Die “FEI Kontroverse” – die AQHA nimmt Stellung

(Ramona Billing) Vor einigen Wochen kündigte die FEI die Zusammenarbeit mit der AQHA und der NRHA in Sachen Reining auf. In einem sehr interessanten Kommentar “The FEI Controversy… or is it? nimmt AQHA Executive Vice President Craig P. Huffhines dazu Stellung. Tatsächlich erfolgte die Kündigung der FEI ohne vorherige Mitteilung bzw. Kontaktaufnahme mit den beiden Verbänden. Huffhines kommt zu dem Schluss, dass es letztlich mehr darum geht, wer das ‘Sagen’ hat als um die Sache selbst.

“For nearly 20 years, AQHA has had a relationship with the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), which is the international governing body for equestrian sports. FEI was first established in 1921 to unify rules related to Olympic equestrian sports that started in 1900. Today, the FEI is the governing body for Olympic and world equestrian jumping, dressage, eventing, driving, endurance, vaulting, reining and para-equestrian.  

AQHA’s
early interest in aligning with FEI was to foster the international
growth of one of our most popular disciplines, reining. AQHA helped
develop and formalize reining as an equestrian sport in 1949, with its
beginning stemming from the stock horse discipline, followed by the
evolution of the National Reined Cow Horse and National Reining Horse
associations. As you all know, further refinement of the horsemanship
art form came along and reining evolved into a more specific and
specialized discipline that we know today. But, its roots have always
been with AQHA and the stock horse.

In
2000, and through a collaborative effort from AQHA and NRHA leadership,
a cooperation agreement was formalized with the FEI to establish
reining as an internationally recognized sport with the goal to someday
introduce the sport into Olympic equestrian competition. To become an
Olympic sport, FEI would be required to become an international
governing body, overseeing rulemaking authority for welfare,
classification and judging of the sport. From those early days, AQHA has
had a cooperation agreement with NRHA and the FEI that has governed
reining at FEI-approved events. Many or perhaps most FEI reining events
have been dual-accredited AQHA or NRHA and FEI events. As a result,
reining has been a recognized international sport and part of the World
Equestrian Games, which are held every four years.

On
November 19, 2018, AQHA was notified in an email of the termination of
FEI’s cooperative agreement with AQHA and NRHA. Shortly after the email
was sent, FEI released a statement to the equine industry regarding the
termination. This decision was determined in an FEI General Assembly
meeting in Bahrain and then immediately released publically with no
direct conversation with the parties involved. 

FEI’s
official statement read, “In order to ensure the integrity of the
discipline and maintain a level playing field for all athletes competing
in FEI reining, the agreement with these two bodies has now been
terminated. Both the AQHA and NRHA have been informed that a binding
commitment to implement the FEI rules on anti-doping, stewarding
requirements and the age of competing horses are prerequisites for any
future cooperation.”

There are several discussion points that need to be clarified regarding this statement:

  1. AQHA
    was bundled with NRHA in the cooperation agreement, and there was not
    an opportunity for a unilateral discussion between AQHA and FEI
    regarding AQHA compliance with FEI rules before the agreement
    termination was decided by FEI. However, the door may be open if AQHA
    and FEI foresee a benefit to alignment.
  2. AQHA
    has met or exceeded the requirements for medication testing and the FEI
    anti-doping policy and has honored reciprocity requirements on all
    violations of medication penalties that FEI has administered. 
  3. AQHA
    invests significantly in the stewardship of our sanctioned events,
    including all championship shows, and is working to find ways to better
    oversee the welfare of our horses at more weekend events, encompassing
    2,800 AQHA-approved shows. FEI and AQHA see equestrian welfare as
    equally important and paramount to the future of our industry.
  4. Pursuant
    to the cooperation agreement, all events specifically organized for
    horses 7 years of age and older are to be held under the jurisdiction of
    FEI. AQHA does not offer a class that is specifically organized for
    horses 7 years of age and older. AQHA classifies the senior age division
    as a horse that is 6 years old or older. FEI, perhaps because of its
    warmblood breed culture, classifies many of its disciplines for senior
    horses as those that are 7 years old or older. This stems from a culture
    of later-maturing breeds and a welfare concern regarding when the
    bigger warmblood breeds should start competition. As you are aware, our
    AQHA breeding stock mature much more quickly and our business models
    reflect a desire to start American Quarter Horses at an earlier age with
    the junior division (horses ages 3 to 5) and the senior division
    (horses 6 or older). NRHA futurities are specifically designed for
    3-year-olds. 

Just
before Christmas, AQHA staff – Chief Show Officer Pete Kyle, Chief
International Officer Anna Morrison and I – spoke by phone with Bettina
de Rham, who is the FEI director of dressage, para-equestrian dressage,
reining and vaulting. Here is a brief summary of that conversation:

  1. We
    stressed our disappointment in having no personal contact or prior
    notice from FEI of its decision to terminate the cooperation agreement
    and release a public statement. Reining originated in the United States
    under the umbrella of AQHA. As such, AQHA does not believe that the
    sport and equine industry benefited from such approach.
  2. FEI
    recognizes that AQHA is compliant and aligned with it on its
    anti-doping policy. FEI does, however, take issue that NRHA’s standards
    are not aligned in certain respects.
  3. We
    explained that the issue of age divisions between AQHA and FEI is less
    of a welfare issue and more of a marketplace issue. In fact, Bettina
    explained that the FEI committee is debating whether or not the age
    break for the senior horse division should be lowered to 6 years of age.
    Of course, every time you change a classification, it changes the
    competition by introducing new horses, which as we all know can be
    extremely political. This is a political marketplace issue and not a
    welfare issue. We believe FEI should strongly consider aligning with the
    original authors of the sport on this issue.
  4. Bettina
    stated that FEI will continue to oversee FEI reining competition. What
    we anticipate, however, is that FEI is going to require that an
    exhibitor and horse solely align with FEI rules and the failure to do so
    will result in the horse and exhibitor being considered ineligible to
    compete in FEI events. If this is the case, and we hope it’s not, then this becomes more about membership control than advancing the industry. 

In
closing, I want you all to know that we all have mixed feelings about
this issue. On the one hand, we believe that industry collaboration and
giving competitors opportunities across organizations is a big positive
for the industry. However, we are disappointed in the way FEI handled
the situation, and we are interested in collaboration, not elitism.
Because the United States Olympic Committee has stated that it will not
be recognizing any additional equestrian competition as Olympic sports
and other equine events are being considered for removal, we must
evaluate the value that alignment with FEI has other than providing an
additional competition venue for international AQHA members. We
recognize this value and commit to supporting the opportunity for our
international members to have access to high-quality reining competition
in which to participate with their American Quarter Horses, whether in
jointly sanctioned AQHA-FEI events or not. 

Relative
to animal welfare, AQHA has been a leader in protecting the horse and
instrumental in investment in drug testing and enforcement of
best-practice compliance, so we agree with FEI on that front. We will
continue to communicate with FEI officials in the spirit of assuring
there will be additional competition opportunities for our members
around the world either through FEI, AQHA or our alliance partner, NRHA.

As
for the Olympic dream for reining, I’m afraid economics have more to
say about the USOC’s decisions on equestrian sports or for that matter
adding any new sports to the Olympic venue. And as far as FEI’s World
Equestrian Games are concerned, economic problems may dictate its
future, as well.

Craig Huffhines

Craig P. Huffhines

Foto: courtesy AQHA