Thursday, January 9, 2014

AERC isn't FEI

So y'all know that I'm from the south, and that Dixie was a former show horse. To be a padded show TWH in the South is to suffer, pretty much all the time until your career is over. Here's a World Grand Champion at work:

I don't know anything about this horse, he's just the first result for "wgc twh" on youtube. I'm not saying he was sored. In fact, I'm assuming he's totally clean and all that action is only from the shoes. Just watching him move gives me the heebie jeebies.

All that action comes from the enormous, heavy shoes on his feet. Padded horses can't be turned out in anything bigger than a stall-sized paddock, and they can't be ridden on trails that are the slightest bit muddy or trappy. They live in their stalls, only getting out to be ridden. It's a tragic, shitty life and they break down fast. 

By the time I got Dixie, I knew without a doubt that I didn't want to show. I'd done a few local shows, on my gelding Champ and on other people's (plantation shod) horses, and while it was a fun way to spend an evening, it brought out the worst in people. The judging is political and it's a clusterfuck of drama. So I started looking through all the things you could do to have fun with a TWH. 

Trails are fun, but they're not really a goal. Dressage is inherently worthwhile, but you have to have a trainer, and showing dressage is just as political and bitchy (although arguably less cruel). Trail trials sounded cool, but there wasn't a big base of support for it in Memphis. Jumping stuff was right out; you need a trainer and money to burn. Dixie's not at all suited to compete in western games - she's just not catty or fast.

But endurance - hmm. Ride the horse you've got? Ride all day on trails? Vet checks to make sure your horse was absolutely sound and metabolically stable? T-shirt prizes for everyone, "to finish is to win," awards for Best Conditioned Horse? A bunch of really, really knowledgeable and fearless women? Sign me up!

That's what caught my eye about endurance. Sound horses, going out to have fun all day. That's what I wanted to do. It took me a couple years of wishing before I ever started conditioning (which might be why I'm so absurdly passionate about the sport - I dreamed about this for so long, yall.) 

But that's AERC endurance. We're just the bush league amateurs. There's also FEI endurance, which is the international level of competition, and at this point FEI endurance doesn't look much like AERC endurance. FEI endurance's motto is more like "to win is to win and nobody likes a loser." It's flat-track 50-100 mile Arab racing. 

I've been hesitant to write this because I know -- and like! -- quite a few endurance racers. They're good people. They train hard and race to win, but they put their horses first. 

But any time you get people competing for high stakes, bad things happen. Bad things have been happening particularly often in international FEI racing. (Link to Horse and Hound search results for "fei endurance", which has pretty good coverage of the drugging and injuries occurring overseas right now.) 

If you read my blog because you think maybe one day you'd like to try endurance, just as soon as you get all the bits of your life in order, I want you to know that AERC is not FEI. I've seen a tiny handful of possibly-sketchy behaviors in ridecamps. I've seen a few people override their horses, and a lot of vets pulling those horses. Most of us have 1-3 horses that we've spent countless hours conditioning, and we don't want to hurt them - we want to keep riding them more than we want that one win or top-ten. 

But I'm also writing this for my AERC readers. There's a motion up for debate at the January BOD meeting. In December of last year, AERC sent a letter to FEI Endurance, outlining AERC’s proposed changes to FEI rules.  Now the BOD is voting on a motion to de-sanction FEI rides* if FEI doesn’t accept and work toward our rules.  

AERC wants, among other things, a change of leadership in FEI Endurance; disclosure of fatalities and injuries; increased penalties for individuals who break FEI rules; more drug testing; and more disciplinary activity during rides. If the motion passes, AERC will no longer co-sanction FEI rides until they make those changes. The full motion is currently located here (pdf link). 

I support this, and if you’re an AERC member, I think you should consider supporting it too. Email your BOD reps if you agree. I’m open to debate on this, but I really think distancing ourselves from the rampant corruption and abuse happening in international-level endurance rides is for the best.

This shit is putting us in a bad light, y’all. People who haven’t been to a ride (or even watched the videos of happy, healthy, full-of-piss-and-vinegar horses finishing AERC hundred-mile rides) already think asking a horse to travel that far is inhumane. Racing so fast and so hard that your horses kill themselves, doping your horses up to mask their pain - this is all bullshit, and everybody knows it. FEI’s corruption is making us all look bad, and distancing ourselves from them is a good thing. I'm sorry if this wrecks your plans to go international with the world's best horse, but if it'll help preserve our sport, I'm all for it.

