Monday, March 23, 2020

Clean Endurance welcomes FEI Tribunal decision that jabbing with a severe bit is abuse

23 March 2020

Clean Endurance is relieved that the FEI Tribunal has agreed that a leading UAE endurance rider committed horse abuse through the mis-use of a severe bridle during the 160km CEI*** President’s Cup at Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi in February 2019.

This decision sets a landmark precedent for Endurance – where more and more harsh bits and tight nosebands are being employed in an attempt to compensate for poor riding skills and lack of proper training of the horse.

Rashed Hamoud Humaid Al Junaibi, aged 22, was suspended for three months, fined 2,000 Swiss francs and ordered to pay 3,000 Swiss francs towards costs.

The Tribunal told Mr Al Junaibi his riding was “totally out of line with all general principles of horsemanship” and that he must take and pass all FEI Courses available on “FEI Campus” before returning to competition.

The FEI Tribunal was “comfortably satisfied” that Mr Al Junaibi committed abuse by repeatedly yanking and pulling the reins by using his bodyweight while riding 8 Minute (previously known as Zafira.) The same pair won the 2018 President’s Cup, but were eliminated for lameness at Gate 5 (140 km) of the 2019 competition.

This is the sixth allegation of horse abuse in UAE endurance that has been sanctioned by the FEI Tribunal in the past 12 months. Four of these cases resulted from Protests to the FEI Secretary General by Clean Endurance, the other two by Miss Cuckson including this latest, which went to an oral hearing in Lausanne last month.

Mr Al Junaibi was represented by Morgan Sports Law of London. Miss Cuckson represented herself and called an expert witness, Mr William Micklem, who is a Fellow of the British Horse Society and a recognised authority on bitting and horse physiology. Miss Cuckson provided lengthy footage from the official broadcast of the 2019 President’s Cup. She alleged that Mr Al Junaibi was trying to control 8 Minute by leaning far back using his full body weight against the reins. The impacts on the mouth would have been exacerbated by the leverage enabled by the long-shanked bit, the fixed looped or “para” reins and the tight cross noseband with a bottom strap of exposed metal chain.

She described it as “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.” Fellow riders could be seen on the video riding alongside 8 Minute and cooling her because Mr Al Junaibi could apparently not take one hand off the reins.

Miss Cuckson added: “Any rider can have an occasional, accidental ‘wrong’ moment but I submit these were not just one or two unfortunate snapshots amid an otherwise exemplary performance. Mr Al Junaibi did not have control of 8 Minute over many hours and it seems likely that severe gadgetry was employed, as it was anticipated the rider would have no control.”

Mr Micklem said “the result of these forces and pressure on nerves and blood vessels will mean that after initial discomfort and pain the mouth and lower jaw area is almost certain to become numb during the competition, making the horse a potential danger to both other competitors and spectators, and then hypersensitive in the days and weeks afterwards due to bruising and lacerations.

“The tight noseband also causes unacceptable pressure on the inside of the mouth, where the top jaw molar teeth are considerably wider than the lower jaw teeth. Therefore the delicate tissue inside the mouth is trapped between the protruding outside edge of the top jaw molar teeth on the inside and the noseband on the outside. This bruises or cuts the tissue on the inside of the mouth and can cause mouth ulceration. Therefore it is widely accepted that nosebands that are cranked tightly should not be part of a modern horse world.”

In his defence Mr Al Junaibi did not believe 8 Minute would have performed as well as she did if she felt any pain or unnecessary discomfort from the tack or his riding style. He said: “At various times during the ride, when I felt 8 Minute was getting strong, I tried to use my bodyweight to control the speed. As most riders would tell you, moving your bodyweight back from a neutral position helps to slow horses down and leaning toward typically makes them speed up. This does not increase the amount of pressure applied to a horse’s mouth – it is a question of where your centre of gravity is on the horse”. “Everyone has their own riding style and so long as the horse is well taken care of, it is a dangerous approach to dictate about style. Contrary to Ms. Cuckson’s allegation, 8 Minute and l worked very well together to complete 140km. Perhaps Ms. Cuckson has never taken part in long distance riding but in my opinion, it would be pretty hard to ride so far without control.” Mr Al Junaibi also said he had been competing since he was 14 and had never been told his riding was not good. He maintained that the FEI officials had the responsibility to ensure the horse’s well-being and safety. If they became aware of any horse abuse, it was their responsibility to disqualify the rider and report it to the FEI.

The FEI Legal team supported Miss Cuckson, stating: “Bits and bridles are for communication with the horse. They are not handles in order to stabilize the rider in the saddle or instruments for pulling on the horse’s mouth.”

The FEI said that in the video the rider was “clearly jabbing the horse’s mouth with the left and right hand repeatedly, ” and at other times “putting his whole body weight on the reins, jabbing the horse’s mouth severely; the horse is trying to avoid the discomfort and pain by thrusting the head up high and as a consequence even falls into trot.” Article 142.1 (iv) of the FEI GR’s specifically states that one sole jab constitute horse abuse.

Several items of tack worn by 8 Minute have been prohibited under FEI endurance rules since January 1, 2020, following concerns about the reliance on lever bits as “brakes” by unskilled riders. The Tribunal recognised that the bridle worn by 8 Minute was not prohibited in 2019, but assessed the case on the manner in which the rider had used the formerly permitted bridle and bit.

The Tribunal said the rider’s viewpoint was “unacceptable,” and that it objected to his criticism of Miss Cuckson.

“For the Tribunal, these are not hypothetical theories of horse suffering. The continuous jabbing of the horse’s mouth displayed by the respondent during the video is totally out of line with all general principles of horsemanship. What the Tribunal saw on the video was a very rough bit, used without any regard whatsoever for the horse’s mouth and welfare. Of course, the respondent’s way of riding, by pulling back with his entire body and with such a rough bit, cannot be accepted in any competition”.

“It should be obvious for any person with minimal horsemanship knowledge, that leaning back and totally out of balance for so long and continuously, with the bit, bridle and the reins used by the respondent, increases the amount of pressure to a point that causes or is likely to cause pain or unnecessary discomfort to a horse.

“The Tribunal once more reiterates – as it has already stated in previous decisions – the FEI should investigate why FEI Officials did not react on apparent horse abuse happening during competition.”

A number of legal points were discussed, including the timeframe for reporting cases of alleged abuse. Mr Al Junaibi complained there had been “undue” delay in submitting the Protest (which is not time-limited under FEI regulations) and that he had been prohibited from making further submissions after seeking legal representation some months after his initial response. However, during the hearing he revealed that he had received help in writing his initial response from the wife of the trainer of Al Wathba stables, Emma al Jahouri (nee Finnie) a British-trained lawyer.

Although Clean Endurance is satisfied with the FEI Tribunal’s decision, it regrets that the proceedings were dragged out until the end of the UAE season – by which time an immediate suspension has no effect.

Clean Endurance also finds it abhorrent to see a reputable law firm argue the inadmissibility of an abuse protest on legal technicalities rather than on the factual content of the allegations. It is grateful that the FEI Tribunal dismissed these legal arguments, found the allegations of horse abuse to be true, and sanctioned the rider accordingly.

The full FEI Tribunal decision can be found here:

A short extract of the footage of Mr al Junaibi and 8 Minute can be found here:

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