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Peter Charles on the Return To Competition measures: “It’s got to be done!”

Sunday, 04 April 2021


Text © World of Showjumping



“They’re strong ones,” Peter Charles says about the FEI’s Return To Competition measures. “That said, it’s no bad in them – because it’s all for the welfare of the horse.”

The measures were announced by the FEI earlier this week and are aimed at allowing a safe resumption of international sport in mainland Europe on 12 April, following a six-week shutdown caused by the EHV-1 outbreak that originated in Valencia, Spain. Grooms, riders and organisers are all impacted by the extensive measures. The FEI is strictly following up on the implementation and enforcement of the protocols through approvals and controls as well as sanctions for non-compliance. 

Here, Peter Charles – Individual and Team European Champion and Team Olympic Champion – reflects on the measures and what they mean for the future of the sport: 


No sympathy for complainers

The measures equal more work for organisers and riders, but I don’t think there will be one person complaining. If any of the riders do complain, then fine – stay at home and don’t go to the shows. I have no sympathy for anyone who complains about this!

I don’t think these measures will go away anytime soon, so the organisers need to adapt – especially the tour-organisers that have such massive amounts of horses at their venues. We clearly need better biosecurity routines, so the ones being implemented now are necessary.

I don’t think the FEI has gone over the top here.

We have to make sure something like the EHV-1 outbreak in Valencia never happens again. Introducing these measures, is an important part of that prevention. 


Mandatory vaccination is the future 

The recommendation in the measures of having vaccinated horses stabled together and unvaccinated separately is, in my opinion, a step in the right direction. 

In time, we also need to introduce a mandatory vaccination – this is an avenue to pursue.

At the moment, there are many challenges in this regard. Firstly, here in Europe, there are only two vaccine manufacturers. One of them is scaling back and is due to phase their production of the vaccine out. So, in real terms, there is only one vaccine available and sporadically at best. Secondly, a vaccine is not available in all countries. To make it mandatory is just impossible at this stage. The FEI can recommend it of course, and sensible minded people do vaccinate. 

However, the interesting thing is that you have got three very good EHV-1 vaccines licensed in America and they don’t have any shortage there. I believe we need to work on getting all the relevant European bodies together and look at these vaccines and how to get them licensed for Europe – then we can make an EHV-1 vaccine mandatory and it will be beneficial for it to be produced.

The vaccine will help limit the shedding and that combined with all the biosecurity measures now in place would most likely help prevent an outbreak like this from happening again.

Furthermore, when it comes to the measures, the recommended amount of isolation stables is in my opinion the minimum you would need. I would also prefer to have each isolation box individually, to prevent contamination. If you have a horse with a bit of a higher temperature – which normally should be gone in 24 hours – and you put it in isolation, you don’t want it next to a horse that is actually sick. Then you end up exposing your horse. We have to make sure isolation stables are built up so that there is absolutely no contact between the horses, and also prevent any transmission by air. 


Horse welfare comes first, costs are secondary 

Some show organisers will probably look at these measures and go ‘uh’, but it’s got to be done. If a show organiser can’t handle the measures, well then, they can’t run. Aachen for instance is not a problem; lots of separate barns and their organisation among the best. 

There are certain things organisers will look at from a balance-sheet-point of view. One of those things will now have to be how much resources to assign to implement these measures, because there is no doubt that the recommendations will only be as good as the policing of them. 

One thing is sure: We cannot put profit ahead of horse welfare. When it comes to the enforcement, the FEI and the officials will have to follow-up the organisers closely. 

From many shows and tours, you will see how commercialised the sport has become. Horses are packed together in the tents and lorries are stacked into the parking areas. I’m happy to see that the FEI now are introducing limits on the number of horses that can be stabled under the same roof. The Veterinary Department somehow needs to work out a number, a ratio square footage per horse, that can determine how many horses safely can be put in the same airflow within one tent. 

The big tours are now a very important part of the show circuit but – in hindsight – keeping so many horses tightly together under one roof with nose-to-nose transmission is wrong. We can learn from this and the measures now introduced by the FEI are a reaction to the virus outbreak.

Maybe after a review period, certain things can be scaled back slightly but ask anyone who was in the thick of it in Valencia and you already know the answer.

The EHV-1 case that was quickly identified at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, US, earlier this week, illustrates the importance of having good protocols and procedures in place – not only when it comes to testing, but also for stabling and isolation. A fast response like this is what you want to see. 

Under the measures, grooming and tacking up in the aisles is now prohibited. Let’s keep it this way! You should be able to tack your horse up inside the stable; those having their horses in these tight tent aisles are a pain in the ass to the rest of us and it’s also dangerous. 

We also need to make sure the limitation on stable access is enforced. We don’t need every Tom, Dick and Harry and half the showground walking in and out of the stables. A stable pass should not mean access all areas, only the zone your horses are in. The planning needs looking at in this regard to make it much stricter. This will also help cut down on accidental contamination.

