Friday, August 5, 2011

"New" Rules for the FEI?

For those of us that follow international equine competition, we have seen a storm brewing around the FEI for some time.  The FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale), which is the governing body for Olympics, the World Equestrian Games, and various World Championships, has seen several scandals in the past few years;  There was the myriad of doping allegations during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which included several top riders; there was the incident in 2009 where the president of FEI's husband and brother were caught doping their horses for an endurance race. The FEI president, Princess Haya, also saw her husband embroiled in a scandal over his involvement in a much-maligned Mongolian endurance ride .  In 2010, we had the 'Blue Tongue' incident at the World Cup, in which the FEI turned a blind eye to horribly coercive riding.  And most recently, at the 2011 World Championships in Malmo, Sweden, several reining trainers were caught on tape riding their horses in a manner that goes directly against the FEI's rules, while the stewards present were occupied with their phones, lunch or chatting during the warm ups.  

The compounding of these events has created an atmosphere of distrust of the organization, and many have been openly questioning whether the FEI truly has the best interest of horses at heart.  Repeatedly, they seem to turn a blind eye toward abuse and refuse to acknowledge rule violations - is this their way of maintaining a clean image?  

Within the flurry of attention given to the most recent reining scandal, the FEI demanded that the online news organization Epona TV, whose reporters were the ones to catch the poor riding during the Malmo warm ups, hand over all their footage recorded at those warm ups, in order to "review" it for rules violations.  Epona has refused, explaining their position in a well-written editorial.  Basically, they never expected the FEI to sanction any of the riders participating in the World Championships, nor do they believe that the FEI would after seeing the 'extra' hours of tape.  Epona's purpose was to further expose the FEI, in their unwillingness to enforce compliance with their rules, as well as the willful ineptness of the stewards employed by the FEI.  

This week, the FEI released a statement outlining a supposed 'new' rule structure that will cover training and warm ups. In this statement, the FEI blames Epona (without using their name) for not supplying adequate evidence of violations, so therefore, no further action will be taken toward the individuals caught on tape riding their horses roughly.  While their inaction is disappointing, it is certainly not surprising.  From the very beginning, when these videos went viral, the FEI made it clear that they would try to minimize this incident and distract from its steward's ineptitude by blaming Epona.  There was much hand-wringing and placations toward the concerned public, but it seemed quite obvious that nothing could retroactively be done about the riding at Malmo.  After all, what a mess it would create for the FEI!  Both the first and second place winners were among those caught on tape!  By sanctioning those riders after the fact, who were not given warnings (that we know of) or inhibited in any way from riding roughly in the warm ups, wouldn't they be admitting their own ineptitude? 

However, there are some positives to come out of this recent statement about the new rules structure.  It seems to me that they are admitting that they need to do better in monitoring reining activities, as well as educating the stewards in what is acceptable, and what violates the rules.  This is a victory for those concerned with the horse's welfare at FEI competitions.  In making a really big, international, fuss, the FEI could see that people are watching and we are serious about keeping coercive, rough riding OUT of our top level competitions.  Ian Williams, FEI Director of Non-Olympic Sports, said, "We absolutely understand the importance of learning from this alleged incident."  Does this mean that more rule violations will be issued at future events?  That we will see an end to ugly, coercive riding at FEI events due to intense scrutiny - not just from the public, but from the stewards employed by FEI?  Hard to say, but to be sure, we will be paying attention.  Actions speak louder than press releases.

If you would like to contribute to keeping the pressure on the FEI to enforce it rules, please sign this petition.  We all have a responsibility to speak up for horses.  Thank you!