September 2, 2014

Musings On The Endurance World Equestrian Games

In an age where technology can bring you front row seats to events you never had access to before, where complete strangers can make comments and state opinions openly and freely with the world, and where misinformation gets disseminated quicker than the facts, I sometimes wish I was offline.

Its not that I want to have my head buried in the sand, but sometimes I believe we create our own environment of perpetual stress by involving ourselves in things that at then end of the day we would have been better not knowing about in the first place.

Had I not known that the World Equestrian Games (WEG) were going on last week and had I not been getting facebook updates/pictures from a lady who stayed up all night to post them then I would have happily continued on without a care. But instead I did know and I did pay attention to the flurry of posts and so I did react and my reaction was frustration, anger and barely wanting to stay in this sport.

I don't care that team USA lost. I care that team USA didn't even finish. In a sport where "To Finish Is To Win" only 1 of our 5 riders even made it through the finish lines and placed 32nd. From the little I saw it seemed pretty clear that we had no chance of keeping up with the front runners who finished the 100 mile race in something like just over 8 hours. So why not slow down and finish the darn race?

But then I realized something very, very important. What I was watching/reading wasn't my beloved sport of endurance. It wasn't a group of people tackling the trail and bonding with their horse. It truly wasn't "To Finish Is To Win". It was "Win At All Costs" It was a race to the finish and to not complete was apparently being viewed as better than finishing in a poor position. So that's what we did. We ran the horses until they got pulled. If it happened to be before the finish line, chalk it up to strict rules, bad luck or the footing. But don't question the strategy.

Fine. I could come to terms with that. Approve of it or support it? Not really, but then again I'm not of that mindset. But that's fine if that is what that level of riding entails. At least our horses were all healthy and happy the next day.

But then the other shoe dropped and now I am 100% completely and entirely against all things International Endurance/FEI/WEG.

Only 2 of our horses are actually coming home. The others have been sold and will be added to the string of horses being run into the ground, worked as slaves and eventually die a premature death.

Now from a personal standpoint I am strongly opposed to this. You are not working with a machine. You are not driving a car. You are working with another being who feels pain, sadness, loneliness, happiness and bonds to the partner chosen for them. You have just asked the world of this animal. Worked them hard to prepare, flew them across the pond, beat them into the ground over difficult terrain in poor conditions and they stepped up for you and gave you their all. And how to you thank them? By leaving them behind.

But even if you take a step back from personal feelings and opinions, this decision to sell the horse immediately after the WEG makes no sense. These horses supposedly represented the top 5 horses we had in this sport in the USA. No horses were deemed to be better. And they are all young and fit still with many, many miles ahead of them. The next WEG is in 4 years. Why on earth would you sell the team off just to start fresh? Why not keep them, return home to keep working, and return in 4 years with veterans? Why give our top horses to our competition??

So...with this news I am done. Finished. I will never watch/support/or have anything to do with this level of whatever you call this sport. I already contacted AERC to make sure that none of my dues go to fund the international level. They assured me that it is separate. Had they said yes, I would not renew my membership and instead pay the extra fee at each ride to avoid any money of mine going to AERC-I. I will also avoid all rides that coexist with FEI. There are two that I know of here in SC and they were on my radar due to the proximity and timing, but nope. Not a single cent of my money will go there.

But I will continue to love going down the trail on my mare. I will continue to fight for my miles, learn as I go and grow. I will continue to add up the time and miles and even the fates allow maybe Gem and I will make it 1000 miles. Maybe we will even make the decade team list. I will support AERC for what it stands for:



  1. Well said!

    One commendable thing about the whole event was the fact that FINALLY the vets were truly doing their job and pulling horses that were not fit to continue. AERC had cracked down HARD on FEI for allowing way too much leniency at the vet checks; it was one of the big subjects discussed at the Convention in Atlanta this past spring (Liz and I got to go, and this was one of the events that we sat at. Up until then I had chosen to hide my head underground like an ostrich when it came to FEI in general). The top guns of both organizations were there to talk (and sometimes argue) in person. It was interesting to see the points of view from both sides, and one of the biggest arguments was the vet checks. So it is refreshing to see that FEI is at least trying in that aspect...but on the other hand I was beyond horrified to hear that the maximum allotted time for finishing the 100 mile ride was 11 HOURS! It explains why the horses were being run so fast on such slick, muddy footing, why there were so many pulls, and why there were so many accidents. I just can't even.

    Do you read Lytha's blog? She is a long-time endurance rider from Seattle living in Germany, training her Arab cross mare herself. It's an awesome blog, especially when she compares living in the US with living in Germany. Huge culture shock! She understands German so she translated one of the German rider reports in her most recent blog post: Apparently the type of footing and terrain that seems easy for most AERC riders is unheard of for FEI riders. Which again warrants the question: why don't they extend the maximum time allowed in FEI so the horses don't have to be pushed so hard? It's not only pushing to win for the sake of winning, it's also, like you said, *clearly* treating the horse as if it was a machine.

    Great post Sara!

    1. I hadn't heard of that blog before, but will be checking it out shortly :) I just feel so bad for those horses being pushed so hard for no reward at all. I am glad that the FEI became more strict but even at that I read that almost 75% of all horses required IV fluids. 75%!!! If that happened at an AERC ride, heads would be rolling! Which is why I love the AERC and I will continue to support it :)

  2. Heartbreaking does not begin to describe how I feel after reading this Sara! A.J.