By Pippa Cuckson - The Telegraph
The governing body of equestrian sport has pledged to introduce an injury surveillance system (ISS) this autumn in response to allegations that dozens of horses die each season while competing in Middle East endurance racing.
Following lobbying from European federations, who have observed a link between endurance racing in the Middle East and stress fractures, the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) has decided to monitor injuries more closely. In Europe and North America, endurance racing is slower paced but the Middle Eastern sport often produces average speeds of 26kph on 160 kilometre (100 mile) championship tier rides.
Last year, a study in the British Veterinary Journal highlighted injury-inducing averages of 35kph in the last 15-20km of the straighter, flatter desert tracks. Two recent seizures of unlicensed drugs – one in Newmarket in August and the other on a private jet at Stansted in May – were both linked to Sheikh Mohammed, the world’s leading racehorse owner and current endurance world champion. They included extensive anti-inflammatories and analgesics which Swiss equestrian federation president Charles Trolliet, also a vet, described as the “classic endurance cocktail”.
Sheikh Mohammed himself served a six-month FEI ban in 2009 after his horse tested positive for steroids. The Maktoum family have had involvement with a staggering 15 per cent of the 161 doping cases brought before the FEI tribunal since 2005, out of 130 other member nations and six other equestrian sports. Sheikh Mohammed has ordered an internal investigation into the two drugs seizures. The Sheikh’s junior wife Princess Haya of Jordan, as FEI president, had already convened a task force to examine the growing endurance crisis.
There has been no official recording of traumatic injury in any horse sport, but anecdotal evidence suggests four fractures per ride in Middle Eastern endurance is not unusual. The Belgian federation says fractures have reached “unimaginable proportions”. In April 2012, at the FEI open forum in Lausanne, respected French endurance judge Jean-Louis Leclerc discussed splitting the desert rides into a breakaway sport because of their negative impact on the rest of equestrianism.
After damaging media coverage this summer, steroid use in sport horses was criminalised in Dubai by Sheikh Mohammed. However, Swiss federation president Charles Trolliet said: “Steroids are only part of the problem. Sheikh Mohammed’s decree does not address the very large number of fractures we are seeing.” Concern about the link between high speeds and injury provoked controversy at the UK national governing body Endurance GB last month. International committee chairman Emma Miller stated that British riders’ performances at the recent European Open championships “showed we are moving closer to the leading endurance nations”. Top riders Tricia Hirst and Kay Trigg took to the EGB forum to protest that comparisons with the winning UAE team should not be seen as an achievement; Miller later resigned.
Photo caption: Major call: The FEI, headed by HRH Princess Haya, has decided to monitor injuries more closely./Reuters
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By Pippa Cuckson - The Telegraph