Saturday, February 27, 2010

dr. robert cook's letter to veterinarians at the FEI round table meeting

From: Dr Robert Cook

To: The five veterinarians at the FEI Round Table Conference on Over Bending in Lausanne, Switzerland on February 9, 2010. (John McEwen, Dr Gerd Heuschmann, Dr Sue Dyson, Professor René van Weeren and Graeme Cooke

Date: February 12, 2010

As you will see from my attached response to the FEI press release of February 9th,¬e_id=323837991133&id=51217564556#!/notes/horses-for-life-publications/low-deep-and-round-or-a-blow-deep-and-unkind-dr-robert-cook-frcvs-phd/301929516133

I was deeply disappointed with the conclusions of the Round Table on Rollkur. It seems to me that, as a body, the representatives in Lausanne remained unconvinced of the inhumanity of over bending. I presume Dr Gerd Heuschmann spoke in favour of banning over bending and was out-voted. HRH Princess Haya 'accepted' the petition from 41,000 signatories who deplored over bending but apparently was unmoved.

I am wondering what your views were and whether you feel that the scientific evidence against Rollkur was really understood by the non-veterinarians at the meeting? The press release speaks of a consensus opinion. Does this mean that there was a vote and if so what was the vote? I would like to be reassured that there were dissenting opinions around the table and would hope that, at the very least, these included all of the five veterinarians.

From an outsiders perspective, it appears that the FEI's collective view on Rollkur has not changed since the 2007 workshop. It almost seems as though the views of the trainer, Sjef Janssen, once again gained ascendance on February 9th and were used as the basis of the meeting's recommendation. I am copying below, my comments on para 2.4 of the FEI's report on the Scientific session in 2007. These comments were part of the monograph I submitted to the FEI Veterinary Committee after that workshop.


Mr. Sjef Janssen made a distinction between what he regarded as acceptable short periods of low deep and round (LDR) and unacceptable prolonged periods of “Rollkur.” He conceded, however, that the copying of LDR by unskilled riders might involve “disadvantages.” With all due respect, I disagree most strongly with the suggestion that a training aid contraindicated on welfare grounds and, therefore, fundamentally wrong, can in some way become harmless when applied by an experienced rider. Apart from the fact that it is not harmless to that particular rider’s horse, experienced riders who use the technique are taken as role models and are setting a bad example.

The FEI is an organization that speaks for the welfare of the horse, worldwide, and must be seen to be worthy of this responsibility. As part of this commitment it is necessary for its deliberations to be transparent and open. I hope that you do not feel under any oath of secrecy as to what went on at the Feb 9th meeting and are able to share your views without divulging confidences and being disloyal to the FEI. I can understand that you may have a certain reluctance to be seen as a whistleblower but, as a veterinarian, I am sure you will agree that you have an over-riding responsibility to safeguard the welfare of the horse.

It is instructive but also sobering and immensely disappointing to look back at the recommendations and conclusions made by Professor Leo Jeffcott, chairman of the 2007 Workshop. Listed below are the summary points he made at the end of the workshop, followed by my comment on the lack of progress in the last three years.

1. The need for a definition of over-bending:

There was no need for a definition of over bending, as the FEI rule book already contained a definition of the required head position which makes such a definition unnecessary... " ... the head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical ... " All that is needed is for the FEI to acknowledge, abide by and enforce its own rule. The call for a definition of over bending has, nevertheless, not been addressed. No one in the FEI has pointed out the irrelevance of such a requirement.

2. Horses must not be seen to be put under pressure

For three years since the workshop, horses have continued to be seen under pressure by over bending in the warm-up ring. The evidence has been documented many times on video, yet nothing has been done to prevent it. The recent most egregious example of this was the flagrant cyanotic tongue episode. The FEI's press release on February 9th, 2009 even admitted in so many words that this was why the Round Table was convened, to wit," . The issue came up for discussion after an Internet video circulated of Swedish Olympian Patrik Kittel warming up at October's CDI Odense, Denmark, using a method some call inhumane." Disappointingly, the FEI Round table did not think it appropriate to agree that the 'method' (i.e. over bending) was indeed inhumane.

