A total of 136 riders are due to compete at the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) World Endurance Championships, which get underway with the Opening Ceremony in Samorin in Slovakia tomorrow.
The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar are all expected to do well at the event, which remains shrouded in controversy after Dubai was stripped of the hosting rights earlier this year following horse welfare concerns.
Uruguay and Spain are also sending strong teams to Samorin, which was confirmed as the replacement for Dubai in June, while Mario Hoffmann of Slovakia will be looking to make full use of home advantage.
The FEI have confirmed 46 countries from five countries will be represented at the World Endurance Championships, with the main bulk of the action due to be held on Saturday (September 17).
The Samorin Equestrian Centre, the venue for last year’s European Championships, was chosen to stage the event ahead of rival submissions from Fontainebleau in France and Pisa in Italy by the FEI’s Endurance Committee.
Both the French and Italian bids were rejected after they proposed mid-October for the Championships, meaning rides would start and finish in the dark.
Dubai's axing came after the Emirates Equestrian Federation (EEF) was suspended by the FEI for "major horse welfare issues" in March 2015.
This ban was lifted in July following the signing of a legally binding agreement in which the national body “guaranteed” horse welfare would be “fully respected” with FEI Rules enforced “stringently” at endurance events.
The governing body noted in April that there has been "hard work" and "progress" in the Gulf country but ruled that there is still too much work to be done to ensure horse safety at the World Endurance Championships.
Abdul Aziz Sheikh, the former head of the EEF Endurance Department, was suspended from acting as an FEI Official or having any involvement in FEI activities at a national or international level for 18 months in March.
He was one of three officials sanctioned after "consistently" failing to address FEI rules, while five riders were suspended following “gross offences” in February.
Other allegations against the country include "ghost-registered" horses, with results duplicated from earlier events.