Wednesday, March 15, 2017

UAE: Boudheib Initiative Worldwide Conference for 'Welfare of the Horse' an Unparalleled Success

March 15 2017

The much awaited Boudheib Initiative Worldwide conference recently held at Boudheib's Endurance village in Abu Dhabi, welcomed International guests and speakers from many major endurance countries around the world.
Introductions to the panel and thanks to His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan for his unwavering support for the 'Welfare of the Horse' were made by H.E. Senan Al Muheiri - EHC CEO for Activities and Events.  Followed by introductions of the international guest speakers by Dr. Dwight Hooton, veterinarian, horse welfare provocateur and member of the FEI Veterinary Committee.

Honoured guest HRH Princess Alia Bint Hussein of Jordan gave an inspiring address to the packed audience, firstly honouring women around the world celebrating International Ladies Day and leading onto an in depth report on ‘our fellow companions in all equestrian sports, the horse, which often is forgotten in the endeavour to win at all costs.  Our horses deserve our respect as we are not able to achieve any results without them’.  HRH Princess Alia made it clear that to win when afterwards the horse is spending the night in the hospital is no achievement!

One of the many speakers with a wealth of endurance experience was Dr. Martha Mischeff, veterinary representative of Boudheib's Organising Committee with 20 years endurance involvement here in the Middle East, spoke about His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s encouragement of  good horsemanship.  She said 'We have for so long now seen riders, particularly the women, out on the tracks completely out of control - there is a much need for improved riding skills'.

Boudheib Organising Committee member, Ms.Deirdre Hyde, discussed statistics which included a staggering 12,000 endurance horses registered with the Federation here in the UAE.  Ms. Hyde went on to to recognise the many firsts credited to Boudhieb: Computer Timing, GPS tracking, Presentation Time of 56 bpm, introduction of natural trails and other measures to make fair competition and objective assessment.  In her frequent discussions with H.H. Sheikh Sultan, His Highness was so distressed by the  continuing lack of respect for the endurance horse, he declared 'Fix it or we stop, no compromise'!  Out of this the Boudheib Initiative was born and we have been overwhelmed by the global response.  Ms. Hyde is ‘grateful and proud to be part of His Highness Sheikh Sultan's Initiative taking a step in what we consider to be the right direction’.

Roly Owers began his address with thanks to His Highness Sheikh Sultan for speaking at the World Horse Organisation (WHO) conference in London last November.  He went on to say welfare of the horse can never be put 2nd  - the horse owes us nothing, the horse must always be put FIRST.   Responsible horse sport is our fundamental and personal responsibility.

USA 3 time winner of the Endurance Triple Crown of North America and award winner for best condition at each of his three wins, John Crandell is proud that his horse is still sound and going strong at 19 years of age. John has been in endurance for 40 years and states that Endurance could be the only sport in which we truly give back to the horse.  The test for the animal, what is he prepared for?   Adapted to many types of terrain and their genetics are forged for this.  The horse is a great gift  and we need to take care of them for generations to come.

Ahmed Samarraie' s presentation on the current German situation in endurance sport was agreeing in general with views from other countries that the sport has a loss of clean image, young riders are less interested in the sport, sponsorship issues exist, there is a damaged market for endurance horses and public opinion views that there are many 'bad' international riders coming from this region.

Coach Johannes Versleijen of the Abu Dhabi Al Jazira Sports Football Club gave an address offering a link between training and injury in football and horses. Football is an interval and contact sport with specific rules to consider when training.  Forward planning is paramount, always having to consider what will happen next, where are your team mates, technical skills need to be used in 90 minutes and his physical training is adapted to that time frame.  No game is the same, you need stamina, strength, coordination and endurance, there can be extra time and penalties, so one needs ability to recover quickly.  The number of high intensity runs has increased  markedly in the last 10 years, now there is little time on the ball but the field of play hasn't changed nor the number of players.      ‘This is how I prepare my complex training sessions on knowledge of the facts & data as well as the mental, technical and physical aspects.  Overtraining is a major concern as this causes stress injuries that are avoidable with full understanding of training physiology; this year there has been a decrease in injuries - training has significantly changed in the last few years and careful planning is always at the forefront .  There are many recoveries to address, from the millisecond recoveries within the muscle cells to the daylong rest following the game.  Sleep, food and rest are the best way for complete recovery and the 2nd day complete rest is essential when your muscles are at their most tired.’  Dr Hooton surmised later, the same principles apply in horse sport of endurance  especially when training for natural trails.  

Sara Burnett,  specialist sport horse nutritionist from UK based horse feed supplier Dodson & Horrell told us of techniques for feeding and supporting the endurance horse.  Twenty years of feeding sport horses in the Middle East has demonstrated that extreme temperatures, lack of natural grass, and overcoming hydration issues are prime priorities to support muscle function and recovery.  Dodson & Horrell has a distributor, Horse & Coarse here in the UAE and are pleased to assist in any nutritional benefit issues you may wish to discuss.

