Wednesday, March 12, 2014

AERC presses for horse welfare reforms in international riding


Just hours after swearing in six new board members, the American Endurance Ride Conference negotiated final details in a motion designed to make clear the organization’s condemnation of abuses in international endurance riding competitions. Fatalities, drug violations and fractures have been an increasing concern among riders worldwide, and center on some riders within the Federation Equestre International (FEI) Region VII, which encompasses much of the Middle East.

The board members gathered at AERC’s annual convention, held March 7 and 8 in Atlanta, Georgia, knowing they had to come to a final agreement on the motion. The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), the U.S. governing body for international endurance riding, shared AERC’s concerns and has been working diligently with the FEI to halt the abuses now coming to light.

USEF CEO John Long addressed the board at their first convention meeting. “Mr. Long provided helpful information to the board and forthrightly answered direct and blunt questions from the board members in an open and honest exchange,” said newly-installed AERC President Michael Campbell, PhD. “The AERC board is determined to work with USEF to correct abuses of FEI rules to ensure fair enforcement of rules for our athletes and the safe treatment of horses in FEI competition.”

Over the past several months, the board has taken input from AERC’s members across the U.S. and Canada, who felt strongly that AERC should take a stand against horse abuses while supporting the American riders who wish to compete in international endurance events.

“The board received more than 600 comments from AERC members,” noted AERC Vice President Lisa Schneider. “The directors spent quite a bit of time considering all aspects of this very complex issue, and worked very hard to find a solution that would communicate our strong commitment to horse welfare as well as support our AERC International riders. All the committees weighed in with their concerns and it was a true group effort to hammer out this solution. “

As the Sunday, March 9, board meeting opened, it was not clear that the organization’s directors could come to an agreement, as original wording on the motion included the possibility of AERC endurance rides not allowing co-sanctioning with FEI, depriving members the opportunity to earn FEI-recognized ranking points at AERC rides. After much discussion and deliberation, a consensus was reached and the vote on the final motion was unanimous.

The motion gives the FEI until January 1, 2015, to make measurable progress, including “greater transparency in public reporting of fatalities and fractures occurring at or associated with FEI endurance rides.”

“AERC will continue to work closely with USEF to achieve the goal of fair and safe endurance competition throughout the world,” said Dr. Campbell, of Salado, Texas.

The motion’s author, Southwest Region Director Randy Eiland, said, “The AERC board deserves a big thanks for protecting our own AERC members who enjoy and pursue international competition while condemning the guilty parties.”

The wording of the final motion reads: “In order to address the growing alarm among AERC members that mounting drug violations and fatalities and fractures in international endurance riding conducted in some Region VII countries by the FEI are injuring the reputation of our sport worldwide, the AERC shall immediately notify the FEI, through USEF, in writing of:

“1. The AERC’s grave concerns that drug violations and horse fatalities and fractures are excessive in FEI endurance events by some participants from Region VII countries, that the flat courses and high speeds characteristic of FEI international rides contribute to horse injuries increasingly similar in severity and frequency to those occurring in flat track racing, that some FEI officials inadequately enforce the FEI’s own rules, and that the administration of FEI events favors certain competitors and member countries over others.

“2. The AERC’s intention to consider joining the exploration with like-minded endurance groups in other countries of the formation of a new international organization to conduct international endurance riding events if the FEI does not demonstrate measurable progress towards addressing the AERC’s concerns by January 1, 2015. Measurable progress would include, but not be limited to, greater transparency in public reporting of fatalities and fractures occurring at or associated with FEI endurance rides.

“The AERC looks forward to working with the USEF to prepare a joint response to the ESPG Report that meets both organizations’ interests. The AERC’s International Committee is directed to monitor and evaluate the FEI’s progress towards meeting the AERC’s concerns. The AERC’s International Committee is also directed to prepare periodic reports to the AERC Board who will determine yearly if meaningful and measurable progress is being made. The AERC shall continue to support the efforts of the USEF to improve the FEI’s conduct of international endurance riding and shall remain affiliated with USEF.”

AERC’s commitment to horse welfare has been a vital part of the organization since its founding in 1972. The organizations’ Veterinary, Research and Welfare of the Horse committees work together to ensure AERC does all it can to protect equines who participate in the sports events, which range from 25 to 100 miles per day.

American Endurance Riding Conference