The FEI says there is a broad consensus among endurance nations on the future direction for the sport, but views are mixed are whether there should be different rules for the more aggressive distance racing which finds favour in the Middle East.
Delegates from 23 countries have met in Lausanne, Switzerland, for a one-day endurance conference, where they showed strong support for most of the recommendations for reform proposed by the Endurance Strategic Planning Group (ESPG), formed after several FEI member nations voiced concern about welfare issues and the worrying number of drug infractions in horses centred on Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain – all members of FEI regional group 7.
However, views were reported to be mixed on whether the “racing” form of endurance should operate under different rules.
“There was considerable discussion on the traditional Endurance rides, which are now being referred to as Classic Endurance riding, and Endurance Racing,” the FEI said in a statement released after the conference.
“There were mixed views on whether a different set of rules should be used, but it was generally agreed that the rules cover both elements,” it said.
Moderator John McEwen said: “Endurance sport has expanded thanks to the expansion in Group 7; we mustn’t lose sight of that expansion. How we handle the expansion of the sport is down to you and it’s important we handle that right for the future of the sport.
“You’ve all said that actually the structure and governance is in place. Yes, we need to implement it in slightly different ways in certain aspects. We have the guidelines from the ESPG, which are extremely helpful in helping us to do that. I think the feeling in general is that we want this to remain one sport.
“I am passionate about this and I believe that we need to stay as one sport and that is only possible if people are open-minded and have wide vision.”
The FEI said conference delegates gave a positive response to the endurance strategic plan.
The conference was attended by more than 70 delegates, with a total of 20 national federations represented.
Other bodies attending the conference were the European Equestrian Federation, the British-based charity World Horse Welfare, the American Endurance Ride Conference and the Equine Community Integrity Unit.
FEI president Princess Haya attended as an observer, along with members of the FEI Executive Board.
The morning session focused on feedback from the national federations on the proposals outlined at the 2013 General Assembly in November 2013 by the Endurance Strategic Planning Group.
Of the 47 national federations involved in the sport, of which 33 run elite Endurance events, 20 returned responses via an electronic survey. A further six sent additional comments.
A team of veterinary surgeons also held its own scientifically based review and shared its views with the planning group.
The group’s chairman, Andrew Finding, summarised the results from the survey, in which 32 of the group’s 37 recommendations received an approval rating of over 80 percent.
“The consultation was never intended to be a referendum,” he said. “It was designed to add value to the work we have been doing and vitally to give every national federation an opportunity to comment.
“Some decided to comment, many did not, but every national federation had an opportunity to do so.”
Finding pledged that every comment received would be addressed by the planning group and, where appropriate, covered at the operational planning level.
He said the planning group had recommended that members of the Endurance Committee should be tasked with a specific area of responsibility to cover each of the critical success factors outlined by the group – culture and behaviour; structure and governance; foundation for growth, and communications and marketing.
His presentation then focused on the five recommendations that had a lower approval rating, but still in excess of 50 percent.
These were the designation of Persons Responsible, and whether trainers should be included alongside riders, ride qualification standards, a trainers ranking list, awards for completions, and awards for officials.
He also covered five other areas that national federations had raised in their responses to the survey and which the ESPG felt had not been covered fully in its recommendations.
Debate during the day focused on the key areas of horse welfare; clean sport and the rules, which were widely accepted as fit for purpose; support for officials on enforcement of those rules; transparent and consistent reporting; the use of technology; rider competence and horsemanship; cost implications; sponsorship; the technicality of courses to help resolve speed-related issues; technical criteria during competitions; individual and team performance; and ensuring the long-term development of the sport.
Part of the afternoon’s session was devoted to establishing the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which will be used to evaluate the success of the strategic plan.
The planning group will now use the input from the conference to finalise its report, which will be presented to the FEI Bureau for further consideration.
The FEI Bureau and the Endurance Committee will report at a special session on Endurance at the FEI Sports Forum, on April 29-29, about the follow-up on the conclusions of the planning group.
The national federations represented at the conference were from Belgium, Botswana, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Italy, Namibia, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, United States of America.