Friday, May 26, 2017

FEI Endurance Forum 2017 Report - by Linda Tanian

May 24
by Linda Tanian, Australia

Today’s session at the FEI Endurance Forum was all about modernising the sport. There were lots of interesting stats about the increasing popularity of endurance on a worldwide basis including:

• 95% increase in the number of international endurance events since 2007

• 58% increase in the number of registered endurance riders

• 37% increase in the number of registered endurance horses

Our own Brian Sheehan led the first presentation taking us through the mission statement, values and some of the changes being experienced by endurance. A WEG Review highlighted a number of concerns about endurance and the fact that it is only available for 1 day on the WEG schedule of events means a considerably smaller spectator attendance (6,000 compared to 110,000 spectators for Jumping which runs for 6 days). It is making it unviable to include endurance on the WEG schedule as other sports are subsiding us.

Brian presented his expectations for the future of the sport which included:

• Highest standard of horse welfare of all the FEI and non-FEI disciplines

• Officials practice the highest standard of integration

• New and successful competition format for individuals and teams with high completion rates and entertaining to watch

• Self-funded discipline ensuring financial stability

• Education for officials, athletes and trainers

Valerie Kanavy then provided an inspiration presentation when she answer the question of “where do I want the sport to go in the next 20 years”. Her aspirations included:

• Wanting to be part of a sport she can be proud of

• A sport that challenges her abilities

• A sport where athletes and horses can be admired and respected by others

• Where horse welfare is the most important thing in our sport

The next speaker was Nick Brooks Ward who is the Operations Director of the Horse Power Group and is involved in the Windsor Royal Show and the Euston Park endurance events among many other things. He provided some thought provoking questions for us and highlighted how we keep endurance hidden away.

He has lots of experience in promoting sports (the Tour de France is one of them) and suggested:

• Endurance is conceived as a closed sport

• Videos that his company have put up onto the web are pulling good numbers in terms of views and this is a much under-utilised opportunity

• There is a lack of understanding about what endurance is in the larger equestrian community that we could easily address

• There are lots of positive messages that we could be producing to highlight our sport

• A lot of education is required to bring people up to speed on what we do and how we do it

Stephane Chazel is a member of the FEI’s Technical Committee for Endurance. He talked about the philosophy of the sport and how it has changed from being a complete to win scenario into flat racing. He thought that we had the opportunity to decide where our sport was heading and presented three options:

• More professional and elitist – a little like cycling where a team approach is adopted

• Extreme sport with the supreme test of horsemanship

• Long distance racing

His feeling was that the sport should be splintering and a new rule set should be created for each splinter.

The last presentation was given by Ignasi Casas who is the Chef d’Equipe of the Spanish Team. He gave us a bit of a trip down memory lane and showed how they used to do things in the ‘good old days’ including a vet gate in a bull fighting arena, luckily without the bull. He tracked the changes of the sport from a totally amateur sport to what it is today – professional teams, big sponsorship and monetary/high value prizes.

Ignasi also talked about changes in qualifications and team competitions for championships and how they have continued to evolve over the past 30 years.

The opportunity for everyone to then join in an open discussion on the issues facing the sport and where the sport could go. Many interesting comments were provided and some of the elephants in the corner were allowed to run around a bit. While there was no consensus on a single approach the FEI has been given lots of information and ideas to mull over.