“The welfare of Olympic horses should no longer be overlooked and neglected”


This blog is an excerpt from the PARIS 2024 HORSE WELFARE CAMPAIGN MAGAZINE  which is free to download and read online.

1. The main incidents of the Tokyo Olympics

A. Jet Set

On August 1, 2021, the Olympic cross-country event took place as part of the Eventing Team Riding Competition on the Sea Forest course. Following a poor landing after the obstacle of Mount Fuji (the 5th jump before the end) and a heavy fall, the horse Jet Set, a 14-year-old gelding ridden by Robin Godel, rider of the Swiss team, tore a ligament in his forelimb. Deemed irreparable, this ligament tear led to the euthanasia of the horse later that day.

B. Saint Boy

On August 6, 2021, Annika Schleu, a German athlete and first in the provisional classification of the modern Pentathlon event, failed to make her horse Saint Boy jump the course and attacked him with a whip and spurs in an attempt to make him yield and obey. Her trainer Kim Raisner encouraged the rider to use the whip and punched the horse with her fist.

C. Kilkenny

Kilkenny suffered a major epistaxis (nasal discharge of blood) during the show jumping event. His Irish rider Cian O’Connor did not stop the round, nor did the FEI jury. The horse finished the show jumping round with his chest stained with blood.

2. The media reaction

Immediately after these incidents, social networks exploded, numerous press articles were published and the media seized information and images and streamed them to television news of the major national and international channels.

All three incidents were the subject of major articles in the specialist print media. It is especially the images of Saint Boy, struck by his rider, which were disseminated by the television channels.

3. Citizen reaction and issues

The horse is the third favourite animal of the French people, behind dogs and cats, and horse riding is the 4th favourite sport in France with more than 600,000 licenced members.

Following the incidents mentioned above, the general public and animal protection associations mobilised and launched petitions. The 30-million Friends Foundation has called for the modern pentathlon event to be removed from the Olympic Games.

The editor-in-chief of the German magazine St. Georg said: “In pentathlon, horses are what they should never be: sports equipment like the rifle in shooting and the rapier in fencing. They don’t deserve it, it hurts their dignity. Therefore, equestrianism should disappear from modern pentathlon as soon as possible.”

The German animal protection association Deutscher Tierschutzbund filed a criminal complaint for animal cruelty against the German rider and trainer for cruelty to animals.

The media and animal protection associations were outraged by these three spectacular incidents. Multiple professional voices in equestrian sports are increasingly speaking out against certain training methods such as hyperflexion, or against physical devices that constrain the horse’s posture (frame) and that create more or less painful movement, or medicinal drugs that can jeopardise the health of the horse.

Groups and associations continue to denounce mistreatment in equestrian sports and want to challenge the International Olympic Committee (IOC) threatening to use shocking images in the Paris 2024 Olympics to call for Games that treat horses well.

Journalist Julie Taylor of Epona TV has written a book called “I can’t watch anymore. The case for dropping equestrian from the olympic games. An open letter to the IOC”, which she sent to all members of the IOC.

Meanwhile, some animal or anti-speciesism activists go further and demand a complete ban on the use of horses in sports and leisure. The German branch of PETA also sent a letter to the IOC asking that all equestrian sports be banned from the Olympic Games.

4. The response of the authorities concerned

A. For Jet Set

The FEI communicated succinctly on this event via Twitter and then on its official website, explaining that Jet Set received adequate care on site and that he was then transferred by equine ambulance to the veterinary clinic dedicated to the Olympic Games where additional examinations revealed “an irreparable rupture of the ligament in the right lower limb, just above the hoof, and for humane reasons and with the agreement of the owners and the rider, the decision was taken to euthanize the horse “.

The FEI also specified that a necropsy would be carried out and that the results would be communicated. To date, this does not seem to have been done, or at any rate, made public.

On August 1, 2021, the Swiss Olympic Committee made a point of specifying in a press release that “the accident is due neither to a fault of the rider nor to faults in the terrain of the Sea Forest Cross Country Course” and that, despite the tragic accident, the Swiss equestrian team had decided to take part in the final show jumping competition the following day, with the substitute rider Eveline Bodenmüller on Violine de la Brasserie, while specifying that the rider Robin Godel had not been injured and offering her condolences for Jet Set’s death.

B. For Saint Boy

The day after the incident, the UIPM disqualified German pentathlon coach Kim Raisner for the end of the Tokyo Olympics, thus preventing her from participating in the following men’s events. Then, last November, the Disciplinary Commission of the International Federation of Modern Pentathlon issued its findings and concluded that Raisner had breached UIPM competition rules by hitting a horse and encouraging his athlete to do the same.

The jury therefore confirmed the validity of the decision of the executive committee of the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM) to exclude Kim Raisner from the end of the Olympic Games. They also gave her an official reprimand, adding that any repetition of this type of behaviour could lead to the withdrawal of her accreditations from the UIPM Coaching Certification Program and her authorization to coach in competition. In addition, she will be required to attend a trainer education seminar, including a module on the humane treatment of animals, prior to her participation in any competition

Nevertheless, the UIPM chose not to sanction Annika Schleu stating: “It was determined that the use of the whip or spurs was not excessive and although the situation was certainly distressing for the rider and the horse, the committee concluded that there were no animal welfare issues to be resolved and that no sanctions would be taken”

The UIPM said in a press release that it had already set up a working group to reform the modern pentathlon riding event.

For Paris 2024, the organisation seems to favour a reduction in the height and number of obstacles without touching the random assignment of the horses, which is, however, the most criticised rule. The UIPM also wishes to make amendments to its code of ethics in order to better take into account the welfare of horses. In addition, it has been decided that a meeting will be organised with the president of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) so that he can provide his expertise in this matter.

On Sunday, November 28, 2021, the outgoing President, Klaus Schormann was re-elected for an eighth term as President of the UIPM. First elected in 1993, President Schormann received the support of 85.71% of the electorate in an election where no other candidate was running.

The UIPM’s first vice-president, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr, a member and former vice-president of the IOC, also retained his position, with more than 90% of delegates voting in his favour.

This 71st congress also saw the election of a new vice-president, Sharif Elerian, president of the Egyptian Federation and secretary general of the Egyptian National Olympic Committee – and the re-election of the French vice-presidents Joël Bouzou, Russian Viacheslav Aminov and Mexican Juan Manzo Oranegui.

In addition, the delegates ratified by 81% the decision of the UIPM Executive Committee to initiate a consultation concerning the fifth discipline, announced on November 4, in order to propose to the IOC a format for the Los Angeles 2028 Games with a new fifth discipline, to be determined by the UIPM. This fifth discipline would replace horse riding among the modern pentathlon events.

Annika Schleu undertook to pay 500 euros to a recognized association of general interest in exchange for the closing of the case by the Potsdam public prosecutor’s office, which was accepted in January 2022.

For our part, we have repeatedly invited Mr Joël Bouzou, President of the French Pentathlon Federation, to an interview. He did not respond positively to these invitations.

Summary of Tokyo incidents

Tensions which seem to be growing are evident between the various stakeholders in equestrian sports: media, public, animal protection groups, riders, federations, and professional organisations.

It is therefore urgent that the main sources of accidents and harm to the well-being of horses in competition are analysed, in order to put in place adequate corrective measures.

Everyone wants the Paris 2024 Olympic Games to set an example in terms of respect for horses, and for the general public to continue to enjoy following the equestrian events.

The stakes for the whole sector are considerable.

This blog is an excerpt from the PARIS 2024 HORSE WELFARE CAMPAIGN MAGAZINE  which is free to download and read online.