Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A Program for Welfare of the Endurance Horse

by Stagg Newman

A Program for Welfare of the Horse
An Open letter to the AERC BoD and Members

AERC in the past took the initial lead in establishing standards for endurance riding that promoted the welfare of the horse but has lost that leadership position as discussed below.  AERC should reclaim the global leadership role for welfare of the horse in the sport of endurance.  To do so AERC should undertake a comprehensive program to protect our horses that includes
-research, and
-rule changes

AERC is to be commended for past actions to protect the welfare of the horse.  AERC was formed in the 1970s to provide protection for horses competing in endurance at a time when horse fatalities in endurance racing were common and there were no or minimal rules.  AERC brought veterinary controls to the sport.  The initial AERC rules fit on one piece of paper.  Underlying those rules was an assumption that endurance riders were knowledgeable, experienced and responsible equestrians.  Most endurance riders had grown up with horses.  In the ‘80s as a result of a still unacceptable fatality rate, particularly experiences at the Tevis ride, some leaders in AERC started advocating for more stringent rules.   Around 1990, AERC developed the current Fit to Continue criteria that became the global standard for vet checks in endurance competitions.  In the 2000s AERC led the way in investigation and publication of horse fatalities, i.e. transparency.  That is an admirable foundation.

However, we have not successfully reduced the fatality rate in the past 15 years.   Moreover, the reality is AERC is no longer regarded globally as a leader in the sport, particularly with respect to protecting the welfare of the horse.  Many other national and local organizations have taken stronger actions recently than AERC to protect our horses (see Appendix A).  Therefore, we need to ask – and demand an honest answer -- whether the original assumption that all AERC riders are knowledgeable, experienced and responsible equestrians is really valid.  In fact, many endurance riders like this author did not grow up riding horses.  Rather many of us started riding horses after we were well into our adult years and have learned to be equestrians as we did endurance rides. 
The articles by Dr. Jerry Gillespie, Chair of the Research Committee, and Dr. Jay Mero, Chair of the Veterinary Committee, in the January EN make a strong case for why AERC needs to do more to protect the welfare of our horses.

So we now need to ask what more AERC needs to do. I would like to engage the membership in discussing this issue leading up to the AERC convention in Atlanta which appropriately this year has the theme “Horses First”.

First we need to acknowledge that endurance riding does bring increased risk to our horses.  Olin Balch on the Research Committee has done an excellent job of analyzing the fatality record for the period of 2002 to 2012.  I would recommend reading his one page report on the AERC web site.  The following table from his report indicates the risk inherent in our sport. 

Table 2 -  Effect of ride length on fatalities: '02 – '12
All ridesLD's50 milers75 milers100 milers
All fatalities801142120
Starts per fatality2,9268,0333,0384,358488
Exercise-related Fatalities*58934114
Starts per endurance
related fatality
*Exercise-related deaths  are those associated  with the exercise demands of the sport such as with metabolic disease induced by the demands of endurance riding.   Non-exercise-related deaths include but were not limited to falls off trails, vehicle collisions, nighttime corral escapes, coincidental colics, sudden exsanguinations, and an enterolith obstruction of the colon. 
As two reference points to compare to this table use the following:
1. for horses in the general equine population, in the 5 to 20 age category over a two day period the data available indicates an expectation of about 1 fatality per 14,000 horses.
2.  for horses entered in flat track dirt racing in the U.S., the data available indicates an expectation of about 1 fatality per 588 starts.
An oversimplification of the statistical implications of this is that a horse incurs about a 5 fold increase in risk as a result of entering an endurance competition compared to staying at home.  Horses entering a 100-mile competition are at similar risk of dying as a result of going to and entering the event as a horse entering a flat track race in the U.S.   For this author who has focused on and completed well over 50 100-mile competitions, this was a sobering statistic.

So we need to ask what we can do to mitigate this risk.
We should analyze steps that our sport can take to improve the welfare of the horse and mitigate risks in three areas:
I.  Horse and Rider Qualification
II.  Ride Design
III. Veterinary Control

Appendix A provides examples from either local organizations (e.g. the Western States Trail Ride, aka Tevis) or national organizations of other countries (their equivalent of AERC) of controls that have been implemented to improve the welfare of the horses.   These examples are given to initiate discussion and not necessarily to advocate for these ideas.  Each idea needs to be analyzed on its merits and applicability for AERC.

