The Beginning of the End?

14 Aug

I I were a media strategist, I would have done it on purpose. Adelinde Cornelissen couldn’t have hoped for better luck than the [false] rumour spreading like wildfire: That her horse Parzival had suffered a hairline fracture to the jaw which caused the need for the rider to pull up in the middle of the Grand Prix in Rio.

Misdirection of Attention

If you aren’t a horse person and/or you have missed this, the horse stuck out his tongue as far as he could in the middle of the dressage test and the rider decided to retire. Not permanently – the rider that is – but for the 19-year-old horse Rio was supposed to be the final show. Now newspapers have been running sob stories about the heroic rider who quit the Olympics “to save her horse”. Hw she loves her horse. How he is the most important thing to her.

(What apparently happened was that an NBC reporter mixed up two horses, one show jumper really suffering from a hairline fracture and Parzival, who suffered from a suspected insect bite. I don’t really believe any media strategist was involved.)

But I think I’ve read something similar in the hilarious book version of the BBC TV series “Yes, minister.” I suspect that in politics it’s done all the time. Smoke screens. Misdirection of attention. Politician gets caught doing something embarrassing. As news of the impropriety is about to break, the powers behind said politician plant another, much more radical piece of news. Something that isn’t true. The result? The second piece of news is discredited, vehmently so, proof of its inaccuracy is presented, much righteous indignation aired. Mostly it works well: the initial scandal is forgotten in the furore.

Who is the Enemy?

Let’s be clear on one point: I don’t disapprove of competitive dressage. I’m not your enemy. I actually think that horses can be ridden, transported and shown without their well being being compromised too much. It can be done, if done properly.

I do however object to horses suffering because of competitive dressage or any other sport. In my opinion, no valid justification exists for causing an animal suffering because you want to compete. I especially object to sugar-coating something that should be the cause of universal disapproval. Something that in itself could – and in my opinion should – be the end of the FEI having control of horse welfare during competition.

What happened, if the news stories are true, was this: Parzival, was taken ill on a Tuesday. High fever, swelling on the head. He was treated by a vet, given intravenous fluids and the fever went down. All well and good. These things happen. Bad luck.

What happened next is the part I still have some difficulty believing. In spite of this, more than one veterinarian (Dutch team and FEI) and the rider herself decided that the horse was fit to compete the following day. The horse, as the world saw, was not. If you have ever had a high fever you know that you’re not fit to exert yourself in any way the following day.

That is what really happened. Disregard the rumour of the fractured jaw. It is completely irrelevant. The FEI vets, the Dutch team vets and the rider all let the horse down. This to me is evidence enough to prove that the FEI isn’t capable of taking the welfare of the horse into appropriate consideration. The team vets and rider certainly weren’t.

If we want to keep horses in the Olympics and keep the social license for horse sport at all – and after this case, and the two jumping riders being eliminated today because of excessive spur and whip use, it may well be the beginning of the end of horses in the Olympics – there is an obvious need for truly impartial experts monitoring the welfare of the horses. The FEI has failed spectacularly.


This poor horse is not in the Olympics.

It is perfectly possible to train and show horses without making them suffer. I think that it’s time to make changes from within before they are made from without as happened to commercial greyhoumd racing in New South Wales.

Edited to add: No, it’s not the double bridle. It’s what you do with it. In the image below: Coco Paradieso ridden by Mia Kainulainen in Colonel Carde’s clinic in Finland.



Posted by on August 14, 2016 in Horses


12 responses to “The Beginning of the End?


    August 14, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    Let’s stop these morons being DAM cruel ,it barbaric 😠

  2. per hendrik fasmer waaler

    August 15, 2016 at 7:05 am

    My beginning sentence in a letter to the Swedish federation, and all the judge educators, three years ago was: “Jag skriver detta i hopp om att kunna påverka vad jag anser vara en fel riktning för dressyren, som tävlingsform, har tagit över en längre tid.”( I write this in the hope of being able to affect what I see as the wrong directiion that dressage, as a competition sport, has taken over a longer period)
    Later i wrote:” Skall ridsporten ta initiativ och gå före med utbildning, etiska standard som inte ifrågasätts, och ett värdegrundlag som går att försvara? Eller skall man vänta på att de som nu känner sig utanför systemet lyckas visa vad som finns under den glansiga ytan?” (Should the equestrian sport take the initiative and go in the front with education, ethical standards that cannot be questioned, and a value basis that is defendable? Or should we wait for those that now feel outside the system to succeed in showing what is hidden behind the glossy fasad?” Sounds like we have the same questions to the federations:-)

    • Stina

      August 15, 2016 at 8:28 pm

      Great comment. We just have to keep trying.

