Is Alltech World Equestrian Games The Start of a New Era in Endurance

United Arab Emirates, SE Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamed al Maktoum, who won the Gold medal. Photo by Diana DeRosa
United Arab Emirates, SE Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamed al Maktoum, who won the Gold medal. Photo by Diana DeRosa

It was hard to decide if we had arrived at a new era in Endurance in that they got more stringent with the rules or if it was the rainy weather that caused so much attrition to the order. In fact, any country who finished with three riders or more had truly accomplished a feat at these Games. Of the starting field of 175 less than 50 crossed the finish line.

In the end it was United Arab Emirates, SE Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamed al Maktoum, who won the Gold medal with Yamamah, completing the course at an average of 19.678km/h. The Silver went to Dutch rider Marijke Visser, aboard Laiza de Jalima, and Bronze was claimed by Abdulrahman Saad A.S al Sulaiteen, from Qatar, on Koheilan Kincso.

Spain won Gold with three riders left finishing in a total riding time of 28:56:02. France won Silver in 29:08:44. Switzerland won Bronze in 29:42.54.

The U.S. started with five riders and finished with one. Canada finished with none and those numbers were repeated over and over again with other countries. Even Qatar and UAE were unsuccessful at completing as each of these team’s horses got pulled in the vet check.

Of the five riders competing for the United States only Jeremy Olson on Wallace Hill Shade finished. He was 31st in a time of 10:46:16.  

Jeremy Reynolds and RR Gold Dust Rising was eliminated at the first veterinary inspection and his wife Heather on Chanses at the third one, while Olson’s wife Ellen and Hot Desert Night were eliminated at the second inspection, all three for metabolic reasons. Kelsey Russell with My Wild Irish Gold made it to the third veterinary inspection but then was pulled because the vets felt the horse was lame.

The question that begs an answer is was all the concern recently shown Endurance riding causing a more stringent look at lameness and recuperation rates or had the mucky conditions taken their toll.

Overall of the 175 riders who began all but three riders and one horse were in good or decent condition based on where they ended in the race. However, as is always the fear, one horse unfortunately did die after hitting its head on a tree. Its Costa Rican rider was also severely hurt and immediately rushed to a hospital and underwent surgery.

Credit goes to the FEI and the Organizing Committee for their transparency in issuing the following report:

“A horse and rider suffered a fall during the first loop of the Endurance competition at Sartilly (FRA) shortly after 8.30 am today. Costa Rican rider Claudia Romero Chacon and Dorado (no 50) fell 400 metres before the first check point on the course. Tragically the horse was fatally injured in the fall. “The rider was also injured in the fall, but was conscious when she was taken to hospital by ambulance…

“The FEI has conducted an immediate investigation into the circumstances of this tragic incident and the investigation shows that the horse struck a tree at the side of the track in a forested area. The horse sustained a head injury and died instantly. There are no signs that the horse slipped prior to the impact.

“Costa Rican rider Claudia Romero Chacon has undergone surgery for fractures and internal injuries,” concluded the report.

The two other incidents mentioned above were Uruguay rider Isha Judd who fractured his right femur in a fall and Alberto Morales, also from Costa Rica, who was taken to the hospital for observation after finishing the first loop, complaining of neck pain.

In the press conference Laurent Cellier, the Organizing Committee Sport Director, only spoke about what a brilliant day it had been and how pleased they were to see so many spectators on the beaches. It was the questions by the media that ensured that the concerns for the tragedies of the day were also addressed.

“The Endurance test has been a long time in the planning. And this is one of our greatest events in the Games. Today has been a great day. We welcomed the world today hear in Normandy,” Laurent commented.

It was true that there was good sport and beautiful backdrops with the bay of Mont Saint-Michel, but there was also concern that too many horses had been pulled.

One of the members of the press posed the question asking if more consideration should be given when the weather causes the track to be more demanding. His question was, if the course seemed overly difficult could consideration be given to shortening the course so that there would be less attrition.

Brian Sheahan Chair of the FEI Endurance Committee, noted that the course had been reviewed by the technical delegate and course designer. It was adjusted at certain points where the mud became too boggy and the path was moved so that the riders would traverse the harder ground.

Despite these changes it was felt that there were too many of the 175 competitors who were unable to complete the course because of the demands it placed on both the horses and the riders. Yet, the top horses came in looking good, sound and happy, including Jeremy Olson’s. So, how are you to decide when it is the course that is too difficult or could it possibly be a qualifying system that needs to ensure that every rider competing meets the necessary requirements and is truly of world championship calibre?

That said, the vets made sure that if they weren’t up to the task they were not allowed to go on. So, there was a secure system in place, which clearly spoke to the welfare of the horse being the primary concern. In a way, this gave more countries the chance to attempt an Endurance race without putting them or their horses in danger and as a result helped educate them to what would be expected of them and their horses at a World Championship.

Now the situation begs the question, were the rules a bit too stringent in order to eliminate any concerns that have of late been made public. And the fact does remain that had the one horse not died (even if the reason did not relate to metabolic or lameness issues) the report coming from these Games would have boded even for the welfare of the horse. Yet, despite that, in fact this was a good Games and except for that one horse it appears that all the other 174 horses came away in good condition.

So, if you are able to get past that one incident there is a lot to ponder about these Games. For sure, the FEI with their new rules in place ensured that the goal of looking out for the welfare of the horse was sustained with the changes that were implemented.

For those of us who were out their taking photographs of this event, the experience was wonderful. Standing on the sands of the bay of Mont Saint-Michel watching horses gallop by with the castle as the backdrop will be a memory many of us will remember for a long time to come.




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