Here's a happier video. This is what it's supposed to look like! (thanks for putting this together, LCT!)

*AERC sanctions rides. Currently, they also co-sanction some rides as AERC/FEI rides, allowing riders to pay the normal fees and ride for AERC points/miles, or pay the extra FEI fees and ride for both AERC points/miles and FEI placings. There are only a handful of co-sanctioned AERC/FEI rides, which makes our international riders Very Unhappy, but for better or worse they’re a minority. The proposed change will shut down the international riders’ options to qualify for FEI rides, but it won't affect AERC-only rides. 


  1. The debate has been interesting to watch, and I've learned a lot. I already knew that I don't want to ride FEI--I learned early-on that FEI endurance looks a lot like the sport I love, but the essential differences make FEI a sport I don't even like much. The comparison to TWH showing is, I think, a good one: other organizations have been waiting years for the TWH people to sort out their misdeeds for themselves, and it ain't happening. There's too much money, political clout, and ego involved. If that mess is ever going to get cleaned out, it's going to happen from the outside, by people who care about horse welfare, not people who care about somebody else's reputation as a winner. Same with FEI endurance, I'm afraid.

    When the AERC proposal to withdraw sanctioning was first posted, I couldn't remember if AERC rides can even *offer* money as a prize, so Jim looked it up. Answer: yes, but.

    The "but" is that if any single prize of more than $1000 is offered, there are a BUNCH of additional expensive, hassle-ridden paperwork-y hoops to jump to maintain AERC sanctioning, including hiring an unbiased, experienced and qualified AERC steward to preside over the event in addition to ride management AND the steward must write up a report to AERC after the event to document the non-cheating way that the prize was awarded. That's a lot bigger hassle than just handing out t-shirts, and I don't know any ride managers who want more hassles. It's rule 16.8, if you want to look it up.

    There will certainly be debate ongoing. As you say, some very good riders may be hurt by this, and that sucks. But the mess has got to be cleaned up. If AERC doesn't help with the cleanup, I'm afraid it's going to get sullied by the mud that has already been ignored too long.

    1. Thank you! And interesting that we have a rule establishing extra hurdles to giving valuable prizes - I'm really glad they established that rule. I think it's helped shape the sport into something I'm proud to be a part of.

    2. I think adding the hurdles was an excellent idea. AERC as a group stridently avoids any unnecessary requirements or prohibitions, but we don't mind making bad ideas seem really unappealing.

      I wish I could think of a similar strategy to address the "helmet" issue. Thoughts?

  2. A very interesting read Funder. And good for you for putting your opinion out there. The good people need to stay vocal because quietly going about your business sure doesn't shut the not-so-great horse people down.

    I remember going to Walking Horse shows when I was in Alabama and thinking how cool they looked...but they didn't move like the horse in the video. I watched that video and all I could think was, 'His hocks, his poor, poor hocks'.

    1. Champagne Watchout is one of the nicest-moving TWH I've seen. Here's a clip of him (the buckskin, it's really obvious!) in the ring at the World Grand Championships against a bunch of padded horses.
      They changed the rules after his appearance and ONLY padded horses are shown in that class now. The TWHBEA is just awful. Their poor hocks indeed!

    2. Wow, thank you for that link. Interesting to watch him just gaiting away from the other horses. Can't tell how much of that is being on the inside track, but he's so oily-moving! Really different.

  3. The FEI is corrupt, period. It's corrupt in eventing, in dressage, in driving, in reining, in jumpers. The rules regularly get ignored and top riders get away with murder. As a mild dressage example, check out the blue tongue video:
    Yes, that guy was rollkuring his horse SO HARD that the horse's tongue was blue and hanging out of his mouth.
    And then check out how the FEI let that guy get away with it:
    One of many, many examples.

    1. I remember the Blue Tongue Video, but I missed the followup. What a strong stance against hyperflexion. :rolleyes:

  4. Endurance is endurance, no matter who sanctions it. And Endurance across much of the rest of the world is an FEI-sanctioned sport: the US is somewhat unique in that it is sanctioned first via AERC. I do not agree that AERC boycotting FEI events creates a solution to the problems that have been identified. Surely creations can be identified by staying at the table and communicating.

    If AERC does not sanction FEI events, FEI can choose to accept an alternative sanctioning body to represent the US. Do we want to lose our voice? I think not.

