To Finish Is To Win

American Endurance
Ride Conference

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May 2015

PRESIDENT'S LETTER

AERC and the World

By Michael Campbell, AERC President

AERC is proud of our international endurance riders and has supported international endurance riding for many years by co-sanctioning FEI rides all across the country. We have a special committee, AERC International, to encourage and develop AERC’s participation in international endurance riding. But international endurance riding has been tainted by the persistent misconduct of some riders and trainers from the United Arab Emirates for many years.

History: The chronic misconduct of UAE includes drugging horses, blatantly ignoring rules (such as ignoring mandatory rest periods, riding with whips or spurs), overriding horses to the point of debilitating injury and death, reports of bribing and intimidating officials, and changing horses mid-ride. FEI records reportedly indicate more yellow cards (notices of rule violations) issued to UAE endurance riders and trainers than to all other countries combined.

On March 9, 2014, members of the AERC Board of Directors were becoming increasingly concerned, and unanimously passed a motion condemning such misbehavior. Other countries had also taken notice and complained loudly to FEI -- perhaps, most notably, Belgian Chef d’Equipe Pierre Arnould, who was subsequently fired.

FEI heard the complaints and commissioned a committee, the Endurance Strategic Planning Group (ESPG), to examine the problem and make recommendations. Those recommendations were implemented in August 2014 and seemed to be helping, according to the evaluation by AERC-I.

Then, in January 2015, at an international ride in Abu Dhabi, a horse (Splitters Creek Bundy) was videographically recorded fracturing both front legs and being pushed off the field by his rider. Two other equine fatalities occurred at the same event. Upon necropsy, Bundy was found to have four illegal drugs in his system.

AERC and endurance organizations around the world expressed their disgust and dismay at the situation. These matters were widely discussed and condemned at the 2015 AERC convention.

The week after the 2015 AERC convention and board meetings, reports circulated that the UAE had falsified to FEI the results of at least 12 endurance rides. The most obvious reason for such fraud is to qualify horses and/or riders for high-level events without the horses and/or riders having actually met the qualification standards set by FEI. People on social media referred to these rides as "phantom rides."

AERC and endurance organizations from countries all around the world figuratively exploded in outrage. Denmark immediately forbade its riders from competing in UAE-sponsored events. Other countries quickly followed suit. Protests came from Australia, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, the U.S. and other countries.

The Bundy event and the phantom rides were major deal-breakers for FEI. Under the leadership of recently-elected President Ingmar deVos, FEI suspended UAE endurance from participation in all FEI events.

And now: In March of this year, FEI took two endurance races, scheduled to be held in the UAE, off their calendar. The AERC Board of Directors voted to ask FEI, through our National Federation -- the United States Equestrian Federation -- to move the 2016 World Endurance Championship from Dubai to another location. The next week, FEI suspended the UAE from all endurance competition.

The terms of that suspension prohibit Emirati endurance athletes from participating in any international events. The UAE is not permitted to organize any international events. Emirati athletes in equine events other than endurance may not compete under the UAE flag and the UAE national anthem may not be played at events.

According to FEI Vice President John Madden, the suspension is in effect until "they can demonstrate to us and explain to us exactly how they are going to protect horse welfare and follow the FEI rules." The UAE had 30 days to appeal the suspension.

It is certainly likely that not all UAE riders, owners and trainers mistreat horses and cheat. However, the technology and rules of FEI as an international organization do not provide for discrimination at the individual level. Therefore, the suspension applies to all UAE participants. AERC supports the FEI action to curb abuses among UAE riders and trainers.

Still in question is how the UAE endurance program might be reconciled and welcomed back into the international endurance fold. Such reconciliation would surely involve representatives from various countries working with UAE officials over a significant period of time to bring about a true and honest rehabilitation with demonstrable and measurable changes in the training and competitive programs in the UAE.

Some members have questioned why the AERC Board of Directors has spent so much time on this issue. In truth, it has little immediate impact on the average AERC endurance rider. However, these matters affect the reputation of our sport worldwide. Our bylaws require that we support and encourage the sport of endurance riding. Cheating and abuse of horses tarnish the reputation of our sport among horsemen everywhere. The board is sworn to protect the interests of endurance riding.

In the individual interests of our international horses and riders as well as the global interests of our sport, we must all stand in support of clean endurance.

The international symbol of clean endurance is a light blue ribbon on the bridle of an endurance horse. Get your ribbon and ride for clean endurance.