Yesterday I came across a poster advertising the ‘Turnier der Sieger’, an equestrian tournament for jumping and dressage which is going to take place next week here in Münster. Somebody added a yellow sticker to the poster. As I came closer I saw that the sticker read ‘Abgesagt wegen Tierquälerei’ (‘Cancelled for animal cruelty’).
You may already know from my previous articles (e.g. Unter den Eichen im Jenischpark…) that I do love equestrian, and especially show jumping, most dearly. Of course, I don’t agree with the accusation that those sports are ‘animal cruelty’ per se. I know that it is possible to practice it, even on the highest level, in a way that doesn’t harm the horses, a way that is on the contrary guided by the care and, yes, the love for the equine sports partners. This is how the vast majority of riders, from little girls taking care of their very first pony to seasoned athletes competing for Olympic glory, is practising their sport.
So, if the value of Equestrian sports is so obvious to me, why am I writing these lines? Why do I care about that slogan on the poster? Because it made me think. It made me remember what I saw that very day in Rio’s jumping arena and also a few days earlier in both the dressage and eventing competitions.
It began on Monday during the eventing cross-country stage, when a Brazilian rider whose horse had refused in front of an obstacle began to hit his mount with the whip far more than reasonably acceptable. My friend, with whom I was watching it, and myself were totally upset about it. No immediate sanction by the jury followed, but that story ended in quite a perfect way with the horse unseating the rider on the following day during the jumping stage. An obvious case of a horse being more intelligent than its rider…
As was the case with Jur Vrieling of the Netherlands and his horse Zirocco Blue. After the second refusal in the first qualifying round, show jumper Vrieling hit Zirocco with such force that the horse was bleeding on the flank. And for once I did agree with the audience booing and shouting… In accordance with the rules, Vrieling was disqualified from the individual competition but still allowed to start in the team event, where his horse proved to be more intelligent as well, refusing again twice and causing the rider to be eliminated.
But these weren’t the only two negative cases in Rio. Nicola Philippaerts of Belgium was also disqualified in the individual round for blood on his horse, as were Brazilian Stephan de Freitas Barcha and Ukraine’s Cassio Rivetti a day later during the team event. And the story of Dressage rider Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival already made headlines beyond the Olympic arena, with an American Dressage judge planning to file a lawsuit against Cornelissen for animal cruelty.
This is a deeply disturbing and alarming development. It follows the line of training methods such as the horrible ‘Rollkur’, against which the Equestrian community is still struggling to find an adequate response. Fortunately, the FEI, though not exactly convincingly decisive against Rollkur, has reacted to the most recent cases in Rio and disqualified the athletes from their respective competitions. In my opinion, though the FEI explicitly stated that such a sanction is imposed for the safety of the horse and does not necessarily mean that there was any intent by the rider, a further sanctioning procedure against the riders involved should follow, resulting if intent or negligence can be proven, at the very least, in a fine and potentially a ban from competition for a reasonable period of time. As far as I understand the FEI regulations, they are capable of doing that, and it would send such an important signal. In other areas, such as the sanctioning for illegal medication, the FEI appears to follow the ‘zero-tolerance policy’. It should be the same here.
Because what is at stake is the perception of Equestrian sports as a sport where rider and horse are partners, where riders relies on the horses and treat them accordingly with respect and care. There is hardly any other sport where it is so important for the top level athletes to set good examples to the youth, to amateur riders everywhere.
And what is even more importantly at stake, is the well being of the horses. They are the reason, the only reason, why we can practice this sport. And after all they are just horses, fellow creatures, we have the privilege of sharing our lives with. It is time for all those involved in Equestrian sports to remember why they all (OK, at least 99% of them…) came in contact with their sport: because of their love for the horses…
Fortunately, there are those equestrians, even on the highest international level, who can still remember exactly that. And it is only just and a wonderful result, that among those are many of this year’s medalists. They are the real champions:
He is simply my best friend, a horse that gives me his heart and soul every time and reduces me to tears when he does. He always seems to know what I’m thinking when I ride and has tried so hard over the years to do his best for me and never more so than today. I’m not sure I’m going to finish this post as the tears are building up again as I type.
DANKE Despi, dass du mir dies ermöglichst!!! Es ist einfach der absolute Wahnsinn und ich kann es noch gar nicht richtig realisieren…
Ich möchte mich einfach bei allen für die lieben Glückwünsche bedanken.
Auch 2 Tage später ist es noch nicht real… Unglaublich was Sam für ein Ausnahmepferd ist und der beste Sportpartner, den man sich wünschen kann!!!