    FEI events are definitely not for everybody - but they are the link for endurance on a global scale. And they do create participation in 100-mile events that many other sanctioned events do not.

    I'm not in favor of losing access to 100-mile events. And I'm not in favor of losing our voice at the worldwide endurance table.

    1. (Kevin, your comment came across as a triple post, so I deleted two of them, which is my usual policy with duplicates.)

      Glad to hear the other point of view from a racer I respect!

    2. I don't want to disagree with Kevin, whom I respect. However, staying with FEI is "doing what we're doing and expecting the results to change."

      And that's not a thing.


  5. Glad to know I am not waving the flag of amateur sport all by my lonesome. The motion on the table gives FEI a choice. If they clean up their act there is no problem. It mystifies me why our USA riders want to compete on that unlevel playing field. I do respect many of our elite riders, but not to the tune of turning a blind eye to horse welfare issues.

  6. When horses are dropping dead, we're doing something very, very wrong. When those deaths are being swept under the rug, we know it and we're refusing to change it.

    I have always been so proud to be an endurance rider. I have bragged about how endurance competitors know their horses better than those I have met in other sports. I pride myself on the conditioning it takes to get a horse successful beyond the LD level.

    After competing on an FEI horse at the FEI level, my eyes have been opened to a side of the sport that I believed COULDN'T exist.

    I am competitive by nature. I love to go fast. I love to win. I refuse to do it at the expense of the horse.

  7. The two sports - USA endurance riding, and FEI endurance racing - are so different they are not on the same planet. but the fact that the average consumer can't tell the difference between the 2, since they are both 'endurance' spells big trouble. And I still don't get WHY US endurance riders would want to participate in UAE rides or against the UAE, for example in the Great Britain World Endurance Championship last year, since in my own opinion, the race was already set up for the winner beforehand, but what do I know, but then, I have no competitive bones in my body, so maybe getting a bronze medal, or almost getting a medal, still means something even if winners are in some instance known to be cheaters. ? But what do I know.
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  8. The place where we all agree, where we all meet up, is that we all want what's best and right for our horses. No-one here is recommending we turn a blind eye: quite to the contrary. My standpoint is that we maintain our seat at the table so as to engage in an effective dialogue to address the issues at hand.

    I also believe that disconnecting ties with FEI events in the US adds more doubt to the long-term health and sustainability of the already precarious state of 100-mile events in this country. No matter how we feel as AERC-only riders at dual-sanctioned events; their very presence on our ride calendars add choices and opportunities for us to participate in 100-mile events.

  9. I've heard the view here in equestrian circles in Britain that the UAE 'runs endurance' because they have so much financial clout. There are accounts of bribery - five figure sums have been mentioned - to keep quiet about cheating. I've seen additional trail markers put out by supporters of certain teams who are fast but couldn't map read to save their lives. And the leadership of the sport simply attacks anyone who dares criticise. A couple of years ago the police were called to an endurance event not far from here because of the conduct of some riders. I wish you well in standing against the FEI.

  10. D*mn you, Funder, for making me do research instead of working. Now I'm going to be up until midnight finishing up.

    Many of the FEI riders who come under the "trouble" heading have large barns filled with the best of the best, select that "best" horse for the day and the horse never competes again. Of course there are exceptions, but it's the "disposable horse" attitude that I think causes us the most difficulty.

    With that in mind, I went back to see what the horses in the Tevis video* have done since 2007:

    (* I was speed-reading and missed the part where Funder thanked me for the video, was watching it and thought "this video looks familiar... have I watched this before...?... who else videos Tevis...?... uh... hang on.. isn't this my video??" ::roll eyes::)

    * * *

    GE Cyclone - 2125 lifetime miles; 2009 - 16 starts-15 completions (believe the owner was aiming at the BC Award, which he either got or came really close to getting); 2011 - 9th at Tevis; 2012 - "tied" for 1st at Tevis (they didn't allow ties, so he shows as 2nd)

    Shasr Red Stone Rocket (this horse has the most gorgeous trot of any I watched at vet-in that year - at 1:15 - the video doesn't come close to doing it justice) - 1750 lifetime miles; 2008 - 3rd at Swanton 75. This horse was winding down his career in 2007