We in AERC should compile a far more complete list of ideas from
-the ideas of our membership
-the practices of other local and national organizations
-a survey of the research literature including the work of the AERC Research Committee

These ideas can form the basic input for developing a long term program of education, research, and improved rules for the welfare of the horse.  The author understands that a set of near term actions is being considered by the Vet Committee and the Research Committee and commends that effort.  This effort is intended to complement that effort to create an on-going program that improves the welfare of our horses.

Stagg Newman
AERC Member 6477
Past President of AERC

Appendix A – Early Draft
Local and National Endurance Organization Rules to Promote the Welfare of the Horse
Examples – not a complete list
The following list is intended to stimulate discussion.  The author is not advocating for these ideas per se nor against them.
I.  Horse and Ride Qualification Rules
A.  Australia
From http://www.aera.asn.au/

R3    Novice Rider
3.1     A person is deemed to be a novice rider until the requirements of the following sub-rules have been complied with:
a)     The person must successfully complete two affiliated training rides before entering an affiliated endurance ride as a novice rider. Logbook(s) or vet cards must be presented to prove completion.
b)    The novice rider must then enter a sufficient number of affiliated endurance rides as a novice rider to successfully complete 240 kilometres at any time and in any riding section (excluding training rides). Logbook(s) must be presented to substantiate the distance completed.
3.1          When the requirements of the above rule have been complied with, the person will be issued with a standard Membership Card by the State Management Committee.
3.2          Pending receipt of the standard Membership Card the person may enter any affiliated endurance ride and is not required to enter as a novice rider, provided they show sufficient proof by presenting Logbooks as referred to above with their novice rider endorsed Membership Card.
3.3          A novice rider must not be entered in an affiliated endurance ride when the total distance of the ride is more than 120 kilometres to be ridden in one day.
3.4          Novice riders must attend the pre-ride briefing and will not be permitted to participate in the ride if they have not attended.
3.5          The minimum riding time for all novice riders in each leg of an endurance ride shall comply with one of the following:
a)     shall comply with a minimum riding time determined by the ride committee in consultation with the Chief Steward and Head Veterinarian.  The minimum riding time shall be calculated by dividing the distance of the ride or leg by 14 km/h or less;
b)    shall ride behind a pace rider as defined in the TRAINING RIDE RULES. The pace rider shall not complete the distance of any riding leg in a time less than that as determined in R.3.6a) above.
Endurance Rider
4.1     An endurance rider is a member who has successfully completed 240 kilometres as a novice rider and been issued a standard Membership Card and who has not been reduced to novice status by any provision of a rule.
B.  Brazil
Brazil now requires several novice (LD level) competitions before a horse can compete in an open level competition (details to be supplied later)

C.  Great Britain
Endurance Great Britain (EGB) requires horses and riders to compete at a novice (30-50 km) before they can move to the open level (equivalent to endurance riders of 50 miles or more in the U.S.)
From http://www.endurancegb.co.uk/html/novice.html

Novice Level Riders and Ride Rules
The minimum age for any horse to take part in a Graded Endurance Ride (GER) is 5 years. The age of a horse is deemed to change on 1st January of the current year irrespective of the actual birth date during that year
A Novice horse aged 5 and in its first season may only compete at Novice Level. All Novice horses in their first season may not start in more than ten Graded Endurance Rides (GERs) and must only start rides to a maximum distance of 450km whether or not the rides are completed successfully. A horse presented to the pre-ride veterinary inspection is considered to have started the ride.  
Rides available to Novice Horse/Rider combinations are from 30-50km and are to be completed at between 8-15kph.
A Novice Level horse aged 6 yrs or over in its first season may complete Open qualification ready to compete at Advanced level from the start of its second season - providing the maximum distance is not exceeded.
A horse and rider must compete at the lowest qualification for the combination. For example, an Open Level rider riding a Novice Level horse can only compete at Novice Level.
First season horses may complete their novice and open qualifications, providing age requirements are satisfied. They must not upgrade or compete at advanced level within one season. 
However riders may progress to Advanced Level within one season.
Minimum Requirements for Novice Horse or Rider to Progress to Open Level

Minimum age of horseRide TypesMinimum No of Successful CompletionsDistance km +/-5%Conditions
5GER (Graded Endurance Rides)330-50None (rides may be completed in any order of distance)

