Bouthieb (Abu Dhabi): The Mutation
Coming closer for a better understanding
Mustapha Mafoudi, Sh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, François Kerboul, Ian Williams
From far away, we often see undefined blocks, groups, masses, and we end up very quickly - if not invariably - making snap judgments and deciding, once for all, that "they are like that". Thus we have "Indians", "Blacks", "Arabs", "Chinese", etc.
From far away we see an anonymous figure, which as it gets nearer, becomes a man who is actually a woman and we soon discover that she is not the unknown one we had suspected... In short, when getting closer we become aware that reality is always more complex than the idea we had of it before.
For the Yemeni who has never left his native mountain, or for his Chinese counterpart, "Europeans" (or "Westerners ") are seen as a global and undifferentiated entity. For us, Europeans, it is clear that this is an absurd shortcut because we know that there is little relationship between a Sami (Lapp) and a Basque or even a Southern Californian. But seen from afar...
It's the same in reverse for us and we cannot completely avoid the trap created by distance.
Group VII, The Emirates, The Arabs, etc.
For many Europeans all that is about the same and one is satisfied with the recent global anathema (doping, cheating) without further questioning. You can even hear some people talk of the need for their exclusion from the FEI, which would in itself mean the beginning of the end of the international federation.
So take a magnifying glass and come closer to understand better.
Here we will talk of what is happening today in Bouthieb, one of the three endurance villages in the UAE (and also the oldest), as you would do for example to explain what we are trying to do and how we do it in Fontainebleau (FRA) or Rascafría (ESP) to an Indonesian.
Doing so, we will leave Manichaeism and monolithic thinking to replace it by the description of the real men and their intentions. A little bit of information, a gust of fresh air on the issue.
Brief And Essential Background
When in the 50s it was discovered that the underground of the northern Arabian Peninsula was full of oil, SH Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi, understood very quickly that this resource required the emirates to unite (unity is strength) and that the country would inevitably be overwhelmed by the sudden change induced by this extraordinary resource and the new era to come with it.
He managed to convince his counterpart neighbors to form a federation whose name is the one we know today: UAE (United Arab Emirates).
His second priority task was to set up a body to preserve the cultural heritage for the future generations. This great idea took shape under the name of Emirates Heritage Club (EHC). Its purpose is extensive. It spreads from the preservation of the culture of the past to the latest study on the environment, youth training and education, promotion of tolerance and peace, etc.
In this context horses were of course present.
Sh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, second son of the UAE founder, the late Sh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, currently a member of the government, is the president of the EHC. He created in Bouthieb the first endurance village in the UAE, some 100 km inland among sand dunes, not far from his palace.
Each year five to six weekends of endurance competitions are held there. It is currently the largest center in the world by the number of participating horses each time. For example, on January 23rd to 25th 2014 nearly 800 horses over three days with 340 on the second day participated in the competitions.
The Prince's Will of Renewal
A few years ago, the prince told us his annoyance at seeing that the UAE had created a new type of endurance race he called "flat endurance race" in which speed was privileged at the expense of the horses' safety. That was far in advance of the recent controversy. His voice was not heard despite his conviction.
During the second part of the former season (2012/2013), he gave Mustapha Mafoudi, FEI Judge, Veterinary specialized in breeding and in charge of the Bouthieb stables, etc. full powers to make of Bouthieb the place for the rebirth he desires.
He specifically asked him "to change the mentality of the riders, owners and trainers to help them put the welfare of horses and honesty of the race at the top of their concerns" and allow them to remember that winning without cheating or doping of any kind (moreover contrary to the precepts of the Koran) is the best and only possible way. Himself and Mustapha Mafoudi are well aware that this is a long process and that the completion of this work of renewal will not happen in one day.
The three pillars of the mutation
Sh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan asked Mustapha Mafoudi to rely on three pillars that are fundamental for him to achieve the mutation to which he aspires, namely:
- Automatic timing with all necessary controls and an incorruptible team;
- Efficient and Honorable Judges who are not afraid to take the right decisions when necessary;
- Competent Vets who are aware of their responsibilities and do not hesitate to make the necessary investigations in case of doubts on the presence of treatments and / or illegal methods.
Sh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan has the intention to preserve the endurance village of Bouthieb and make it the privileged place of renewal. A keen observer of what is happening in endurance in his own country, he is fully aware of the abuses that have appeared over the years.
The time keeping
The time keeping system used in Bouthieb is currently the most sophisticated available in endurance. It not only helps to manage several different races with different regulations but also to control the "traditional" faulty behaviors. The current version was created and is specifically developed to serve the goals assigned by the prince (1).
