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WEG endurance cancelled as humidity rises

Endurance riders at WEG - © FEI/MARTIN DOKOUPIL

Endurance riders at WEG.

© FEI/MARTIN DOKOUPIL

 

By Rebecca Radny

As the first day of the 2018 World Equestrian Games draws to a close, endurance athletes bury their heads in their hands. Following the snafu that caused the event to be restarted (an incident that the FEI has described as a “false start”), a more shocking decision followed: The Endurance event was to be cancelled.

Scenes of outrage in the strapping area were broadcast on FEI TV, whereby disgruntled teams vehemently questioned this dream breaking decision. The justification for the cancellation was that it was in the best interest of horse welfare. The humidity was climbing and the results from vetting made it apparent many horses were struggling to get their heart rates down, indicating that they were not travelling well in the smothering weather.

 

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Controversy swirls around the Ground Jury’s decisions to both restart the event and subsequently cancel it. To recap, the event was restarted over an hour after the riders departed from the ride base due to a group of athletes being misdirected on course, causing some to allegedly travel an additional 5km as a result of the mistake. A live streaming of the Officials announcing the decision to a group of Chef d’Equipes revealed the outrage at the verdict, with some suggesting that those riders effected be compensated with a time deduction if they completed the course. This begs the question that, if this were the case and the ride had not been restarted, perhaps the athletes would have met the humid conditions at a far later point in the ride. With a smaller distance to cover before completing the 160km event, the outcome of the Endurance competition being cancelled may have been different.

At the end of the day, what has been has been, and it is a disappointing outcome for the riders and teams, but a potentially life-saving decision for the equine athletes. The FEI has announced a full inquiry into the catalyst for the dismal day to be examined.

Prior to the cancellation of the event, Rebecca had the following update regarding the Australian riders:

Half the field have now completed the 2nd loop of 40.1km. The sun came out on this loop and dried up the track, but didn’t stay dry for long and by the time the horses were back at ride base, the rain had set in again. The leaders, 2 Spanish riders and 2 Uruguayan riders were having a great battle at the front, unfortunately though Uruguay lost both horses at the vet due to high heart rate. The conditions being so humid makes it very difficult for hot horses to lose heat  even though there is ice to help cool the horses. This was to be a costly loop for Australia as well. Penny Toft and her beautiful homebred mare, Dream Dancer te were also eliminated on hear t rate - very uncharacteristic for this horse who normally has extremely low heart rates and quick recoveries. This loop also claimed Naomi O’Shaunessy who elected to call a float and was retrieved on track as she was not happy with how her horse was performing. A sensible decision in these trying (Tryon) conditions. On a positive note , Stella Harbison has vetted through successfully on this leg. There is  also a Veterinary compulsory represent  just before the riders/horses  are due to go out on loop 3. This is in the best interests of horse welfare as the horses have completed the majority of the course and the vets want to ensure that the horses are recovered sufficiently to continue. The next loop 3 is 28.2km. There is still loop 4 to go , but at this stage, Spain are in a very confident position to take Individual and Team Gold with 4 of their team in the top 5 positions. It’s not so clear for  silver and bronze at the moment. But all will be revealed shortly!

Official event release on the cancellation of the event:

Cancellation of endurance competition at FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018

The remainder of today’s Endurance competition has been cancelled due to a potentially dangerously high combination of heat and humidity, and the conditions out on the trail following heavy rain this afternoon. The decision to cancel, which is in accordance with FEI General Regulations, Article 109.12 was unanimous between the President of the Ground Jury, Technical Delegate and President of the Veterinary Commission, and the Organising Committee.

The decision is also in line with the FEI Code of Conduct for the Welfare of the Horse, which states: c) Extreme weather: Competitions must not take place in extreme weather conditions that may compromise welfare or safety of the horse.

“This was a difficult decision to make, but it was done with horse and athlete welfare in mind as the conditions this afternoon after the rain resulted in extremely high levels of humidity and, combined with rising heat, it was deemed unsafe to continue the ride”, President of the Veterinary Commission Thomas Timmons said.

British scientist Dr David Marlin, who has been working on heat and humidity studies for the FEI since the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, provided the Ground Jury with data from the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) index which showed a reading of 31.

Anything over 25 is monitored very closely, and the officials agreed unanimously that 31 presented an unacceptable risk to horse welfare.

In addition, following this morning’s false start, the FEI has tasked the independent Equestrian Community Integrity Unit (ECIU), which is onsite here at Tryon, to do a full investigation into the circumstances that resulted in some horse/athlete combinations being misdirected. The investigation will include interviews with the officials, volunteers, Organising Committee and all other relevant personnel to provide a full picture of what happened.

The findings will be presented to the FEI Bureau and the conclusions will then be made public.

Source: Event press release

 

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