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The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) recently cleared a severely emaciated horse, “Shakla’s Sudden Impact” from Bahrain to compete in a lengthy, exceedingly strenuous endurance race. The Festival Mondial d’Endurance in Compiègne, France is a 100-mile race that serves as a qualifying event for the World Equestrian Games coming up in July of this year in Normandy, France. The FEI also serves to clear horses for that major equestrian event. Disturbing photos taken of the clearly emaciated horse before the start of the endurance race surfaced and welfare groups have expressed their outrage at the IEF. Despite the obvious health concerns evidenced by the abnormally lean body composition of the horse, Shakla was cleared for competition and it was not until the horse had run 46 miles that veterinarians made the decision to pull it from the race.
Competitors in excess of 200 come from 32 different countries to participate at Compiègne and the race is sponsored by the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates HH Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He is also the Chairman for the Emirates Arabian Horse Association.
Veterinarians who have reviewed the pre-race photos of Shakla have called them “disgusting” and the FEI is now under pressure to “tighten the rules” on the clearance of horses who by all logic should be physically sound and in good overall health in order to be allowed to compete. The value of the competition to the owner should never be put before the welfare of the horse and yet it seems that in this case that may be what happened.
Trainer and breeder Jean-Louis Tosque had already started a petition in 2013 to reform certain standards for endurance horses and he notes that Shakla had been seen more than once by the FEI officials and yet they let the horse pass “without saying anything.” Tosque further said that if a horse in Shakla’s condition were discovered outside of the endurance environment, “someone would be reported for abuse.” Mark Lucey, a British veterinarian for endurance and racing events also weighed in commenting that Shakla was “absolutely skeletal” and that the FEI has, “got to sort it out.” It is shocking that the horse, who is all bones and has very little muscle mass was not pulled from the race until it had already run a full 46 miles.
An FEI official has defended the decision to let Shakla compete in the race in France claiming that the horse was simply “lean” but not emaciated and she has compared the horse to human marathon runners. However, World Horse Welfare group which serves as a consultant for the FEI expressed genuine concern over the organization’s decision to let Shakla race. Representative Roly Owers spoke about the FEI rules and “Code of Conduct” which state, “no horse deemed unfit may compete.” Clearly, in this case, those rules were violated.
Despite the denials by the FEI that Shakla was simply a “lean” competitor, the photos tell a very different and very graphic story. The fact that a severely emaciated horse was cleared to compete in a grueling endurance race seems to indicate either a dearth of good judgment or potential corruption at the FEI. It is disturbing to think that the horse ran 46 miles before veterinarians had the sense to pull it from the race. An investigation into the safety rules and the protocols for clearing horses for competition, whether it be in endurance or any other equine sport needs to launched and the FEI held accountable for their decision to allow a clearly emaciated and unhealthy horse to compete in the Mondial d’Endurance in Compiègne in France.
Opinion by Alana Marie Burke
Horse and Hound