What is believed to be the most potentially damaging equestrian event ever attempted, wherein twenty-five tourists will pay a collective $130,000 to race 800 small horses one thousand kilometers across Mongolia at the height of summer, may be linked to leaders of the FEI and the United Arab Emirates. The Mongol Derby has been organized by an English tour operator named Tom Morgan, who has previously specialized in enticing foreigners to pay to race junk cars to distant foreign capitals. News that Morgan's company was staging the "biggest, baddest equine affair on the planet," has prompted the world famous equestrian trainer, Linda Tellington-Jones, to condemn the event.
"This abuse of horses must be addressed and stopped by people who love and respect horses. The Mongol Derby could have a negative impact on the endurance world where veterinary care of horses has been a priority for years," Tellington-Jones warned.
These worries are well founded, as Canadian Long Rider Bonnie Folkins has reported from Mongolia that the previous winter was so harsh the nation's horses were left perilously weak. This forced local organizers of the traditional Nadaam horse race to reduce the course by several miles. Though the small animals were only carrying child jockeys under the age of ten, eighteen horses died from exhaustion in the latest race.
In reaction to the Mongol Derby, riders in this year's famous North American Tevis Cup endurance race are being asked to wear orange ribbons as a sign of solidarity with the Mongolian horses and to sign the international petition protesting against the race, which has now gathered thousands of signatures worldwide.
With global condemnation growing, news reached the Long Riders' Guild that former English jockey, turned Morgan race rider, Richard Dunwoody, had pulled out of the event. In reaction to repeated criticism, he responded in an email, "Due to other commitments I am not now able to race in it, but am solely advising before the start."
Yet in a startling turn of events, the FEI Endurance Director contacted the Long Riders' Guild to announce that, despite their long silence on the race, the organization based in Switzerland directed him to journey to Morgan's office in Bristol on Friday so as to deliver a pledge of financial, medical and logistical support for the Mongol Derby.
Over the course of the last two months, FEI officials have either ignored or rebuffed the Long Riders' Guild and the international press on eleven different occasions. Emails have gone unanswered, phone calls were denied and attempts to reach the FEI president were thwarted. On the rare occasions when officials were eventually reached they stated the FEI could not engage in any discussion about the race because it violated the organization's principal rule that no sanctioned endurance race could exceed 160 kilometers. Plus, they added, Mongolia's membership in the organization had been suspended when that nation did not pay its FEI dues. Only last week British reporter Abi Butcher, of Horse & Hound magazine, was told, "The Derby is not run under FEI rules so has not been investigated."
Thus the unsolicited telephone call on Tuesday to Long Riders' HQ, from FEI endurance director Ian Williams, came as a surprise. He was ringing to inform the Guild that he and "the president" had been working behind the scenes for weeks, speaking to "Mongolian officials" and "officers of Section 8" (the geographic area which oversees Mongolia and that part of Asia). Williams went on to explain that he was flying to England on Friday, 24th July, so as to hold a private meeting with Tom Morgan at the Adventurists office in Bristol.
The FEI endurance director was going to Bristol to offer Morgan assistance from the international equestrian federation. The organisation would pay salaries, expenses and flights for top-notch endurance vets, including one from Kentucky, as well as various international endurance racing experts and officials, to travel to Mongolia for "the upcoming Mongol Derby." Williams said Morgan welcomed the visit.
Upon learning of this startling turnaround, Senior Swiss Long Rider, Madame Catherine Waridel, was quick to point out that FEI officials had repeatedly told her and the press that they could not be involved in Morgan's race because it violated the basic rule of 160 kilometers. When the Guild did a careful comparative study of the FEI's 2009 Endurance racing rules, as opposed to Morgan's statements published on the Mongol Derby website, it quickly revealed nine major violations of basic FEI endurance rules. Click here to read a comparison between FEI Rules and the Mongol Derby.
Armed with this alarming set of facts, the Guild emailed Williams to ask him to explain how he and FEI President, Princess Haya, could justify their support of Morgan, when the Mongol race delighted in not just breaking the rules, but flaunting this disobedience?
Williams refused to acknowledge these violations. What he said instead was that, as he had told the Guild on the phone, the proposal he was carrying to Morgan had the full support of the UAE government.
"As confirmed by phone yesterday I am meeting with the organising company this coming Friday when I can discuss the offer by the UAE Government through the Mongolian Government for providing support care for the horses involved in the upcoming Mongol Derby," Williams wrote.
A reply from the Guild corrected Williams, stating he had never revealed in the initial phone conversation that a foreign government had orchestrated the FEI approach to Morgan.
The Guild went on to say that, upon reflection, the international equestrian exploration organization was writing to Williams, and Princess Haya, to urge them to reconsider this rash course of action. The Guild urged the FEI not to send Williams to Bristol. The Guild reminded the FEI endurance director that this decision seemed to indicate that the influence of the Princess' husband was behind the overture to Morgan. Such a decision was almost certain to anger the members of the FEI, who had not been informed.