As over bending can be seen in the warm-up ring, in full public view and without any sign of remorse on the part of the perpetrators, undoubtedly this and worse occurs during training. Once again, this transgresses the FEI's Code of Conduct. Item #10, for example, states; The national and international Rules and Regulations in equestrian sport regarding the health and welfare of the horse must be adhered to not only during national and international events, BUT ALSO IN TRAINING [emphasis added]. Competition Rules and Regulations shall be continually reviewed to ensure such welfare."

3. Evidence is needed to guide the Stewards in preventing abuse

Once again, I submit that a perfect guideline for stewards was already present in the FEI's own definition of 'on the bit.' " ... the head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical ... " This was all that was needed in 2007 and it is all that is needed now. Any call by the FEI for further evidence is unjustified procrastination. There is no need for further evidence and any further delay in implementing their own rule is inexcusable.

In fact, additional evidence was submitted after the 2007 workshop. My own 51 page monograph, already cited, was received by the FEI Dressage Committee and, for all I know, there may well have been others who responded to the call for evidence.

4. The Dressage Committee would consider the findings of the Workshop

The Dressage Committee may or may not have considered these findings but they have not to my knowledge issued any public report or recommendation.

5. The Veterinary and Welfare Sub-committees should identify what research was required to answer the question of whether or not Over-bending was a welfare issue

If, prior to the 2007 workshop, there was any doubt in the minds of the members of the above committees as to whether over bending was a welfare issue (an unlikely possibility), there could have been no such doubt after reading my monograph. Over bending inflicts unnecessary pain and this alone is quite sufficient to answer the welfare question. But, once again, the FEI committees have issued no public statement by way of follow-up. For reasons unknown, the Welfare sub-committee has even been disbanded. Why this should have occurred at the very time when welfare considerations were of critical importance remains a mystery.

6. A draft proposal would be presented to the Dressage Committee for consideration prior to submission to the FEI.

Was such a proposal submitted to members of the Dressage Committee and did they, in turn, make any sort of recommendation to the FEI Board of Directors? Once again, even if they did, nothing has been issued by way of a public announcement.

To sum up, of the six recommendations by the chairman of the 2007 workshop,

• three were unnecessary in the first instance, there being appropriate rules and guidelines already in place, but they were still not acted on (as in #s1, 3 and 5)

• and three were necessary but not acted on (as in #2, 4 and 6).

This does not add up as a particularly stellar performance by the FEI in this matter of over bending. Additionally, the press release on February 9th fails to assure riders that anything has change for the better. The FEI, in relation to overbending, are non-compliant with nine of the ten items in their own Code of Conduct.

As veterinarians, we are under oath to protect the welfare of animals. Do you feel that the FEI are listening to the advice they must surely have received from their veterinary representatives?

I would very much appreciate your comments on the above observations.


Grey Horse Matters said...

I for one do not believe all that much was accomplished at the meeting. Being skeptical by nature I think it was simply a lot of fancy footwork and rewording to make everyone feel better about rollkur. The rules are the rules and they are being completely ignored by many riders, trainer,judges and veterinarians. I completely agree with everything Dr. Cook has stated in his letter to the veterinarians who attended.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Hi Billie,
Happy Birthday! Have a wonderful day and a fantastic year!

billie said...

Thank you, Arlene. It's alternately frustrating and encouraging for me when I read all the different perspectives!

Thank you for the birthday wishes!

jme said...

happy belated birthday!

i too have to agree with ghm that most of this discussion has been for show, with little of substance actually accomplished. which just makes me want to dig in harder :-)

billie said...

Glad you're not discouraged, j - I think that's the danger in seeing the negatives, although getting complacent seeing only the positives is equally dangerous! :)