    "Murphy" (Skipa Slipa On Ice), a registered paint - 2690 lifetime miles; 2007 - 1st and BC American River 70, 4th Patriot 100, 2nd NASTR 75, 6th Tevis, 3rd Virginia City 100 (six weeks after Tevis); went on to do another 500 miles during the following four years and is now retired on Pam's property

    She's a Steele - 1605 lifetime miles; horse changed hands and did another 350 miles over the next four years; competing in 2013 at LD

    Sancja - 2465 lifetime miles; 2007 - 8th at Tevis, 7th at Virginia City (six weeks later); 2008 - three days at Cuyama 50s, 16th at Patriot 100, two days at Cuneo Creek 50s; 2009 - 4th NASTR 75; 2010 - 6 completions, five of them in Top Ten; 2011 - two days at Cuyama 50s, two days at Lost Padres 50s; horse is still competing in 50s and LD in 2013; Sancja lives in her front yard in a horse set-up that I envy every time I pass their house

    Maksymilian - 1315 lifetime miles; 2008 - two days at Buck Meadows 50s, 1st and BC at Californios 100, 1st and BC at Swanton 100; 2011 three days at Death Valley 50s and two days at Buck Meadows 50s with Jay's son Tristan who graduated from his pony; did another 680 competition miles after the 2007 Tevis finish.

    Oso Denmark - 2535 lifetime miles; 2008 - 17th at Swanton 100; did another 450 competition miles after the 2007 Tevis finish.

    * * *

    Not really what I'd call "disposable", but illustrates the different mindset between AERC and some FEI riders.

    I support the motion - particularly the attempt to reduce the flat-track distance racing aspect of FEI that is becoming more and more common.

  11. I also did a bunch of research instead of what I'd been planning to do today! I dug up all the results for all the AERC 100s 2011-2013 and cross-checked them with the FEI 160ks offered during the same time, and my initial conclusion is that five ride-conglomerations might die: Goethe, DuPuis, FITS, Centella's Patriots rides, and Ft. Howes / ZTEC.

    2013 had 33 hundreds with at least one starter. Ten rides with >20 entries, and seven more with >10. Four of those larger rides are on my "maybe it would die without FEI" list. But Tevis, Vermont, VC, 20MT, Sunriver, and Big Horn would still happen, and all the Very Small Hundreds are going to live or die based on AERC members.

    I can't stare at the screen any longer. I'll try to make better sense of the numbers and put up a more comprehensive post about The State of Hundreds this weekend.

  12. With regard to the "precarious state of 100-mile events" - the basic fact is ride managers will not put on 100 mile events without having riders to participate in them. Chicken and egg. So to get more 100s, we need to encourage more Joe Riders to compete at the 100 mile distance. To do that, we need to persuade them that 100 miles is do-able and not something that only super-horses and super-athletes can attain*.

    I don't believe the FEI mindset does that. Is an FEI 100 completed in 10 hours going to convince Joe Rider that "he too can do 100s"? I very much doubt it. Unlike AERC rides where you can race or ride-the-distance-to-the-best-of-your-ability, FEI purely promotes the racing aspect.

    Saying that we have to have FEI rides to get 100s is a self-fulfilling prophecy - what you'll end up with is a bunch of FEI 100s (ideally the easier and faster the better, so that one can obtain one's 11.5 hour Certificate of Capability) that Joe Rider has absolutely no interest in participating in.

    (* IMO Patti Stedman's road to 100s articles that she did in Endurance News a few years back were by far the best example of this and probably that sort of thing is what we need more of).

  13. right now i'm trying to find slow endurance rides in europe, meaning the terrain would disincline someone from riding over 10mph. so far, no luck. i've found a few "local" rides that start and finish on a standardbred racetrack, the first 4 miles are circling that track. niiiiice *sigh*

    thanks for this post funder - i have one to complement it based on a "Distanz Aktuell" (Germany's EN) article i found recently about "to win is to win." just gotta get it written.

    @ merri - please write more on this topic. you know so much cuz you've been everywhere.

  14. Hi, I found your blog from a link on ABC hoofcare on FB. I too have a TWH, and want to do at least LD with him. I am learning to trim my own horses, and LOVE the ABC group. I recommend it to you!

