Equine Welfare, Rule Changes & More: Q&A With FEI Endurance Committee

Noelle Maxwell has been following the developments of the FEI Temporary Endurance Committee for Horse Nation, and reports back with a recent Q&A with a representative of the FEI.

Endurance riders canter after the start of the ill-fated World Equestrian Games race in 2018.

The FEI Temporary Endurance Committee met for the third time at the April 14-15 FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne, Switzerland. During the forum, which was livestreamed and can still be found here, committee members discussed several topics affecting the discipline, particularly equine welfare and proposed rule changes.

After watching the sports forum, we contacted an FEI spokesperson with some additional questions.

Horse Nation: Having watched the presentations, one thing briefly mentioned during a discussion of drug testing rules, etc. is that much of the doping issues in endurance seem to originate in one region — FEI Region VII [Middle East and Northern Africa]. Why do most of discipline’s equine welfare issues apparently originate there?

FEI: We’re constantly reviewing the numbers of equine anti-doping tests carried out in the geographical regions across all disciplines and levels of competition and, follow analysis of the results throughout 2018, it was again clear that endurance rides in Group VII remain high-risk events in terms of violations of the Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations (EADCMRs). Along with the standard testing that’s carried out, the FEI conducts targeted intelligence-based testing and, in response to the high numbers of positives in Group VII, since 2017 we’ve substantially increased the levels of testing in the region.

The FEI is continuously working on clean sport and education around anti-doping, so that equestrian sport flourishes in a doping-free environment. The FEI’s Clean Sport campaign aims to produce a harmonized approach to clean sport as well as incorporating World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) principles. The FEI’s EADCMRs are also in place to protect horse welfare and ensure a level playing field.

Due to ongoing concerns about issues in endurance, the FEI Bureau (now the FEI Board) set up the Endurance Temporary Committee (ETC) in October 2018 with the remit to carry out an in-depth review of the rules and identify the most effective way of bringing the discipline back to its original roots of endurance riding as opposed to endurance racing, with horse welfare and horsemanship at its core, while still maintaining the competitive aspect of the sport.

[NOTE: Per the FEI’s October 22, 2018 press release, the formation of the temporary endurance committee was done under FEI Statutes Article 36.1, which states that temporary committees may be “established for particular purposes.” The Temporary Endurance Committee, according to the press release, was established following the resignation of Endurance Technical Committee Chair Dr. Brian Sheahan (AUS) due to ill health, and the suspension of Ignasi Casas Vaque (ESP) as Deputy Chair and Committee Member due to  then-pending legal proceedings for “alleged incorrect behavior” at the 2018 WEGs.]

HN: Mr. Tarek Taher, the FEI Endurance Athlete Representative, during a presentation discussing the importance of education, said something along the lines of it being “rare to learn endurance in a riding school or with a qualified coach; it’s very easy for an endurance rider to get to the FEI level, so easy that without any qualifications, a rider with a good, qualified horse, a rider who has never competed, with zero experience at national or international events can get to the FEI level within six months and two days. Which other FEI discipline allows that? It’s impossible to learn to safely manage a horse on a longer ride within that time frame.” We’re curious: obviously the committee has worked to tighten the qualifications, but has it been possible, previously, for a rider to get to the FEI level within roughly six months, and if so, why were the qualifications not tightened sooner?

FEI: The qualification procedure is outlined in article 816.1.3 of the Endurance Rules. The ETC put forward proposed rules amendments to tighten the qualification system, but these were not approved by the National Federations at the FEI General Assemblies in either 2017 or 2018. As a result, the Endurance Rules currently in force are the same as in 2017, including the qualification rules.

While the FEI doesn’t have jurisdiction over national endurance rides, the ETC has proposed a dramatically revised qualification system for international events. This was detailed by ETC member Valerie Kanavy during last month’s [April] Sports Forum and new rules, which are currently being drafted, will go out to National Federations and stakeholders for consultation in July. Feedback will be incorporated into the final draft of the rules amendments, which will then be voted on by National Federations at the FEI General Assembly in November.

Brazil’s Bond Girl Endurance during the endurance vet check

HN: During the presentation, it was mentioned that FEI introduced a postmortem program to look into horse fatalities in late 2018, correct? Do any other FEI disciplines have a postmortem program? Why was a postmortem program not introduced until 2018 when it seems horse fatalities have been a problem in endurance riding for the past few years?

FEI: Postmortem examinations have been mandatory for all FEI disciplines since 2012 (FEI Veterinary Regulations Article 1081) and, prior to that, were strongly recommended in the FEI Veterinary Regulations. In 2018, a harmonized FEI Postmortem protocol was introduced which allows a closer assessment of the cause of death and any findings. The new FEI Postmortem protocol has been developed in close cooperation with some of the world’s leading pathologists and it now includes a forensic element that’s useful for evidence gathering in, for example, abuse cases. This is helping the FEI’s Veterinary and Legal Departments to be even more vigilant regarding horse welfare.

HN: Another point discussed in the presentation were guidelines for FEI officials; it was mentioned that it’s “too easy” for one to become an official under the current system. How is it “too easy,” why is it too easy, and how will the FEI address this? There was discussion about tightening the criteria to include traits such as integrity, competence, and English language skills, but save for “English language skills,” the other traits could be considered very subjective, so how will it be determined that officials meet these criteria? The slideshow accompanying the presentation also mentions that the FEI intends to “apply the official process to tackle corruption and improve the level of officials,” has corruption been a frequent issue in the past? How does the FEI plan to address any corruption?

FEI: One of the FEI Officials’ key roles at every event is to ensure a fair and level playing field and that the horses’ welfare is protected. FEI Officials undergo required specialist training to ensure they apply the rules properly and carry out their very important duties at FEI events. The entry level is relatively easy, as we want to encourage people to become FEI Officials, but the Education System has different levels (1-4) and the requirements get tougher as the Official progresses. The proposed new FEI Officials Education system includes a competency-based evaluation system for Officials across all disciplines, and will be discussed by the FEI Board at its in-person meeting in June. The new system aims to strengthening Officials’ performance and includes improved education, career pathways, criteria for transfer (up and down), and maintenance. The criteria for transfer and maintenance include theoretical and practical assessments and officiating experience.

In the future, and in line with existing rules, the appointment of Officials for endurance events will be done by the FEI in consultation with the ETC and the Organizing Committee. Clear selection criteria based on integrity, competence, and English language skills will allow for better officiating performance and ensure a level playing field. All online tests will be drafted in an objective manner with a fixed percentage for a pass result. In cases where Officials are interviewed or assessed in-person, it will be done by a panel. The FEI Officials’ Code of Conduct (FEI General Regulations, Appendix H) was introduced in 2018, and refers to the FEI Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest Policy, and the FEI Code of Conduct for the Welfare of the Horse. The Officials’ Code of Conduct also outlines the obligation to have adequate knowledge of the principles of equestrian sport and the relevant FEI Rules and Regulations, and to apply them at all times in a fari and consistent way. The Code of Conduct requires Officials to maintain a neutral, independent and fair position towards all members of the equestrian community.

The FEI receives reports after each event from a variety of Officials and, on the basis of these reports, the FEI undertakes any necessary action. Plans for an enhanced Officials’ reporting system aims to improve accurate reporting based on greater support and a better follow-up system with the goal of improving confidence among officials.

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