Reining classes for older horses and medication regulations were among the sticking points that led the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) to end a cooperation agreement with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), officials said.
Although many details are still unclear, officials say FEI-approved reining events are expected to continue in the United States in spite of the termination.
The FEI announced the termination Monday, Nov. 19, during the FEI General Assembly in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain. A statement posted at FEI.org said the organization’s secretary general informed delegates the two U.S. groups had breached the terms of their agreement and, as a result, the cooperation agreement was terminated.
“In order to ensure the integrity of the discipline and maintain a level playing field for all athletes competing in FEI Reining, the agreement with these two bodies has now been terminated,” the statement said. “Both the AQHA and NRHA have been informed that a binding commitment to implement the FEI rules on anti-doping, stewarding requirements and the age of competing horses are prerequisites for any future cooperation.”
The NRHA, which said its offer to meet with FEI officials in January was declined, issued a statement Tuesday highlighting its position on three provisions of the agreement – classes for horses age 7 and older, stewarding requirements and medication regulations.
Signed in 2014, the cooperation agreement gave FEI sole jurisdiction over reining competitions for horses ages 7 years and older, and the NRHA and AQHA were to manage all competitions for horses of 6 years old and younger, with the exception of the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games in France. It covers areas of common interest including horse welfare, FEI Rules and Regulations, FEI Clean Sport, stewarding, education and FEI recognition. Reining has been an FEI-recognized discipline since 2002, a dozen years before the agreement was signed.
The NRHA statement said the agreement meant all NRHA classes held specifically for horses age 7 and older also had to be FEI-approved, and held in accordance with the rules and regulations with the FEI’s national federation in this country, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). (Click here to view the NRHA’s statement.)
“After discussions with show management teams, we discovered how complex and expensive this would be for them,” NRHA President Mike Hancock said in the statement. “In the end, we felt it would be more detrimental to the growth of older horse competition to move forward with this concept. However, we are hopeful to discuss other opportunities for future growth and mutual benefit with FEI.”
The NRHA also said that the agreement with FEI required it to accept and enforce any FEI-imposed penalties on horses, owners, officials or riders regardless of whether it agreed with the sanctions or not.
For its part, the AQHA disputed that the Amarillo, Texas-based association is in violation of the agreement. According to a statement on its website, the AQHA was informed Nov. 19 the FEI was terminating the agreement with the AQHA and NRHA due to breach of agreement terms regarding age divisions, reciprocity and steward/drug regulations. (Click here to read the entire AQHA statement.)
“AQHA disagrees with the allegation that AQHA has breached its agreement with FEI and welcomes continued dialog with FEI,” the statement said. “As always, AQHA’s commitment to the sport of reining and to upholding the well-being of the American Quarter Horse in competition remains a top priority.”
Although the cooperation agreement is no longer, officials say FEI events are expected to continue without it.
The announcement at FEI.org said the organization’s secretary general advised delegates in Bahrain that FEI Reining events will continue. In the United States, those events are a part of the USA Reining/USEF structure.
The NRHA also said the termination is not expected to impact FEI National Federations, such as the United States Equestrian Federation, or their ability to host FEI-approved reining events, according to the NRHA. Officials from the AQHA, which held a single CRI event each year during the AQHA World Championship Show, said the association will have conversations with FEI in order to host any FEI-approved events.
Three spokespersons for the FEI did not immediately return an email seeking additional details about future competitions and information about when and how the two associations allegedly violated the agreement, as well as what the news means for U.S. athletes seeking to represent their country in reining. Two of the emails resulted in out-of-office replies, saying the staffers were at the FEI General Assembly.
Cheryl Cody, treasurer of USA Reining, said she hoped the FEI, NRHA and AQHA could work out a new agreement that would benefit the sport.
“Hopefully, this will be something that smart minds will work out a good alliance that works for both entities [and] that both entities feel is beneficial,” she said.
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* This story was updated with additional information from AQHA officials and a statement issued by the NRHA.