The 2021 Longines World Endurance Championships (WEC) held in Italy yesterday, saw two UAE riders take victory with individual gold and silver medals. The 160km race through the San Rossore parkland in Pisa was won by Salem Hamad Saeed Malhoof Al Kitbi and Mansour Saeed Mohd Al Faresi both of which calmly cantered across the finish line with their hands joined in victory.
Al Kitbi riding the chestnut mare owned by M7 Stables ‘Haleh,’ was strong from the outset and the pair maintained a top three ranking throughout the entirety of the six-loop race. Al Faresi, riding the French-bred ‘Birman Aya’ (owned by MRM Stables), rode from 13th position in the first loop gradually gaining ground each loop, until with a final push, he joined team-mate Al Kitbi on the final 20Km loop, overtaking Spanish rider Omar Blanco Rodrigo, who had maintained his number one position for the majority of the race.
The event hosted by Endurance Lifestyle at the San Rossore Estate, Italy, saw 81 entries from 32 countries. Of the 74 starters, 48 partnerships were eliminated throughout the event, leaving 26 to successfully finish the full six loops and final vetting.
Team medals went to Spain (gold), Brazil (silver) and France (bronze).
While endurance remains the world’s fastest growing discipline, the last few years have not been ideal for the sport. The termination of the previous Endurance World Championships in Troyan 2018 and the slew of new regulations implemented last year have left many endurance riders wondering in which direction their discipline was indeed headed.
Recent global events have affected all equestrian disciplines and endurance has been no exception. The start of the 2021 season was marred by the discovery of a new and highly contagious form of Equine herpes. As the disease spread, it severely restricted equine travel and events across much of Europe and UK.
And of course, the effects of last year’s COVID outbreak cannot be underestimated. The virus effectively halted much of the competition season, with very few planned endurance events taking place, including of course, the WEC which was originally planned for 2020. As the year drew to a close, the opportunities for qualifying both horses and riders dwindled. Even when events did begin to start towards the end of the season, international transportation remained an issue, with country specific regulations changing on a weekly basis, and ever changing rules for the movement of equestrian personnel.
UAE based Equitrans has continued to manage flights throughout the pandemic, with horses flying regularly around the globe from February 2020 through to the present. The 2021 WEC saw Equitrans working to support three national teams with the transport of seven endurance horses to the WEC event.
Transporting horses in peak fitness, so they are able to compete successfully over vast distances, on varied terrain really is an art. Managing Director of Equitrans, David Robson says, “we ensure the transport solutions we provide get horses from one country to the next with the shortest transit times and dedicated and highly experienced Equitrans flying grooms ensure horses travel with the least stress and delivered ready to race.” The ever-changing COVID restrictions on flights, personnel and logistics, adds to the challenge of transporting horses globally, and Equitrans continues to evolve with this dynamic normal,” he says.
He went on to say, “the WEC results solidify the UAE’s standing in the endurance world. To see horses arrive at the end of a 160km race, with heart rates under 55 B/PM, ridden calmly and looking so relaxed simply highlights our country’s dedication to sourcing the finest horses, coupled with meticulous training and of course, skilled riding- which continues to produce incredible results.
“And, let’s not forget the Longines Endurance Lifestyle World Equestrian Games itself. To coordinate and manage an event of this calibre, given the current global and regional circumstances pays testament to the commitment of the organisers. It went ahead, minus spectators and with minimal crewing numbers, yet the event was a resounding success, and one which has put the sport of endurance and of course, our exceptional UAE competitors, firmly back in the forefront of everyone’s minds.”