When Williams never acknowledged that message or warning, the Long Riders' Guild sent him this email.
We are disappointed that you have not responded to our previous message, wherein we asked you to reconsider the advisability of meeting
with Tom Morgan so as to offer him a financial, medical and logistical incentive. Nor have you acknowledged the Guild's comparative study
of FEI endurance rules, as opposed to Morgan's deliberate flaunting of those international bylaws.
Your silence has left us concerned that you, and the FEI president, are determined to press ahead with what increasingly looks like a badly
conceived, and perhaps unauthorized, approach to Morgan by FEI officials.
I am therefore writing to inform you that if the Guild does not hear from you by Friday night, 9.pm. Geneva time, our organization will assume that:
- the FEI has entered into an agreement with Morgan,
- FEI leaders are believed to be participating in, and encouraging, an equestrian endurance event which violates the organization's endurance rules,
- a foreign government is suspected of being the motivating force behind this decision.
Silence upon your part on Friday will force the Guild to assume the worst.
CuChullaine O'Reilly FRGS
The FEI headquarters has now closed for the day, Friday, 24th July, there has been no reply from Williams, and there is no reason to believe he did not visit Morgan's office.
Williams had hinted that Dubai's ruling Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who is married to FEI President HRH Princess Haya, was instrumental in making the offer to Morgan. The 59-year-old sheikh owns several stables, hosts the world's most lucrative horse race in Dubai every year and rides endurance races. The Guild received an unexpected confirmation of the Sheik's involvement from English jockey, Richard Dunwoody. In response to a protest against his involvement with Morgan's race, the jockey responded by saying, "Sheikh Mohammed is now also looking to become involved in the Mongol Derby..."
Dunwoody's disclosure has raised many alarming, and still unanswered, questions, including what has the FEI done, who ordered it, and who's paying for it ? Have the rules of international endurance racing vanished thanks to a secret decision? Will the international equestrian community, especially endurance leaders, blithely hand over control to a foreign power? What's to stop Morgan, Mercy Corps and Maktoum from organizing races in other countries? What happens when contestants don't ride with rules but for personal recognition?
Grave questions about the leadership of the FEI were raised earlier this month by Horse Connection magazine. In an editorial entitled, The Emperor has no Riding Breeches, publisher Geoff Young warned, "The self-anointed world governing body is collapsing under the weight of scandal and the lack of any discernable moral backbone." Young went on ask how serious enforcement could be if the FEI President's husband and brother had both been caught and suspended for giving their endurance horses steroids? Like other equestrian journalists, he also wondered why the international governing body had steadfastly refused to condemn Morgan's unethical race? "I can only interpret the FEI's reaction this way," Young said, "the FEI will oversee the welfare of the horse, but only if you pay them their money!"
Young concluded by reminding the horse world that "According to their rules, there is a provision for disbanding the FEI if two thirds of the members vote on it. I think it's a vote that is long overdue."
While no answers have been forthcoming from the FEI or Morgan, there is something even more alarming than the exploitation of 800 little horses and the cheapening of Mongolia's sacred equestrian tradition. Are we witnessing a potential revision of accepted international equestrian principles, policies and procedures, one where the establishment of a Mongol Derby without rules threatens the honour and integrity of the global equestrian community?
Credibility takes time to establish, and in some cases, only an instant to destroy. When society doesn't know something, it is often because special interests have blocked the truth. Has the FEI become an equestrian League of Nations? Is FEI endurance director Ian Williams about to announce "Peace in our Time"?
It's not a tragedy to love horses. It's a tragedy to stand by and watch helplessly while they are used in this manner. There is nothing heroic about the Mongol Derby. There is no cloaking the mercenary motives behind this race. After having emerged from its stupor of passivity, why is the FEI suddenly anxious to join forces with an event which runs rough shod over its own rules?
To learn more about the Mongol Derby, please visit www.thelongridersguild.com/mongolia.htm.
The Long Riders' Guild urges everyone to sign the on-line petition asking the President of Mongolia to halt the Mongol Derby. "Sign the Petition - or Share the Shame."
If you join the Guild in wondering what happened at Friday's meeting with Tom Morgan, we urge you to contact FEI Endurance Director Ian Williams.
Ian Williams or phone +41-21-310-4747
If you are a member of the press seeking clarification on FEI policy, you can contact Olivia Robinson, Publications Manager at FEI headquarters in Switzerland. Olivia Robinson or phone +41-21-310-4723
To learn more about questionable equestrian practices in the UAE, please visit this link.
"The United Arab Emirates' most popular newspaper suspended publication yesterday for 20 days in compliance with a court ruling after being sued for a story alleging some of the Abu Dhabi ruling family's horses were doped....The practice has recently been strengthened by the country's pending media law that includes a staggering fine of $1.35 million for "insulting" members of the ruling elite.."