The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

My thoughts on recent events in the equestrian world…

At the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021, there was huge controversy when modern pentathlete Annika Schleu failed to complete her round on the horse Saint Boy. Schleu hit Saint Boy with her whip many times, and video footage and photographs show a clearly unhappy horse and rider. Schleu’s coach Kim Raisner was thrown out of the games for punching Saint Boy in apparent frustration. The backlash following this incident no doubt contributed to the announcement later that year that from 2024, horse riding will no longer be part of the sport of Modern Pentathlon. At the point of writing, no replacement sport has been announced. Currently, Modern Pentathlon is not included in the preliminary list of sports to be included at the Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028.

In January 2022, Julie Taylor published her book ‘I Can’t Watch Any More: The Case for Dropping EQUESTRIAN from the OLYMPIC GAMES’. The book is written as an open letter to the International Olympic Committee. In the preface, Julie states “ Seeing horses killed and riders over-faced is damaging to the public image and social license of the Olympic Games and is not something you should want to continue.”

In February 2022, Olympian Sir Mark Todd received an interim suspension from the British Horseracing Authority following the release on social media of a video apparently showing him hitting a horse with a branch during a cross country training session in 2020, two years previously. Sir Todd, voted Rider of the 20th century by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports, publicly apologised, and stepped down immediately as a patron of the charity World Horse Welfare.

In response to this incident, the FEI gave a statement to Horse and Hound magazine “Every individual in the equestrian community has a responsibility and a duty to safeguard and protect the horses in their care and embrace a zero-tolerance attitude when it comes to any form of equine abuse and mistreatment. Any violation of that important responsibility cannot be overlooked or condoned, and the FEI will investigate whenever sporting and training methods are in clear disregard of the health and welfare of our most valued partner, the horse. The foundations of our sport rest on our partnership with the horse, and it is up to all equestrians to uphold and respect this core principle in the pursuit of sport and leisure riding.”

In a statement on the news page of their website, World Horse Welfare said “… We all need to take heed from this episode. If equestrian sport, which we actively support, is to continue to maintain the acceptance of the public – its social licence – there cannot be any tolerance for unacceptable practices, no matter how experienced the rider or trainer.”

Whatever your feelings are on these matters, it is clear that the views of the general public, both equestrian and non-equestrian, have had a significant impact on the sport of riding horses. Equestrianism’s social license to compete requires public acceptance of the use of horses in sport, and the general public will not tolerate what they see as abuse, whether or not the equestrian public and professionals see things the same way.

Horses are an important and much loved part of my life, and always have been. I am seriously concerned that unless the attitudes and behaviours of many in the equestrian community change very soon, we are at risk of losing the option of riding as either sport or leisure.

February 24, 2022
Sue Palmer