The Irish rider Kevin Thornton has responded to allegations that a horse under his care died from abuse over the weekend at the GPA Jump Festival CSI2* in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France.
On Monday morning, GPA Jump Festival organizers released a statement in French via its Facebook page, that in translation read “Following the accident that day on the racetrack, the organization will take all necessary measures to clarify the circumstances of this tragedy and punish those responsible. The animal compliance is our priority and we are committed to uphold it !!!”
Show organizers also circulated a paper flyer (left) as an effort to seek witnesses to the incident, in which the 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse stallion Flogas Sunset Cruise (ARD VDL Douglas x Cruising) that was owned by Vinnie Duffy and Thornton, collapsed and died on a training section of the facility. The paper flyer, which provided a space for witnesses to sign and made the statement that Thornton had used a dressage whip to strike his horse until it collapsed, quickly went viral on social media, spurring swift condemnation and outrage online.
The FEI confirmed they were investigating the situation, and issued the following statement:
“The FEI has launched a full investigation into the death of the horse Flogas Sunset Cruise (FEI ID 103KQ92), ridden by Kevin Thornton (IRL), which occurred at the Cagnes-sur-Mer racetrack in France on Monday 10 October.
We are in direct contact with the Cagnes-sur-Mer Organising Committee, which has filed a report on the incident with the police. A post mortem is scheduled to be carried out on the horse today.
The welfare of our equine athletes is our number one priority and, although this incident took place on a rest day between two international events, the FEI has rules in place that mean any horse welfare issues can be addressed, even if they happen outside the duration of an FEI event.
In order to protect the integrity of the investigation we will not give any further comment at this point in time.”
On Tuesday morning Thornton and Duffy responded via The Irish Field newspaper, rejecting the allegations that Thornton had whipped the horse to death. Visit The Irish Field for the complete statement.
“I was not riding this horse for three hours as is being said on social media,” Thornton told The Irish Field. “I was riding him for 15-20 minutes at most before he keeled over. I have other grey horses that people seem to be confused with because I was riding them earlier.
“He was going well at the show. He jumped clear the first day. The second day he napped a bit before the first fence and stood up twice with me in the ring but jumped clear. That was the way he was. I always lunged him first to warm him up and then would sit up on him, that seemed to suit him better.
“I had a chat with Vinnie and he said to get him out on the gallops, going forward. I cantered the other two greys and they were happy out.
“I took Flogas up to the big gallop where a section was open to the riders. He was in a normal bit, he acted up at the entrance, I hit him once or twice to get him moving forward. That was the first time he had ever been hit. He bolted off around the gallops. I tried to hold him and stay calm.
“I hunted him on a bit when he slowed and threw the reins at him, turned him around and back towards the gate where a lad was waiting for me with a dressage stick. I normally only ever rode him with a dressage stick at home. He nearly jumped on top of the lad. We got down to the other arena. He was not breathing heavy or fast. He felt very weird under me, I got off and as I did so he keeled over. I took the saddle off him and shouted for a vet. I rang Vinnie and told him what was happening.
“I was not riding the horse for three hours; it was 20 minutes at the most… I got a shock. [The show people] said I was welcome to stay. I wanted to leave, I did not feel fit to ride after it to be honest. They said no problem, they were 100% sound.
“Later I read online that they said they kicked me out of the show. They did not. They told me I could stay if I wanted to but I didn’t want to.
“I’m into horses all my life and would never ever do something like whipping a horse to death, that’s not me and that’s not what happened. There is no way in my life I would do something like that, I’m not that kind of person.”
A necropsy and blood tests are being performed on Flogas to determine the official cause of death.