Overall, I believe the FEI’s biosecurity measures in regard to stabling all are a step in the right direction – with or without EHV-1.


“That won’t happen to me”

There will always be those in life who say ‘that won’t happen to me’. Sometimes, in order to understand, you need a kick in the ass. I have had a few!

Years ago, long before many of you will remember, Nick Skelton, Michael Whitaker and myself were in Den Bosch jumping, and a truck went on fire in the parking lot. 

Within half an hour, I think six, seven or eight trucks were on fire. Luckily, it was in the afternoon and not in the middle of the night, because the consequences of that would have been unthinkable.

Because of this fire, regulations as to how the trucks could be parked were introduced. However, now-a-days, you can see it again at the shows and tours – the trucks are all a bit too close. Imagine a truck goes on fire… We have several fire extinguishers in our trucks, but that’s no good if the one next to you doesn’t and goes into fire in the middle of the night. But if you have a decent distance and take necessary precautions… It’s a bit the same as with the horses and disease-prevention.

I was also at Liverpool Horse Show in 2018, when the car park close to the arena went on fire. 

We had five horses stabled in the basement – and above us 1400 cars which were going off like bombs. Petrol tanks and tires were exploding and it was full of smoke. The fire brigade could not get in, so they were trying to get control of the fire from outside the building and there was water coming through everywhere. At the same time, all the electricity went out. We were stuck with our horses inside; the fire brigade and the police did not want to let us out because we were on a main, busy road. Luckily, Hickstead’s Edward Bunn was there – he is a fire officer in Sussex and managed to take control of the situation. Under his crisis management, we got a plan that allowed us to take the horses out and in safety. 

Also, years ago, at the Sunshine Tour in Vejer de la Frontera – which we were attending – a whole stable tent took off in the middle of the night during a storm.

It landed on the tent next to it. I think it was around 200 horses in the tent that took off; up until 7 AM that morning we were catching horses. That no horses died was a miracle.

This year, we were at the Mediterranean Equestrian Tour in Oliva Nova with the EHV-1 outbreak an hour’s drive away in Valencia.

We had 20 horses down in Spain, that we needed to get safely home. It was all very unpleasant, because unlike the fires and the storm you could not actually see this one – like with Covid, it’s an invisible enemy. That being said, the team in Oliva Nova were extremely professional in how they handled the situation – so all my respect to them. 

So, I’m thinking what else could possibly happen? 

The need to establish an ultra-fast response team is clearly essential, with vets, technicians, logistical organiser, a pool of professional horse handlers, etc. With one alert they could be at a certain destination within hours the next day – although I of course hope it would never come to use. 


A transparent head to toe review is needed

The FEI has already signalised that when the last horse is out of Valencia, there will be a complete head to toe review of how this outbreak could happen. 

The investigation will provide answers from everyone affected to the wider community so that we really can begin to understand what can be improved. 

One thing is for sure; communication is the key. For the future, when there is such a huge movement on horses in one region as it was in Spain in January and February this year, all the veterinary clinics need to be notified so that their capacity is at a maximum. All the governing bodies for the different equestrian disciplines need to share information on infectious diseases – and there’s a lot more than the equine herpes virus; we have the West Nile virus, equine influence, strangles, ringworm, ect. Preventive measure can then be put in place. 

I also believe we should let the riders and owners rate the shows’ performances in reviews on an app. They are the ones providing a service which we are paying for. No one will want to be at the bottom with the worst review, therefore it’s simple: Keep the standards high. 

Overall, I think the FEI has responded well with these measures being introduced.

Now, it’s about putting all the data from Valencia together to make sure we have better protocols in place for the future. 

With the increased pressure on equestrian sport that comes from the outside – take PETA as an example – we also have to see to that the entire equestrian community does everything possible for our horses in terms of care and welfare. We have to protect them, at whatever cost. 

Over time, the horse has evolved; they have been to many wars, transported humans from one place to another, delivered the mail, ploughed all the fields at farms… Today the horse is considered a fantastic, intelligent and social animal – and I could not imagine life without them! This is why we all have to give the horses the best care that we can and strengthen education for everyone involved in the sport – through the FEI, the IJRC, the JOC and national federations. 


Showing solidarity 

If something good has come out of this, it’s the community effort we have seen: As it happened and beyond, so many have wanted to help those horses in Valencia. This week, I was part of launching the EHV-1 Relief Fund – I must say with fantastic support from all the relevant organisations that have generously donated. This can hopefully contribute towards supporting the grooms, riders and owners whose horses have been affected after the outbreak by helping with a percentage of their veterinary and medical costs. 

Solidarity is everything in a situation like this, because what happened to the riders, owners and grooms in Valencia could have happened to anyone of us.


No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of

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