  3. Chris Anastasy

    August 15, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    I completely agree and have shared my own thoughts in detail on this.
    Chris Anastasy (Dressage For The Rest Of Us)

  4. Stina

    August 15, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    Thank you very nice blog.

  5. Kris Hughes

    August 16, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    “I actually think that horses can be ridden, transported and shown without their well being being compromised too much.” How much is too much? Who gets to decide?

  6. myocumflowers

    August 16, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    The beginning of the end? A horse gets bitten by an insect, treated and competes?…. The horse does not compete against other beings , he concentrates on doing his best…. you don’t know till you are out there if it bothers him enough to break his concentration…. The Rider is the head of the Olympic partnership, they make the decisions for the animal, who is a finely tuned athlete capable of performing amazing movements. Horse couldn’t concentrate, but was sound…. bad luck for the rider….these things happen

  7. Chris Lorenz

    August 17, 2016 at 1:51 am

    The horse has to perform a balancing act which involves a natural carriage and movement of the head and neck. The balance point is in the vicinity of the front leg. The nose band is tightly buckled so the horse cannot open its mouth and evade the bit. In the pictures I have seen the head is cranked behind the vertical, which closes off the wind pipe. With the jaw clamped shut and the nose to the shoulder, I have a hard time imagining a horse performing such incredible dressage so dutifully bearing an idiot on his back. Animal cruelty..I wish Parzival could speak…however any true horse person could read the horses body language.

  8. Kristine Wilson

    August 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

    I totally agree with you – the hairline fracture was reported briefly on the Rio website – how did that happen. No matter- as you say totally irrelevant. The real issue here is how was the horse’s condition missed or was it ignored as she was considered too big to question. When you get on your horse a rider can immediately tell if it is not right – with even a minor issue so how did she not notice??? Impossible. How was this missed by the vets? The story put out as a statement was so detailed in an effort to explain the symptoms of an alleged ‘bite’ – far too detailed and unnecessarily so giving the impression it is a case of methinks she doth protest too much. A simple statement that the horse had been bitten would have been so much better and perhaps a photo of the bite – but of course there wasn’t one .

    However perhaps this may go a way to highlight the cruelty that goes on by some riders in forcing horses into an outline because most horse lovers find it unacceptable. Maybe more consideration should be given to lightness of going, the art of doing nothing…. Compare this horrIble spectacle witnessed by all with the lightness and flamboyance of the lovely Spanish horse that did not receive the marks it deserved. The horse truly looked like he was having fun and dancing which is exactly how it should be. I feel sick for Parzival.

  9. Anton

    March 26, 2017 at 4:11 am

    “Who is the Enemy?”.

    I agree with your opening statements and am all for equestrian sports particularly dressage. I would like to add that “corporate interests” are also sometimes the enemy of horse welfare!

    The “Longines Grand Slam” indoor showjumping tournament for one prime example.

    Longines tournament takes place In Hong Kong, Paris and Los Angeles. Paris and to some degree Los Angeles are justifiable but Hong Kong, not at all?!

    We all or should understand that long distance air travel for horses is a risky business. The effects of air transport on horses are multiple and complicated. Safe to say the least flying involved the safer for the horse. In fact some owners will not allow their horses to fly more than once and some not at all. The answer to sedation on a flight, should a horse become unmanageable is euthanasia, simple. Sedatives work in an opposite manner at altitude so cannot be used at all. Here there is not the scope to do the risks of flying justice but here is list of possible and some unavoidable problems all horses will suffer regardless. Stress, hormonal changes, increase in heart and respiratory rates, increase in sweating and defecation, compromised immune system, injury, respiratory disease, colic, laminitis, enterocolitis, rhabdomyolysis, fatal pleuropneumonia (travel sickness – the risk of this the most serious of them increases with flight duration), dehydration……the list is endless. It takes days sometimes weeks, depending on individual and flight direction just for the horses circadian rhythm to be restored.

