The Transit of Hermes Has Begun

Embed from Getty Images

Good luck to long riders Tina Boche, Peter van der Gugten, Zsolt Szabo, and David Wewetzer who have embarked with their Criollo, Haflinger, Kabardin and Karabakh horses and a stallion called Hermes on a ride across Europe organised by artist Ross Birrell. Their journey from Athens to Kassel is an artwork called The Transit of Hermes for, well, the Greek god, but also Hermes the stallion, who is a rare Greek breed called an Arravani. documenta 14 are tracking their progress:

Hermes, then, is a courier, an intermediary, an animal envoy, an angel messenger. But the destination of his message (whatever it may be) is not Kassel. Neither is Athens its point of departure. It is in the relay, in the coexistence of companions: the community of riders and horses who, through the project of the ride, embody “the movement that transports… not toward another thing or another place, but towards its own taking place.”

Department of Zero Surprises and Some Hope

Illustration from Nutztierhaltung & Tiermedizin & Pferd by Georg Simon Winter, 1678 via Wikimedia Commons.

Illustration from Nutztierhaltung & Tiermedizin & Pferd by Georg Simon Winter, 1678 via Wikimedia Commons.

Tons of low-grade Canadian horse meat were purchased and passed off as halal beef by the Dutch businessman who is now in custody as French authorities investigate the scandal in which horse meat from Romania wound up labelled as ground beef.

(The Globe and Mail – and for my background piece on the scandal, Spiegel Online.)

Yesterday the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) announced bold steps designed to improve endurance horse welfare, proposing unprecedented athlete penalties for equine injuries, extended rest periods, and increased accountability.




The FEI, the Princess, the Sheikh and the Problematic Dead Horses: A Round Up Of Recent Articles And Sources

I’m holed up in the library working on book two, far from 2013, so here’s a round up of some recent pieces on how the FEI Endurance scandal is trotting along. We’re in the middle of the FEI’s General Assembly, and it seems the FEI would rather the horse welfare issue just went away.

  • Pippa Cuckson continues to write up a storm at the Telegraph: pro journalist doing a great job. She reports on rumours that Princess Haya has been asked to resign as president by one national federation. The FEI denies outright that this is the case.

  • Belgian Endurance have posted a copy of such a letter, here. Their site is another useful source for tracing the unfolding story. Dive in to sample the many messages of support demanding a clean up in the sport from all over the world, including individuals deeply involved at a high level. Apparently the FEI has applied the “we didn’t get the letter” explanation for many years’ worth of reports on welfare concerns.
  • Meanwhile, the FEI’s official page for endurance is leading with the story that a track-and-field Olympic medal winner will host the gala that ends the assembly. Swiss luxury goods brand Longines are the sponsor. Everything will be very shiny. For only 11.99EUR per month you can be eligible to watch a livescreening of the General Assembly itself, or at least the FEI TV site says it’s “stream testing”, whatever that may be. Their Twitter feed has zero commentary; their Facebook page features some nice photos of delegates, plus some old complaints about rollkur which they apparently forgot to remove. The last press release is about a vaulting championship, and their last newsletter update was on 1st October. This’ll be why Julie at Epona TV was laughing too hard to answer when I asked her how accountable the FEI were. At least Ms Cuckson is reporting from the spot and asking the questions that need to be answered.
  • Meanwhile, a Canadian equestrian journalist very belatedly received an email telling her that a General Assembly session she planned to attend was now closed. She has some choice things to say about that here.
  • I’ll leave you with some of Pippa’s questions for the FEI (here’s another link to the full piece):

    How “official” must a concern be before the FEI investigates?
    Why did FEI regional chairs propose that Princess Haya should stand a third term?
    Has the FEI ever discussed disciplinary tribunal findings directly with Princess Haya or Sheikh Mohammed?

    UPDATE: The FEI assembly concluded by picking up on punitive measures suggested months ago and also by hoping Princess Haya would stand for a third term.

    Another Illegal Drug Scandal for Sheikh Mohammed, Princess Haya of the FEI

    Guardian full story: Sheikh and wife shocked that a crate labelled “horse tack” found on one of their private jets in May by UK Border Guards turned out to be full of veterinary drugs that are potentially toxic and harmful to horses.
    I wonder how their internal investigation is coming along, five months later.

    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.”


    “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.