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The Quiet Americans

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by Fran Jurga | 30 November 2009 | The Jurga Report at Equisearch.com

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Horse Wrangler, originally uploaded by Clearly Ambiguous. (Thanks!)

Last week, I was asked to comment on a German news web site about the silence in the world equestrian web news from both US officials and the masses of US equestrian sports fans over the change in rules voted in by the FEI General Assembly two weeks ago. I was shocked when I read that the Europeans might go so far as to boycott our sacred AllTech FEI World Equestrian Games, held for the first time outside Europe here in the USA in 2010. And now, to be held for the first time under liberalized medication rules.

While researching the concerns of the Europeans, I found out about the strict equine welfare laws in some nations and also the rather dark history of the use of medication in FEI events before the all-out ban. I think it is comparable to the debates about legalizing gambling in some states in the USA. The states that have it don't think it is a big deal; those that don't are horrified by the possible Pandora's Box of evils associated with it. Both sides have valid points of view.

What is missing is a unified global agreement of how medication impacts the performance horse and, by extension, the reputation of equestrian sports. Kudos to the vets on both sides who are willing to speak up. The elephant in this room is a clear definition of the responsibility for equine welfare, not a level of Bute or Banamine.

Here's my take on why Americans may not be taking to the streets...either in protest or in celebration.

Perhaps it was the eclipse of the country's busiest travel week; the long Thanksgiving weekend had Americans traveling, cooking, and entertaining on a grand scale. Perhaps they forgot to check their email.

For whatever reason, Americans are neither rallying to protest nor hurrying to embrace the announcement of changes in FEI medication rules two weeks ago that ended the long years of zero tolerance of medications for all horses competing in FEI-sanctioned events.

It's not like Americans not to have something to say.

This is in distinct contrast to how Americans responded emotionally and emphatically to theviral "blue tongue" dressage video that circulated on the Internet last month. It was impossible to find anyone who hadn't seen it and didn't have an opinion?and most of that was negative.

Is it just a matter of a holiday that makes reactions to these two sensitive issues so different?

The relatively few opinions that are posted on American forums and chat rooms so far regarding the FEI's medication policy change seem to be contradictory: it's not ok to pull on the curb rein of a dressage horse in the warm-up ring, but it is ok to make a radical switch in medication policy. A micro incident with one horse excites the masses; a macro policy change affecting the highest level of sport brings a shrug, if that.

Therapeutic levels of medication are nothing new to US competition, since USEF rules for competitions within the U.S. for most disciplines allow low levels of certain medications. That's the American system; our veterinary advisers disagree with their European colleagues and believe that allowing medication in performance horses is in the best interest of the horse.

Yet, when the big events came, the Americans always met--or valiantly tried to meet--the challenge of competing on the international stage without the same drugs they used at home. The frequent success of "clean" American horses under FEI rules often goes unmentioned and may be all the more extraordinary.

On this blog in November, 21 readers commented on the blue tongue incident and all condemned the rider based on viewing the short YouTube clip. But faced with news of the medication vote, only eight people commented, and the opinions were quite split between support for therapeutic administration of low levels of Bute vs. outright cynicism about the pharmacological corruption of horse sports.

Will Americans join the debate now that the turkey leftovers are running low and the relatives have gone home? My guess is that the subtlety of such low levels of medication as allowed by the new FEI rules will be lost on the masses of Americans, many of whom have never followed the international scene and may not even be aware that there was ever a radical difference in policy as wide as the Atlantic Ocean itself between US competitions and those in other countries.

All that will change in 2010 when the world comes to the US for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. We can expect plenty of international riders to be competing in the US over the summer months leading up to the Games. They will bring not just their best horses but also their politics and their opinions with them and Americans may learn, at last, that we are part of a larger horse world where not everyone thinks the same as we do.

That European federations and riders might be put off by the first world championships under these new liberalized medication rules seems not to have crossed many Americans' minds. There are 300 days to go?I hope that is time enough for some compromise or peacemaking at the highest international levels that will appease all parties and make the first WEG in the USA the wonderful celebration it was always meant to be.

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