Discord concerning anti-doping, stewarding, and horse age has led to a rupture of the agreement between the international governing body for equestrian sports and two major organizations that manage reining competitions throughout the U.S.
The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) announced last month that it would sever its cooperation agreement with the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) and the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), effective immediately. FEI leaders said the NRHA and the AQHA were “in breach of the terms” of that agreement, which led to the decision.
“The best welfare standards have to be in place for competing horses to ensure the integrity of the sport and maintain a level playing field across all our disciplines,” FEI Reining Director Bettina De Rham told The Horse. “The AQHA and the NRHA do not have the same rules in place as the FEI, and the FEI officials working onsite at all FEI events must ensure all FEI protocols are not only respected but also enforced. Therefore, the FEI officials at FEI reining events must adhere to the FEI rules.”
Shortly before the 2014 Alltech World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, the three organizations entered into a “cooperative agreement” that would gave the FEI sole jurisdiction over reining competitions for horses aged 7 years and over, leaving competitions for younger horses under the management of the NRHA and the AQHA. However, the FEI determined the organizations no longer adhered to the established agreement.
“The terms of the AQHA and NRHA cooperation agreement with the FEI are confidential, and we will not disclose further information on the breach of the agreement,” De Rham said.
The NRHA said giving sole jurisdiction to the FEI for events for older horses caused unnecessary hardship for organizers.
“After discussions with show management teams, we discovered how complex and expensive this would be for them,” said NRHA Vice President Mike Hancock. “In the end, we felt it would be more detrimental to the growth of older horse competition to move forward with this concept.”
The age requirement also caused issues for the AQHA, which doesn’t have a specific competitive division that would allow the FEI to have full jurisdiction according to the agreement terms.
“AQHA does not offer a class that is specifically organized for horses 7 years of age and older,” the organization stated on its website. “At AQHA events, American Quarter Horses in the open division compete in junior reining (ages 5 and under) or in senior reining (ages 6 and older).”
However, the AQHA said this doesn’t mean it doesn’t uphold the welfare and fair sport concerns raised by the FEI: “With respect to the welfare requirements addressed by the cooperation agreement, AQHA’s regulations and practices, in particular those associated with stewards and drug testing, are consistent with and meet such requirements,” it states. “Simply put, our top priority as an association of horsemen is the health and welfare of our sport and of this great animal.”
That doesn’t mean an end to FEI reining, however. “FEI reining will continue, and we have asked our stakeholders in the reining community to come to us and advise us what they want from FEI reining and the direction they’d like to see the discipline going in,” De Rham said. “This consultation process has already started.”
Meanwhile, both the AQHA and the NRHA have expressed an interest in revisiting an agreement with the FEI. “We’re hopeful to have more conversations with FEI in the future and prefer to keep that dialogue between the leadership of both organizations,” said NRHA representative Christa Morris-Stone, chief communications officer and assistant commissioner.
And the AQHA “disagrees with the allegation that AQHA has breached its agreement with FEI and welcomes continued dialogue with FEI,” the association said on its website. “As always, AQHA’s commitment to the sport of reining and to upholding the well-being of the American Quarter Horse in competition remains a top priority.”
The FEI is “open to discussions” with these organizations, but with a clear requirement if negotiations are to advance. Discussions “must be based on the commitment to implement the FEI rules on anti-doping, stewarding requirements, and the age of competing horses,” De Rham said.