Unprecedented penalties for equine injuries, extended rest periods and increased accountability received the backing of national delegates at the FEI Sports Forum yesterday as the world governing body pressed on with reforms.
The FEI described the initiatives as far-reaching, following the endurance round table on the second day of the third annual sports forum.
The latest moves in the FEI’s bid to rein in excess fracture rates and other welfare concerns in the sport centred around the more aggressive flat desert form of endurance racing seen in some Group VII nations had the full support of delegates in the session in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“The welfare of the horse is not just a veterinary issue, it’s an issue for all those who work in the sport,” said FEI 1st vice-president John McEwen, who also chairs the FEI Veterinary Committee.
There was wide support for proposed rule changes relating to officials’ accountability and responsibility, increased protection of horses through athlete penalty points and extended rest periods, appointment of Independent Governance Advisors (IGA) and improved conflict of interest regulations.
Delegates also backed the new FEI Endurance Codex – a code of conduct which FEI’s Endurance Committee produced to cover endurance officials and, separately, endurance athletes and registered trainers.
The codex, which defines responsibility, accountability and sanctions for those in breach of its requirements, already exists for FEI veterinarians.
The rule changes will be circulated to national federations for final review before going before the FEI Bureau at its in-person meeting on June 9-10 for approval and immediate implementation.
During the debate session that followed, there was a call for information about injuries at national events to be included in the Global Endurance Injuries Study (GEIS), which was backed by Dr Tim Parkin of Glasgow University, who was commissioned by the FEI to set up the study.
Parkin said: “The FEI has done a great job of demonstrating what can be done with data that is currently available from FEI events and it is clearly going in the right direction.
“Adding in data from national events is only going to improve that situation. The new regulations have an impact that is really beneficial to the welfare of the horse.”
The chief executive of British-based charity World Horse Welfare, Roly Owers, voiced his support for the GEIS and improved monitoring.
“The need to make evidence-based decisions is so important for equine welfare and I fully support the FEI’s injury surveillance programme.
“Notwithstanding the limitations on data from national competitions, I would urge national federations to provide data to the GEIS and for the FEI to use all its influence to make that happen.”
Andrew Finding, the chairman of the Endurance Strategic Planning Group (ESPG) which was tasked with producing a long-term plan for the discipline, expressed his appreciation for the support of the group’s recommendations.
There had been a determined effort by the FEI to put in place the group’s recommendations, he said.
“You should be applauded for that work, and we are grateful for the diligence you have applied.”
Endurance Committee chairman Brian Sheahan told delegates: “To protect the welfare of the horse, we need to know that we’re doing the right thing.
“I would like to see increased completion rates, reduced injuries and illness in the horse, and better course design.
“To maintain the integrity of our sport, we need a reduction in doping, improved compliance by athletes and trainers and improved rule enforcement by officials.
“This sport should demonstrate the highest standards of sportsmanship in a fair and equal competition. And may the best combination of horse and athlete win.”
Vice-president McEwen complimented the Endurance Committee on its work, saying he believed the changes proposed were working towards achieving the targets set by the ESPG.
He also spoke of the work of the recently appointed task force, to explore practical measures that could be introduced to improve endurance, including the use of new technologies.
“The Task Force will be extremely useful in helping implement the work done by the Endurance Committee and the Department. The processes that we have put in place will create, and do create, an enormous workload upon the departments responsible, but in my opinion the work is absolutely essential and very worthwhile.”