Horses may not compete in Open GERs until they are 6years old.
Furthermore EGB has additional requirement to compete at open rides of 65-80 km before horses or riders can advance to the advanced level.
From http://www.endurancegb.co.uk/html/open.html
A first season horse, which has completed qualification to Open, may not start GERs exceeding a total distance of 450km during that season.  
Rides available to Open Horse/Rider combinations are GERs of up to 90km in one day or a maximum of 130km over two consecutive days. The rides should be ridden at speeds between 10-18kph.
However, an Open Level horse/rider combination may, if they wish enter a Novice class.  When an Open level horse and rider enter a Novice class this must be indicated clearly at the top of the vet sheet prior to presenting for vetting.  Failure to do so may result in the horse being classified as Open/Advanced. If an Open level horse enters a novice class then it will not receive grading points – only distance points will be awarded. 
The speed parameters in a Novice class are 8-15kph.  If entering a Pleasure Ride (PR) the speed parameters are 8-12kph.

Minimum Requirements for Open Level Horse or Rider to Progress to Advanced 

Minimum age of horseRide TypesMinimum No f Successful CompletionsDistance mms (+/-5%)Conditions
6GER265-80kmAt least one must be 80 km in one day

D.  Tevis
The Western States 100 mile ride, the foundation ride of our sport now has explicit rider qualifications and strong recommendations on horse qualifications.
From http://www.teviscup.org/

“Riders must be qualified by having completed a minimum number of sanctioned distance riding miles. You are qualified if, at the time of application, you have completed at least 300 cumulative lifetime miles of competition in AERC, NATRC, or competitive rides of 50 miles or longer approved as equivalent by WSTF ride management, or you have completed the Tevis Cup Ride. Riders fully completing the Tevis Educational Ride and Seminars will be given credit for 150 miles for a two day ride and 75 miles for a one day ride toward the 300 mile requirement. The Veterinary Committee of the Western States Trail Ride strongly recommends that horses entered in the Ride have at least 300 miles of completed distance competition in events of 50 miles or longer.
II.  Ride Design
A.  Australia
12.1      The heart rate is to be set no higher than a maximum of 60 beats per minute, unless run in conjunction with an FEI ride as per Rule V9.
12.2        Rides of 119 kilometres or less should have a minimum of 3 legs if vet-gate-into-hold procedures are to be used. The last leg should be shorter in distance and of lesser intensity where possible.
12.3        Rides of 120 kilometres to less than 160kilometres should have a minimum of 4 legs if vet-gate-into-hold procedures are to be used. The last two legs should be shorter in distance and of lesser intensity, where possible.
12.4        Rides of 160 kilometres are to have a minimum of 5 legs if vet-gate-into-hold procedures are to be used. The last two legs should be shorter in distance and of lesser intensity, where possible.
From http://www.aera.asn.au/

B.  Brazil
Brazil now has a standard that all holds must be a minimum of 40 minutes so horses can rehydrate and get nourishment.
C.  Biltmore Challenge
The Biltmore Challenge has the ride finish line 1.2 miles away from camp in large field for safe area for race at finish away from all dirt roads that could have car traffic.
D.  Vermont
The Vermont rides now frequently require a 10 to 15 minute mandatory hold between 10 and 15 miles out for horses to have an opportunity to rehydrate.  This also breaks the early race brain mentality for excitable horses.
E.  Research from Canada by Drs. Lindinger and Ecker (need to get more precise details and references)
-the sweat loss early in a ride has a much heavier concentration of electrolytes and thus is far more detrimental to a horse
-horses need to have an opportunity to rehydrate within the first 16 miles or so of the start of the ride to avoid getting into a substantive hydration deficit situations.  Moreover horses should as the ride goes beyond the 30 miles mark or so accumulate at least 2 minutes of hold time for each mile of trail covered.
III.  Veterinary Control
A.  Australia  -
From http://www.aera.asn.au/
13.1        The following guidelines are to ensure horse welfare issues can always be dealt with, especially where horses are required to be treated during a ride.
13.2        For all rides with a standard 30 minute veterinary check there should be a minimum of two veterinarians for up to 60 horses. For each additional 30 horses, another veterinarian should be provided.
13.3        For vet-gate-into-hold rides, the recommended ratio is one veterinarian per 15 horses.
13.4        For rides of 120 kilometres or more, a separate additional treatment veterinarian is required, present at the ride base.  Note that these ratios do not necessarily apply to the pre-ride vet check.

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