November 11 2016
Yesterday, the annual World Horse Welfare conference invited speakers and guests to debate the topic of ‘The Invisible horse’.
There is much to consider from the entire day, with two speakers standing out; Chris Riggs and Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Chris Riggs’ telling narrative on the basic welfare issues facing horses in China was chilling. He described a culture that has inadequate conception of equine well-being, with little comprehension of the horse as sentient, and discussed the paucity of available medication for horses, highlighting the unthinkable lack of drugs licensed to euthanase horses across the population of sports horses, racehorses and working horses.
Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the man behind the Bou Thieb initiative in Abu Dhabi, offered a glimmer of hope for the Endurance horses in the UAE. Clearly uncomfortable on the podium, he deserves massive respect for making the effort to come to the UK, to write and deliver his speech in English, and to have the fortitude to admit publicly that “The UAE form of endurance has broken the normal close relationship between the horse and the rider.”
To help horses in Endurance in the UAE, the change had to come from within. Could this be the tide turning? Could this lead to those in the UAE who do respect their horses being rewarded, and those that don’t, as in the Dubai stables, being excluded?
China is a country developing a very strong interest in Endurance. The horses have to come before the sport. This is an open opportunity for the FEI to make changes, they need to act urgently.
The link to the speech and a transcription is below.
“Your royal highness. Lords, ladies and gentlemen.
Any successful sport must have good rules. And we strongly support FEI and EEF rules, but as these seasons past I became aware with growing concern that the existing rules were encouraging a new type of endurance where speed had become all important. Riders were becoming racers and the effects could be seen in the increasingly poor completion rates. The number of deaths and metabolic problems which ultimately led to our highly publicized situation in the press and media.
It became impossible to ignore the facts. The original type of endurance riding which incorporate respect for the horse and the horsemanship was being lost and they tried to win at all costs.
From the beginning and in Bouthieb we tried to manage our rides with principles of welfare and good horsemanship as high priority. Nevertheless I saw our problems in Bouthieb increasing and I made it clear to those working with us, me and we have to fix this or stop endurance entirely. There could be no compromise, especially where the welfare of the horse was concerned.
I gathered a group of like-minded people and set them the task of making new rules to return endurance to a sport which involves a respectful partnership between horse and rider. When rules not just to be about speed and the first past the post, but also that a horse must finish in the best possible conditions and fit to continue. We should encourage the heart of horsemanship because the culture of speed has taken over.
The rules were developed for our local conditions of flat easy tracks but they can be adopted to anywhere according to the type of country. The rides were through. They are based on the following points:
1. Speed and how to reduce it
It is the number one problem. The higher the speed, the greater the risk of compromise metabolism, severe lameness, fracture and death.
2. The fit to continue
Element of the sport which seems to be disappearing. We have tackled reducing the speed in 4 ways.
- Introducing a presentation heart rate of 56 bpm. FEI maximum of 64.
- Introducing a presentation time of 10 minutes for all loops. FEI maximum 20 minutes.
- Introducing top speed limit of 20 kph within UAE all CENs, with penalties or eliminations for breaking it.
- Instigating 40 minute holds at all vet-gates, with 50 minutes when re-presentation is required.
Re-establishing the relationship between riders and horses. The UAE form of endurance has broken the normal close relationship between the horse and the rider. Horses often ridden and trained by inexperienced people which has frequently led to a disagreement for welfare. Mismanagement and cruelty through ignorance.
Solution. We have introduced the Best Endurance Ride Challenge. As an incentive to encourage the welfare of the horse and return the responsibility to the riders and trainers through education the winners will receive 70% of prize money.
The winners are assisted on 5 basic criteria through a system of points: Speed parameters; recovery time; cardiac recover index; metabolics; gate/lameness.
Method of ride management to control riders, trainers and their followers too.
- Reinforce fair play on the track and in the vet-gate area to ensure competitors can be controlled and rules are observed.
- Introduce as much objective assessment as possible.
- Develop a method of hypersensitivity testing for metablock.
- Enforce attendance of ride briefings as part of the entry qualifications.
- Install cc tv cameras in all hold areas.
- Fixed water points every kilometer. No crewing except emergency outside the points.
- Restrict number of crew per horse and control the crew through number vests to manage horse number.
- No crewing permitted in last 2,5 kilometers and horses must maintain forward movement to finish line.
- Restrict number of cars on the track to one per 5 horses maximum. Two for more horses.
- Spot checks for riders.
- Spot ID check on riders and catch substitutions.
- There may be compulsory hypersensitivity test for outer sensitized on the limb nerve blocking.
- In 2017 season we’ll see more technical and natural trials including in the loops.
- Basic FEI and national rules also apply throughout.
The rules work. Last season 4 endurance meetings were run in the UAE using the new rules. The cues of exhausted and injured horses disappeared. Completely with no horses requiring invasive treatment in the clinic. Something unheard of in the village in previous seasons. Unfortunately, catastrophic injuries happen in all equestrian sports and 3 horses out of seasonal total of 3035 starters had to be euthanized. Previous years I’ve seen double figures.
The clinics remained empty, no invasive therapy. We’re sure we’re heading in the right direction. Our strict heart rate and presentation time made it impossible to speed. Riders must slow down if they want to pass the vet check. The rules are used in the CENs which have a 20 km speed limit.
And that gave an added challenge to the riders and bring back a new opportunity for endurance horses. Still with excellent heart rate and recovery, we have seen many horses retire because in the speed races they are too slow.
The veterinarians and officials have all been astonished at how such simple changed have had such dramatic results. The clinic has been so quiet and the vets a starting to bring books to read while they wait. Over the summer, rider were held in Uruguay, Argentina, Germany, France and Morocco. Using some or all of these rules. After initial reservation, the majority of people appreciated them and we are receiving more requests from all over the world to be able to use them.
Planning for the future.
Through last season we enrolled the FEI and received considerable support from their officials. Also the positive feedback and international publicity has received is perhaps the most encouraging credit. It is also highly gratifying that ride organizers around the world have shown an interest in using the Bouthieb initiative.
Bouthieb rides will start to incorporate more natural desert terrain. Riders will be forced to use tracks away from cars so that they have to think for themselves. Plans are being made to develop a Bouthieb Initiative APP for use by ride organizers and competitors. We have plans to help educate young riders and encourage safe competition for novice horses.
Finally we hope to spread the word further greater tv and media coverage.