IT’S TIME to move on. That’s the message His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, sought to deliver after the endurance event at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina, descended into a farce. “We need to be optimistic about things even in the worst circumstances. It is better to forget about this race and whatever has happened here and we must hope to achieve better results in the future. Smile and be optimistic and good will come,” Sheikh Hamdan said. “The organising committee was not qualified to organise a race of this high a quality and that’s perhaps the reason for so many mistakes particularly the one at the start of the competition.”
The scepter of potential disaster hung over the event with Hurricane Florence expected to wreak havoc in many states along or close the east coast of the United States, including North Carolina. But that was nothing compared to the disasters that struck the event in terms of the numerous bad decisions taken by organisers, which led to utter chaos and ultimately resulted in the competition being scrapped altogether. Sheikh Hamdan had won the individual championship at the previous event in Normandy, France, on the back of Yamamah and despite looking forward to defending his title, the Dubai Crown Prince decided it was best to withdraw from the event on the basis of principle. Asked to change his horse if he wanted to ride in an event where the distance had been slashed from 160km to 121km, Sheikh Hamdan decided it was better to just pull out.
“After a long wait after the first stage, it was weird that the technical committee came and proposed that I change my horse. I could not do that so I refused and opted to withdraw from the tournament because I did not want to use another horse,” he said. “Our horses are trained for these races specifically and to change them just like that, was not something I was not going to do. I wished the other UAE riders good luck in their endeavour of trying to do the UAE proud.” Three other top UAE riders participated in the endurance competition: Sheikh Rashid Dalmook Al Maktoum, Sheikh Hamed Dalmook Al Maktoum and Abdullah Ghanim Al Marri.
All three were eliminated over the course of the ride, and while Sheikh Rashid was eliminated in the third stage, Sheikh Hamed and Al Marri pulled out of the second. The entire event was a disaster. It started out as planned with rider and horse pairs needing to cover 160km, but at the end of the first phase, which saw groups of riders set out in different directions, organisers decided to cancel the original event and replace it with a shorter 121km race. That too was eventually scrapped with a few riders well into the third of four phases. The decision to cancel the race drew angry protests from the Spain and France, whose riders were at the top of the leaderboard at the time.
Even fans present let the organisers know their feelings, prompting the police and security personnel present to intervene and stop an imminent riot. Spain called on organisers to crown its rider Jaume Punti Dachs who led the race at the time it was called off, as champion, but the request was turned down as the race had not been completed. If that was not enough, race organisers even tried to change racing parameters at the start of the event. It was suggested that recovery times for horses between phases be brought down from 20 to 15 minutes and the minimum riding speed be reduced from 14kph to 12kph. While the FEI managed to have its way with the above rule changes, the UAE contingent led by Mohammed Issa Al Adhab, the Director General of Dubai Equestrian Club, managed to stop a third proposed change by organisers which concerned lowering the pulse rate of horses from 64bpm to 60bpm.
The UAE delegation managed to get the backing of 22 other contingents participating in the event which led to the scrapping of the proposal. Al Adhab said: “This definitely does not bode well for the sport of endurance but sometimes bad decisions are made because things are not thought out well and there is no proper structure.” Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) and Games officials cited heat, humidity and risky trail conditions in their decision to call off the event, after errors had already led to a false start in the morning. “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,” said Thomas Timmons, President of the Veterinary Commission at the Tryon Games.
Sheikh Hamdan added: “Endurance has become one of the top equestrian sports globally and a lot of it is down to the UAE’s efforts. The footprint of Emiratis in endurance riding is clear and unmistakable. “It is the support of our wise leadership that has reinvented and given new life to the sport of endurance and kept it among the top equestrian disciplines worldwide. We in the UAE are used to setting very high standards and it is our responsibility to ensure that the sport remains at the very top among equestrian disciplines.” HH Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Chairman of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sport, Chairman of the Bahrain Olympic Committee and Chairman of the Bahrain Royal Endurance Team, was highly critical of the organisation. He said: “It is the worst example of organisation that we have seen. I believe in doing what is right and I don’t want to see any of the riders having to suffer any form of injustice. The decisions taken by the committee were very unfair and the organisation of the competition was a farce.”