic Planning Group (ESPG) session held Nov. 6 at the FEI General Assembly in Montreux, Switzerland.

The FEI Bureay tasked the ESPG to develop a strategic plan for the sport for the next decade and a series of recommendations for a permanent solution to the issues within the sport, particularly those related to the increased levels of positive drug tests and high numbers of injuries and fatalities.

During the two-hour session, the group highlighted a series of far-reaching recommendations designed to tackle the problems the sport is currently facing.

ESPG Chair Andrew Finding, of Great Britain, opened the session with a hard-hitting message: “We are all responsible to find the solutions for the problems we face today. We need a clear vision and a strong strategy for endurance sport, and where better to develop this than from within the equestrian community that cares about the future of this sport so much. By working together we will achieve this. The strategic plan we propose sets out a vision and a set of values we will expect everyone to adhere to if they genuinely want to be an active part of our family. Those who do not should be asked to leave us.”

FEI Veterinary Director Graeme Cooke, MA, VetMB, MRCVS, presented statistics on the trends in positives, which had spiked in FEI Regional Group VII but are now starting to show a decrease. He also provided data on the officially reported serious injuries and fatalities in the sport, stressing the urgent need for a radically improved reporting system.

Included in this is the "injuries surveillance system," which adopts a more consistent approach using modern data management techniques. This is being used initially in endurance, and then rolled out across other FEI disciplines with the support of the University of Glasgow.

“We are aware of trends, and we are producing a new system that will record injuries and fatalities in a much better way, but other measures are needed,” Cooke said.

ESPG member Dr. Jean-Louis Leclerc, a French veterinary surgeon and one of the most successful endurance chefs d’equipe in the sport, spoke on the importance of education for athletes and officials, and reinforcing leadership. A minimum level of horsemanship should be required from all athletes, all officials (ground jury, stewards, and veterinarians) should have a thorough knowledge of the rules, their performance at events should be reviewed, and a 5* level of officials should be established to reward excellence, he said. He also called for a new definition and management of conflicts of interest.

Saeed Al Tayer, of the United Arab Emirates, vice president of the Dubai Equestrian Club, was unable to be in Montreux for the session and gave his presentation by video link from Dubai. He proposed the introduction of an endurance trainers register with the FEI, similar to the system used in Thoroughbred racing, to ensure accountability. He also proposed establishing a code of conduct specifically for trainers, and a disciplinary board to investigate and review cases of trainer induced injury or doping; repeat offenders will be excluded from the discipline. But, he said, there should also be a reward for trainers with successful completion rates, bringing trainers into the FEI global rankings system.

Brian Sheahan, BVSc, MACVSc, of Australia, chairman of the FEI Endurance Committee, underlined the importance of leadership, accountability, and structural governance. He recommended that the FEI appoint and remunerate independent governance advisors at major championships to supervise and mentor officials on the ground, helping to ensure that endurance rules are fully understood and enforced at every level. Accountability and sanctions for officials, national federations, athletes, and trainers is imperative, he said.

He wound up his presentation with a powerful message: “If our riders compete within the capacity of the horses’ ability to perform; if our officials correctly apply the rules without fear, favor, or bias; if our trainers condition their horses for a long-term competitive life, there is no room or place in our sport for rule violations leading to cheating, there is no place for doping, there is no place for our partner the horse to end an event suffering from a life threatening, irreversible or untreatable illness or injury.”

Joe Mattingley, of the United States, vice president of the United States Equestrian Federation and chair of the High Performance Working Group and of the High Performance Endurance Committee, spoke of the importance of information processing and structures. He presented the ESPG’s “plan on a page,” detailing the group’s vision and mission statement.

“As an athlete of the sport, I am in no doubt that now is the time to introduce a professional and sustainable plan to protect the sport we are all so passionate about,” he said. “I have been proud to play a part in recommending these profound initiatives.”

Other recommendations specifically aimed at horse welfare and fair play include making course design more technical to challenge the athletes’ level of skill, and the use of out of competition testing for banned substances. Self-discipline and ownership of the solution by all national federations was also vital, Finding said.

“Athletes, all athletes, and their trainers need to compete on a level playing field where natural talent wins out without artificial and performance enhancing support,” he said. “We need national federations—all of you, in every region of the world—to take responsibility and provide leadership. We need every single person involved in the sport to be self-disciplined, to respect their horses and abide by the code of conduct for the welfare of the horse; it was carefully developed and it must be adhered to if we are not to fail.”

The scope of the group’s proposals came in for considerable praise, with comments on the recommendations coming from New Zealand, the Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, Namibia, Jamaica, France, and the United States during the question and answer session.

The group will now present a consultation package to national federations by the end of November, including feedback from today’s session. Its conclusions will be finalized by the end of January and will then be presented at an Endurance conference to be held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in February. The national federations will be asked to develop and set the key performance indicators: the measures for success. This process will start at the endurance conference in February. The conclusions will be shared with the FEI Bureau in March 2014 and, in conjunction with the final bureau decisions, will then be made public at a special endurance session at the FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne at the end of April.

“There is a problem to resolve; it is serious and systemic,” the Finding concluded. “I am confident that it can be resolved, but no committee and no plan on paper can achieve anything without the commitment of people. I urge you please to work with us in a spirit of positive determination to succeed. Failure cannot be an option.”

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