Florac's world famous Jean-Paul Boudon, has been organising Florac trails for the last 18 years and an endurance rider for more than 40. At that time J.P. Boudon began riding 160km and was part of the world group creating the rules of endurance at the outset.  He discovered all the qualities and capacities of the pure Arabian horse, and is now a breeder, trainer and trail designer.  He noted 'There have been two stages in endurance, first, game & pleasure and now in the second period with business and money at its core enables breeding to continue. The tracks have become flatter and faster, evolution of horses and equipment, without generalisation, riders, trainers, breeders nowadays do not valuerise their horses, they do it for profit in sales of horses so the horse is no longer a riding partner.  It has become a means to make money resulting in doping, cheating and lack of welfare.  Thanks to the encouragement of initiatives from Boudheib, M. Boudon is very proud to announce new innovations for 2017 Florac which will now be returning to more traditional tracks, longer phases and steep hills with 10 minutes holding time for horses to drink, rest and eat in between these long loops, all new innovations returning Florac endurance back to its true origins and valued time honoured traditions, To win is to Finish!

With an eye to one of Sheikh Sultan's keen interests encouraging good horsmanship to young people coming into the sport of endurance, Sybille Merkhart , well known international endurance rider from Southern Germany, is very involved in teaching young riders new to endurance and is very keen to promote the word of Boudheib in her homeland, installing the importance of the welfare of the horse to young riders.

Belgium's Leonard Liesens, head of endurance,  recounted that he was on the verge of giving up and became ashamed to say he was an endurance rider due to the cheating, doping, death of horses and increasing lack of horsemanship.  'Horse & rider should be in full harmony.  Crewing is becoming paramount in the minds of many and they don't listen to the horse any more, reading the trail and giving the horse the opportunity to slow down and recover after a steep hill, thus allowing your horse to use less energy and is thereby better able to continue.' Leonard believes one can see the light vanishing in the horses eyes - they are subjected to having water poured over them instead of being able to drink, and in the middle east riding has become a jockey endeavor promoted by the trainer.  Leonard has an idea, 'the Boudheib Protocol is something fantastic', and thanks to Sheikh Sultan the solution can probably be adapted to all rides in Europe. Having ridden the Tevis from start to finish, it is only the horse and rider alone; Liesens suggests new regulations to slow speed and reduce abusers of the horses.   Snacks & water for both horse & rider at various rest areas, no crew allowed to touch the horse, same discipline at the vet gates with riders only able to take care of his horse (if the rider is not able to do the trot up, then he is not a fit sportsman so cannot continue).  Once again, as has been discussed many times throughout the Boudhieb conference, good horsemanship is key.  John Crandell concurred, having taken part and won in the USA Cavalry rides of 160km these are exactly the principles, horse & rider are one, there are NO crews!

Dr. Dwight Hooton's summary of the day reminds us all that the horse should be fit to continue at all stages including the finish, and that fit to finish is not an acceptable criteria.  Horses “dead in eyes” and unable to prick their ears due to exhaustion may continue to trot until they collapse but this does not represent “fit to continue”.  The Boudheib Protocol is still in a developmental phase and the intention is to create an app to follow progress throughout the race.    Dr Hooton also asked that we specifically define ‘what is horsemanship?’ as this vital concept is key to the future success of horse sports.

The Boudheib Inititiative Worldwide conference was an incredibly powerful  salute to the endurance horse and its future welfare.  Huge thanks were expressed to all the speakers concerned for their commitment to ensuring a healthy future for the sport and gratitude was expressed by all concerned to His Highness Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan for his continuing efforts in
Driving the Future of Endurance.

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Invited guests:
HRH Princess Alia bint Hussein of Jordan
Roly Owers, UK  (World Horse Welfare)
Melanie Scott, AUSTRALIA  (AERA President)
Jean-Paul Boudon, FRANCE  (Organiser FLORAC)
Christele Derosch, FRANCE  (Organiser PERSIK TRAIL)
Ahmed Samarraie, GERMANY  (Holds National Champs)
Leonard Liessens, BELGIUM  (Head of Endurance)
John Crandell, USA  (Endurance Promotion)
Susan Koekemoer RSA (Organizer RSA largest Endurance Club)
Sybille Merkhart, Southern GERMANY  (Endurance Organiser)
Kevin Croke IRELAND  (FEI 4* Judge)
Kseniia Horbunova, Ukraine
Francois Kerboul FRANCE (FEI 4* Judge & Boudheib Official Timekeeper)
Christian Lozano FRANCE  (Head of Boudheib Vet Delegation)
Franz  Arts, NEDERLANDS  (Senior Endurance Vet)
Sarah Coombs,UK -  Foreign Vet delegate (Vet Panel)  
Antonia Mota, PORTUGAL  (Vet Panel) (President Vet Commission)