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The American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) Board of Directors expressed anger and disgust after reports of three equine fatalities occurred at a national Concours Endurance Nationale (CEN) event held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Jan. 31.

Horrifying photographs showed Splitters Creek Bundy, a 12-year-old Australian-bred gelding, collapsing into the sand with catastrophic fractures of both front legs, while vehicles and onlookers continue along the course. The bay gelding had failed to finish in his last three competitions, all held in the United Arab Emirates, but had previously been raced seven times at distances from 80 to 120 km (50 to 75 miles) at an average speed of 22.6 km/hr (14.04 mph).

The flat, non-technical courses in this region have been criticized worldwide for their emphasis on punishing speed and increasing rates of forelimb fractures, many of which remain unreported by relevant national and international governing bodies, the AERC says.

“AERC is appalled at the Al Reef tragedy, and does not condone or support this type of riding or treatment of horses,” AERC President Dr. Michael Campbell. “Such abuse of equines is inexcusable and disgusting in the extreme. This is not what we stand for.”

Endurance riding, which AERC can claim originated in the United States almost 60 years ago as an organized sport, is sanctioned internationally by the Federation Equestre International (FEI). The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a member of FEI Regional Group VII, which has drawn harsh international criticism for repeated reports of equine abuse, positive drug tests, and illegal switching of both horses and riders during competition.

While FEI instituted new rules to improve equine welfare last August, forward measurable progress remains slow according to the AERC. When pressed by journalists in regards to the three equine deaths at the Abu Dhabi competition, representatives of FEI stated that the Al Reef race was a national event and therefore out of their jurisdiction.

At the March 2014 AERC Convention and Annual Board of Directors Meetings, John Long, then-CEO of the U.S. Equestrian Federation, met with the AERC Board of Directors to address the mutual concerns regarding reports of equine abuse, positive drug tests and blatant rule violations largely occurring within members of Group VII. At that time, AERC was considering a motion to withdraw from participation in international endurance competition until such time as FEI could demonstrate adequate control and reform of the crisis. After lengthy discussions, Mr. Long, who has since retired, stated USEF’s firm commitment to aggressively address change and improved rule enforcement within FEI. At that time, Mr. Long stated, “If we stay together and nothing good comes out of this over the next six months or a year, then we’ll walk away from it together. We’ll do it together.”

AERC’s board members strongly condemn the continuing trend within some Group VII participants towards rule violations and the racing of horses at blistering speeds leading to chronic injuries, fractures and death. The 26-member board urges USEF and FEI to demonstrate their previous commitments to change and reform the egregious offenses occurring within the international arena of endurance riding.

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