Everything is automated and the manager has full confidence in the team that has already and repeatedly demonstrated its incorruptibility. Abnormal behavior is detected and reported to the Ground Jury to enable it to act without delay. The lines of veterinary control are automatically assigned by input chronology. The movements forward of the horses in the inspection area are under control and sanctioned automatically if necessary. Veterinary checking results are entered immediately in the inspection lines thus avoiding possible mistakes by handling errors. Anticipated departures are detected. Electronic and manual backups are performed continuously, etc.
The wireless heart rate monitors with public display (approved by the FEI like the timing system) works in such a way that it is impossible to have any distortion in the displayed result. In addition, all actions performed are recorded for verification during or after action by the Ground Jury.
With an efficient Ground Jury, this is an asset for the management and control of a high order.
(1) This version of the time keeping and management system will be the one used during the coming Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy.
We know because we have seen and experienced it, that there are judges used to coming "regularly" who are obviously poorly concerned by the competitions they are in charge of, and who do not take decisions "that could thwart someone."
Mustapha Mafoudi has decided to end this practice which has appeared little by little over the years, nobody knowing exactly how. But that cannot be done in one day either. This season (2013/2014) has seen a significant change in recruitment. One cannot, in this environment as in any other, make abrupt changes. It is not over but one can already feel the difference.
We know the essential role of the veterinaries during the inspections: they are responsible for maintaining the well -being of the horses. Detection of abuses, mistreatment, strange metabolic behavior (hyper "efficient" speed / recovery" couple) or doubtful physical states ("weird" gait, "volatile" lameness) are part of their mission (as of the entire Ground Jury's but with their specific professional competence on top).
We know that some vets do not have the required skills or true experience in the specific field of endurance competitions or that, for example, they simply lack practice sometimes. We know that some will not have the "audacity" to eliminate a horse because they fear possible "bad consequences" for their next invitation.
Once again, Mustapha Mafoudi slowly modifies the recruitment because he knows the strengths and weaknesses of each. But due to the veterinary corporation, the thing is extremely delicate and more difficult than for the judges.
When you know the obstinacy of Mustapha Mafoudi and the full support he has from Sh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, there is no doubt that he will eventually succeed.
Some Other Arrangements
In addition to those three pillars, other provisions have already been implemented. These minor provisions form a whole that changes behavior in small doses.
Thus in order to break the notion of speed record (based on the "riding time" ), the prince has decided that starting from the end of last season and for all events (national and international) the maximum heart rate would no longer be 64 but 60 bpm . This simple decision affecting the recovery time has made of the obsession of the "world speed record" running obsessively through the stables, a quickly forgotten goal.
Thus deterrent CCTV cameras were placed in rest areas. Thus now unidentified stewards walk around everywhere. Thus the last 4 digits of the horse identification microchips are identified and written down on the Ground Jury vet forms during the pre-ride control (the only moment when these cards circulate). Stewards go on the trail and walk in the grooming and rest areas to control some horses unexpectedly in order to avoid the substitutions that sometimes occur.
Thus riders are photographed and removed from the track if a substitution is detected. Thus random weighing has been strengthened and competitors effectively sanctioned. Thus the limits of vehicle traffic around the vet gate were redefined and strictly controlled. Thus accesses to the inspection area of the vet gate were reduced and the excesses of the past now belong to history. Thus the trail is now protected from cars by impassable mounds, etc.
And there are more arrangements that together and gradually alter not only the general appearance of the venue but also people's behavior. Much remains to be done, but the momentum will not stop in such a good way.
Bouthieb, the mutation?
Seen from afar, all this may seem not to exist. At close range, the perception is different and once you are aware of it, it helps to moderate your opinion.
A mutation is well under way in Bouthieb by the will of the prince and with the energy of his supervisor. It can only be done through successive steps. For whom knows the hierarchical, sociological, social and professional environments in the UAE, it is clear that any sudden rupture would more or less immediately lead to failure.
As these excesses that we know about - and are not practiced or shared by all owners, all the trainers and all riders contrary to what you might think from afar - came slowly, they will recede with relative ease. And the mutation Sh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan desires will come to reality with Mustapha Mafoudi as its indisputable guarantor.
The goal to attain: coming back to "clean" races will take time to achieve, but it may happen sooner than we think if this Bouthieb mutation being currently carried out leads to a snowball effect.
This is the wish of the prince, that is what he gave as guidelines and it is not insignificant because it comes from within and not from outside.