The International Alliance of Equestrian Journalists (IAEJ) has announced today that British journalist Pippa Cuckson has been awarded the 2013 Bureau Award, which is decided by members of the IAEJ Bureau. Cuckson has long been a credit to her profession but it is her intrepid reporting of the scandal surrounding the endurance sport in the Middle East for which the Bureau wishes to recognize her with the award for 2013.
Established in 2012, the award was created to honor members of the equestrian community for outstanding contributions to the industry. George H Morris was the inaugural recipient.
Cuckson has boundless enthusiasm for getting to the heart of the matter while always adhering to the principles of journalism. Having started out in newspapers, she spent 20 years on the editorial team at Horse & Hound, latterly as deputy editor. Following a seven year break working in the racing industry, Cuckson resumed journalism as a freelance in 2009, contributing regularly to The Daily Telegraph, H&H, Horse Sport International and Chronicle of the Horse. She is also a frequent contributor to Country Life writing on a range of topics, notably classical music and renewable energy, the latter for which she was recently presented with a journalism award by leading UK political weekly, The Spectator.
Cuckson’s concern about the high rate of horse fatalities, injuries and doping cases in Middle East Endurance, goes back to the late 1990s, when she was deputy editor of Horse & Hound. In April 2012 she attended the endurance debate at the FEI open forum and made the salutary discovery that things had become significantly worse in the last decade. She reported the debate in a number of publications but then began to dig deeper. “Largely though, I was unable to interest anyone in stories about it, firstly because of the distraction of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and also the reluctance, fear even, of critics to go on the record,” says Cuckson. “This is still a factor now. A number of key stories circulating on the internet still have not had the proper scrutiny they deserve in mainstream publications.”
Finally, a window of opportunity came in April 2013 with the doping scandal at Godolphin.
“A number of racing media were looking for connections between Sheikh Mohammed’s racing and endurance operations, because his disgraced Godolphin trainer, Al Zarooni, had previously worked in an endurance stable run by trainer Mubarak Bin Shafya who is well known to the FEI Tribunal,” explains Cuckson. “I then spent four solid days reading every single FEI Tribunal report involving the UAE, and tortuously tracking who owned the horses through the FEI database and national federation website. The sheer weight of doping cases from stables owned by Sheikh Mohammed or other members of his immediate family was astonishing.”
Timing is everything. Just as Cuckson was coming to grips with the enormity of the problem and the implications for horse welfare, the Belgian and Swiss Federations were intensifying their lobbying of the FEI. “I wrote a piece for the Daily Telegraph pulling the various strands together and it has snowballed from there.”
Cuckson does not view her commitment to this issue as a crusade.
“I am just doing what any news reporter ought to be doing, because this issue provides a snapshot of the two issues that will ultimately destroy equestrian sport as we know it – our responsibilities to horses when we use them as a piece of sporting machinery; and how the moral compass of stakeholders seizes up when they get a sniff of big money.”
Cuckson will be presented with the award at the IAEJ General Meeting during 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France.