Stallions: a Bromance

What do horses like? Horses like food and being with other horses. Stallions are no exception – in the wild they are intensely social, but due to their high value and the way we keep our breeding stock, they are often kept in isolation, which works about as well for horses as solitary confinement does for people.
A few years ago the Swiss National Stud experimented by turning their stallions out together in the non-breeding season. This video shows what happened. Horse fights are generally of the “all mouth and no trouser” variety (featuring a side of “someone hold me back, Barry, or I’ll have him”), and these studs are no exception, but they soon settle down to synchrony, and harmonious grazing. Nobody got harmed, although one pair still seem unable to “leave it out, Barry” at the end of the film. But we all know people like that, don’t we?

PS. The sychronised prancing reminds me of the illustration in the banner of this blog. I’ve seen seventeenth and eighteenth century images of haute école horses performing all sorts of moves together at liberty in their fields – perhaps these illustrations weren’t so fanciful after all. Maybe the Duke of Newcastle et al just turned ’em all out together.

The FEI Comes Under Fire

Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 14.45.47

Hyppoblog reports (en Français) on seismic shifts in the equestrian world. In March the president of the SVPS or Schweizerische Verband für Pferdsport (Swiss Federation for Equestrian Sports) wrote to the FEI expressing concern about the sport of endurance riding. Hyppoblog provide a PDF here (in English) which should be read in full as the accusations are shocking. The Swiss cite a “multitude of witnessed and documented cruelties to horses”, “tremendous fracture frequencies”, “dangerous treatment protocols”, “cheating” and “the non-taking of responsibility and function of certain officials … and FEI staff.”

Among other shockers: doping is out of control but little dealt with, and riders from wealthy countries get their own private tents for vet checks, thus obscuring what might be going on. It demanded immediate action from the FEI.

A piece by Véronique Curchod on Terre&Nature went much further [my translations, all errors my own]: “Un constat est inquiétant: plus de 80% des cas de dopage en endurance sont le fait de cavaliers issus du Proche-Orient, soit notamment des Emirats arabes unis, du Bahreïn et du Qatar.” Translation: “One report is disturbing: more than 80% of doping cases in endurance involved riders from the Near East, notably the Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar.”

“Les conflits d’intérêts sont flagrants, au sein même de la FEI. En effet, la présidente de la fédération, la princesse Haya bint Al Hussein de Jordanie, est l’épouse de l’émir et scheik de Dubaï, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, un passionné de ce sport. Ses écuries comptent plus de 700 chevaux d’endurance! En 2012, l’émir a d’ailleurs gagné le championnat du monde, à Euston Park (Grande-Bretagne). Mais une sombre histoire a entaché dernièrement son prestige. Dix-sept de ses chevaux de course de plat, une autre de ses passions, ont en effet été contrôlés positifs à un anabolisant.”

Translation:

“The conflicts of interest are flagrant. The president of the FEI is Princess Haya bint Al Hussein of Jordan, wife of the Emir and Sheikh of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Makhtoum, who is himself a fan of the sport. His stables include more than 700 endurance horses! In 2012 the Sheikh won the world championship at Euston Park (UK). But a dark backstory taints his prestige. Seventeen of his flat racing horses – another of his passions – have tested positive for anabolic steroids.”

The FEI held a round table on the 24th of June in Lausanne. They committed themselves to a future of endurance riding with neither “doping nor pain” for horses, and set up a strategic committee the mull the matter over till January 31st 2014.

Last week news broke that 124 unauthorised medications had been found at Sheikh Mohammed’s endurance horse operation at Moorley Farm East. The Irish Examiner quotes the official report:

“The latest seizure notice, issued under regulation 41 of Veterinary Medicines Regulations and posted on the VMD website, said: ‘Moorley Farm East, Newmarket. 124 veterinary medicinal products were seized because they were not authorised in the UK and had not been imported into the UK in accordance with the regulations. These medicines, in varying quantities, were to be used on horses and included injectables, anaesthetics, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics.'”

Pitke, via WikiCommons.

Pitke, via WikiCommons.

Meanwhile, the Danish animal rights group Anima have published footage shot at the FEI European Championships in Herning on their website. They consulted Professor Jan Ladewig of Copenhagen University (an honorary fellow of the International Society for Equitation Science), who confirmed that rollkur was used in the warm-up rings in breach of the FEI’s regulations. Read my earlier interview with Danish journalist Julie Taylor of Epona TV to catch up with some of the shenanigans that were going on at Herning, and read Epona’s blog posts (with video) on the showjumping and dressage collecting rings here and here. There were protests by Anima and by a group called Equivoice, who dyed their tongues blue in reference to the infamous Blue Tongue Scandal of 2009.

A couple of months before the championships even began, a photographer snapped three leading Danish riders hyperflexing their horses in front of the Danish team coach, and the story hit the country’s tabloids. See Eurodressage, here. The riders were Anna Kasprzak (daughter of the sponsor of the championships at Herning), Andreas Helgstrand (son of a man who happens to be the head of the Danish Equestrian Federation and vice president of the European Equestrian Federation) and Thomas Sigtenbjerggaard. The Danish Equestrian Federation and their team vet rallied to their defence:

Regarding the photos made public of Anna Kasprzak from the Danish Dressage Championships 2013, we have the following comments: We support Anna and her riding 100%. We have known Anna and her family for many years, and one thing is certain – horse welfare is and has always been a top priority for Anna and her family, and they are an example to follow. To pass judgment on Anna’s riding based on a snapshot is unreasonable, as a still shot from a certain angle does not reflect the whole reality.

Last week, the Danish Equestrian Federation advertised on its site for new members to fill its disciplinary committee, which has apparently resigned en masse. Here’s a Google Translate explaining their responsibilities, including “to be the first instance in all cases of abuse, misuse or unethical treatment of horses.”

Interesting times.