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in the face of cases of mistreatment, the world of horse riding must change

10:35 a.m., February 9, 2022

It is a warning-like observation: “If horse riding does not do real substantive work and does not admit excesses, its future in fifteen years is not guaranteed.” It comes from deputy Loïc Dombreval, president of the Animal Condition parliamentary study group and author of a report on the subject published on Monday 14 February. The document will then be submitted to the Paris 2024 organizing committee… In the viewfinder of the elected official, a veterinarian by profession, there are, among other things, the posterior gaiters, a kind of shell allowing a more pronounced passage of the hindquarters during the jump due to tendon pinching. This “mechanical doping”, still authorized in professional competitions despite the controversies, Loïc Dombreval wants to banish it. “As with hunting, there is a horse lobby and a fairly biased presentation of its well-being,” laments the parliamentarian La République en Marche.

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Chance of the calendar, the world of show jumping has been shaken since mid-January by an alleged scandal of abuse. Images broadcast by the German channel RTL implicate one of the greatest riders across the Rhine, Ludger Beerbaum. We see a man on foot lifting a bar in the forequarters of a horse that would have been ridden by Beerbaum, when the latter is above the obstacle, a scene that the media describes as a “dam”.

If the practice is prohibited, that of touching, consisting of reaching the animal’s limbs with a bar less than 3 meters long and less than 2 kilos, is authorized. A subtlety on which will be based the line of defense of Beerbaum. “The jump-off is a taboo subject in the middle; even between us, we don’t talk about it, confides this rider on condition of anonymity. But amateur horses sometimes end up on three legs after a stride error, and no one don’t talk about it when the consequences are much worse.”

“There are abuses, but they remain very much in the minority”

To date, no investigation has been opened against the German star. But other riders, such as the Swiss Paul Estermann, were judged. In the spring of 2017, a former stable employee accused him of mistreating two of his horses; one had been photographed with bloody sides. A year ago, Estermann was fined on appeal. More recently, last April, the American Andrew Kocher was suspended for ten years by the international federation after the use of electric spurs in competition. “There are abuses, but they remain very much in the minority, supports Emeric George, French rider of international level. Personally, it bothers me to receive lessons from people who have never ridden a horse.

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“Breaking the omerta”

According to the leader of the tricolor clan, Kevin Staut, 99% of professionals “go in the direction of the animal”. But “we must not be naive, continues the Olympic team champion in 2016, there is an imperative of results in all high-level structures”. Highlighting these issues could impact the image of equestrian sports among the general public. “The widespread opinion is that we are a sport for the rich where we traffic horses”, caricatures the former coach of the France team Jean-Maurice Bonneau. But he recommends “taking hold of the debate rather than ignoring it”. For him, the sector must “break the omerta” and recognize that the “methods accepted at one time are no longer so today”. “Myself, he admits, I have not always been virtuous, often out of ignorance.” Breaking the silence is what Loïc Dombreval suggests. Who also warns: “So far, equestrian sports have been spared from animal movements. But they should be wary.”

To date, only PETA (For an Ethical Treatment of Animals) has called for the removal of horse riding from the Olympic program. A request already made by the association after the Tokyo Games and three inglorious scenes: a horse bleeding from the nose in the middle of the show jumping course, another whipped in modern pentathlon, and euthanasia after an injury during the cross-country event. In two and a half years, the equestrian events will take place in Versailles. The royal opportunity to take the right turn.

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