  15. Thanks for writing about this issue, Funder. I used to compete a lot when I was growing up. I did local western/english/speed event stuff on my all-purpose Arabian mare who was discarded by a 12-year old girl when the mare got older (13) and sick (the owner's fault). The girl got a former Super Horse (national quarter horse all-purpose title, if I remember correctly) to compete in 4-H shows. I bought her cast-off for $550, got the horse back into shape and good health, and did anything and everything I could on her. I don't know what abuse was heaped on her before I got her, but I know it was something because of the way she acted about certain things, but that horse was the best horse I have had so far and she was priceless to me.

    I took a break from competition to go to college and start my Adult Life, but I got into dressage schooling shows when I got my current horse. I eventually came to the realization that while I think dressage serves a valuable purpose as a training method, it should be a means to an end, not the end itself. Even at schooling level shows, I saw stuff that I didn't think was right, and I phased out of competing. Then I saw the dressage competition in either the 2008 or 2012 Olympics. I watched a top rider's performance and expected to be awed. Instead, I saw the horse totally freak out and literally back up for half the arena. He was completely the opposite of submissive and clearly really stressed out. This rider should have been disqualified. Instead, she got a really good score and I think a silver medal. It was horrifying. And there's the hyperflexion debate which shouldn't even be a debate. It's abusive, period.

    This is what the FEI and international competition have done to what should be the most beautiful sport in the world. And I used to think that if I just did the schooling shows, I wasn't a part of that world. But I was giving my money to an organization that was a part of that world and at some point I realized I simply couldn't do it anymore. I don't want one penny of my money used to support abusive practices.

    I can see Kevin's point about wanting to stay at the table, but it isn't something I could live with. Horses are majestic, noble creatures who amazingly do what we want them to do most of the time. That kind of cross-species communication is beyond special and the idea that I would be supporting even a dialogue with an organization that cares more about its sanctioning, awards, and status is anathema to me.

    I would hate to lose the opportunity to compete at AERC events, but I would rather lose the sport of endurance riding altogether than support an organization that allows horses to be drugged and tortured to win. I'll definitely be paying close attention to how this issue is handled...

  16. There was a lot of discussion about it at PNER convention. In our region, we're fortunate to have at least a couple riders from Canada come to convention to give us an outside view. Having heard from FEI people from both USA and Canada, I felt a lot more equipped to have an opinion on the subject than I did based on the many FB rants I had read!

    At the end of the PNER discussion, I voted with our regional organization to oppose AERC distancing itself from FEI. My personal reason, first and foremost, is that if AERC isn't the affiliate for endurance to USEF (who, in turn, is the organization that actually has a voice within FEI), then the affiliate will almost certainly become AHA. As an off-breed rider, I don't want competitive endurance becoming any more of an arabs-only club than it already is.

    (And honestly, I think we need only look to the breeding and management practices at the highest levels of TWHBEA -performance-, AQHA -halter-, and, oh, just about everything AKC does, to see what happens when "the breed" becomes more important than either the purpose of the sport or the welfare of the individual animal.)

    I hate drugging and cheating as much as the next guy, but AERC is a tiny cog in a much bigger machine. AERC is just one organization among dozens of sports that report to USEF. USEF is one organization among dozens that report to FEI. It is easy for us as Americans to believe ourselves to be exceptional, and exceptionally important on the world equestrian stage, but that is not so in the eyes FEI. (If you imagine FEI as a democracy, think of USEF as one congressman and the AERC as one staffer to the congressman and you and me as constituents in the congressman's district.) The middle east will not care that AERC is stepping back because they know someone—probably AHA—will step in to take its place. If anything, they will be glad to see AERC go because it means there might be one less team of watchdogs at the individual events to insist that the control judges on site actually enforce the rules. (We heard an interesting anecdote from either Carol or Terre about this happening in GB in 2012.)

    Ultimately, I feel that the move to stop co-sanctioning would be largely symbolic and largely meant to pacify a small, vocal contingent of AERC members more than it is meant to effect change in the middle east.

    In my opinion, it would accomplish nothing in the region where the cheating is happening while simultaneously taking away what little voice ethical American riders currently have on the world stage.

  17. As an european I must disagree with lots of what has been told here before. Money buys things but you can not blame all FEI riders on what some small circle, that happens to have money, does. Most FEI riders put their horse first. What you have done here is unfair and rude for most european endurance riders.

    Qualification rules for individual countries may varie but in the end, all european horses MUST go trough qualification stages before entering to FEI level. It is long and slow process that ofthen is extra hard due to countries being so small, having few horses (compared to America) and having so few rides in one year that lots of good riders and horses will never make it to FEI level.


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