I write this letter as a devoted animal advocate, frustrated rider and teammate. On Saturday, July 8, 2017, after winning the Cascais leg of the Global Champions League, our team, the Miami Glory, was quickly disqualified after Scott Brash’s horse, Hello Forever, came out of the arena and a steward noticed an extremely small spur mark on its side. As others watched, the steward rubbed the mark hard enough to make it bleed slightly, at which point, the steward took the glove to the foreign judge, who deferred to the president of the ground jury. After spreading a trace amount of blood across the horse’s side, the steward photographed the cut, choosing to portray it in a manner that was not representative of how it looked when the horse originally exited the ring. We, along with other riders, have photographs of the horse’s side that represent how the cut looked before being harshly rubbed. The FEI is representing the situation with the photograph taken after the cut was made to bleed by the steward.
Due to the FEI rule concerning spur marks (242.3.1. of the FEI Jumping Rules, implemented in the context of “horse welfare”) Scott was immediately eliminated from the class, and our team from the competition. While I fully respect and support the FEI creating rules to protect the welfare of our horses and to prevent mistreatment of horses at each competition, we find this ruling to be extreme and yet another example of an FEI rule that needs to be changed in order to fulfill its purpose of protecting our horses. The cut in question was inspected by every rider, trainer, groom and even a handful of stewards in the schooling area when they heard the issue was under investigation, and most had difficulty finding the cut. Everyone agreed that the mark was not substantial enough to be considered punishable.
At this particular horse show, Scott and his horse put in an incredible effort to jump clear and win the competition for our team, yet this is not how the event will be remembered. Unfortunately, given that the disqualification stemming from this specific rule is ultimately attributed to horse welfare, there is a serious and unfair misrepresentation of us as riders and animal lovers to the public and within the media, and it is one that I am not willing to accept. Scott is known for his horsemanship, sportsmanship and proper treatment of his horses. We continue to be incredibly honored to have him as a member of our team and I feel compelled to clarify that I saw absolutely no sign of abuse or injury to his horse. I consider myself to be the utmost animal lover; I pride myself on standing up for animal welfare and would be the first to admit if I thought there had been any wrongdoing, whether or not it was going to cost us a victory in the class.
“I believe rules are necessary, when reasonable and followed in a consistent and fair manner, but unfortunately, this has not been the case.”
Although I fully believe in having and following rules, especially those made to protect our horses, I have noticed a shift in the focus of FEI stewards at international shows in the last few years. I watch as riders enter the arena with inappropriate clothing or attire, use phones while working around the schooling area—not paying attention to where they are going or who they are putting in danger—and stewards turn a blind eye to certain riders behaviors and mistreatment of their horses. The FEI claims to be following rules to benefit the welfare of the horse, which I support. I believe rules are necessary, when reasonable and followed in a consistent and fair manner, but unfortunately, this has not been the case. If the FEI wants to claim that they are concerned with horse welfare, they need to start behaving in a manner consistent with their claim. Since last weekend, I have received numerous messages from other riders voicing their personal frustration with the stewarding at FEI events and telling me stories of rules being enforced in an unfair and extreme manner. Some have even stated that they have complained about issues concerning the welfare of their horses at shows—such as lack of water, shavings, or an obvious danger to one of their horses—and that the stewards have ignored their concerns.
I understand that there are people who will state that no horse should ever have a mark or injury that was inflicted by its rider. Unfortunately, the reality that every horseman and woman knows is that the occasional injury or mark on a horse’s skin is inevitable. Just as any athlete may experience a rub or bruise during play, a small spur mark on a horse’s side is a consequence of high-level competition; it is not abuse. This is not a call to soften the rules on horse welfare, but simply to adjust the rules to be reasonable, fair and consistent.
As frustrated as we are at this ruling, we also understand and accept that the current rule was followed and that our disqualification is a result of this. We may not agree with how the situation was handled, or the mark recorded, but we also respect that when rules are in place, no matter how unreasonable we may view them to be, they need to be followed. We understand the rule and how it was implemented in this situation, but we also need to state that this is not a rule that we riders believe is in anyone’s best interest.
I want again to voice my support for Scott Brash and state that I in no way saw any signs of abuse or injury to his horse. I am incredibly proud of all the members of my team in Cascais for the team spirit and support they showed Scott. We stand behind him as teammates and look forward to moving on from this unfortunate situation together. I also want to voice my support for Jan Tops and the product he has created in the form of the Global Champions Tour and League. I believe in him, what he has done for showjumping, and the resilience he has shown in his battle to make his vision a reality. I sincerely hope that situations such as this do not continue to arise and detract from the positive things he has done for our sport and for us riders. I look forward to mirroring his determination in my efforts to see the rule change we all support being implemented and working with the FEI to ensure that rules are in place to protect our horses and their welfare, without unfairly punishing our riders.