    Even with all the best intentions care and safety precautions problems arise. Courtney King’s Mythilus went into A-fib when arriving in Hong Kong. Atrial fibrillation (also called AFib or AF) is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications………

    Hong Kong as a venue is nothing but Longines promoting it’s brand across Asia.

    There is no question that HK is not suitable as a venue to promote equestrian sports either, being nothing but a city. It was promoted by misguided local officials as the “Equestrian capital of Asia” during the Beijing Olympic games. HK was chosen because Beijing was considered too risky. All manner of facilities were constructed to make the event a success and it was (besides the broad doping fiasco) a success. I was there for the Olympics, and can vouch for the fact that everything was done for the complete safety and welfare of the horse. As a one off, it was very successful, they even turned the golf course into a cross country. But its all gone. These facilities no longer exist at all, they were demolished and deconstructed. The Longines is held in a hall at the airport, one of the busiest airports in the world in a city already well know for its chronic and dangerous levels of air-pollution. The airport is not a place to spend any time never mind for a recovering horse and one expected to perform at the highest level. They have no access to outside as a result, kept in an artificial environment of air-conditioning, electric lighting noise dust and pathogens, from the moment they board the plane in Europe until they return to Europe this is how they live. Not only this but subjected to extreme loud music and commentary. These are sensitive delicate flight animals. Is it any wonder they die inside.

    The horses first gulp of real (hopefully also clean) fresh air is when they get back home and are unloaded.


  10. Anton

    March 26, 2017 at 4:11 am

    Even if nothing untoward happens to them at all, are these happy horses? No they’re not, absolutely not. You can see it on their faces, deeply introverted with sad concentrated eyes often hollow expressions looking nowhere until they see a jump. Dazed and sleepy they still manage to perform to their utmost ability. Stoic though they may be they’re not happy horses and all horses deserve to be happy. This is the thing I took and remembered from having been to the Longines in Hong Kong three times. It just shouldn’t be.

    Remembering many of these performance horses themselves are kept back home in less than satisfactory conditions, this is improving but you can only imagine the nightmare some of them find themselves trapped in, day in day out.

    It’s highly debatable if horses should be kept in Hong Kong at all in fact. They have no green fields, no fields at all for that matter, horses never get to feel they are the herd animal they are. The race horses live permanently stabled and on walkers with exceedingly bad air quality. Extreme humidity and heat in summer, typhoons and months of continuous down pour. The only interest the public in HK have for equestrianism is horse racing and this is not for the horse but for the gambling associated with it. Hong Kong has one show-jumper and she is based in Germany and despite unlimited funds it looks doubtful she will make any kind of mark in the sport at all. I have personally seen how horses are kept in the city and it’s not acceptable. If they’re lucky they might get a few square meters of sand outdoors to be horses, on their own at lib, most often they never even get this due to weather constraints and time.

    Is this the place to promote equestrian sports Longine? Well hardly. Yes it is the place to promote your products but horses are not tools, they’re living breathing sentient beings.

    So horses and the sport are being used by Longines for all intensive purpose without the slightest consideration for the horse itself. The entire happening is shipped to Hong Kong once a year, Jumps, horses and all. This is the only international show jumping at this level there, this one event. Like a circus and thats exactly how the people of Hong Kong see the event. These horses are being treated like circus animals and that is unacceptable. The use of animals in circuses in most civilised Western countries has ended yet for horses it continues…….and indeed is being actively promoted in Asia.

    Most of the horses are based in Europe and the riders, this Hong Kong side show should end. It’s completely unnecessary and an added welfare risk to the horse and it won’t be missed at all. For that tiny, tiny fraction of a minority who do have an interest well for the price of the event ticket and their next designer hand bag they can travel to Europe and enjoy all the show-jumping they desire.

  11. Anton

    March 26, 2017 at 4:40 am

    I might add retired race horses in Hong Kong get a very bad deal as well. The most are shipped to China never to be heard from again, where levels of management are so bad they might as well be euthanised as it would be kinder. The tiny minority that are successful as race horses get flown at the owners expense to Australia and new Zealand where they have facilities for retired race horses. The rest find themselves stabled locally in terrible conditions of deprivation by the HK Jockey Club. They are kept stabled day and night and removed to enclosed walkers with no view once a day. That is their life. A tiny fraction are used as school horses or retrained if showing any talent only to find they have no career as there is no thriving competition circuit in Asia never mind Hong Kong.


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