I need to write this, because my blood is boiling. And you need to read this, because I refuse to believe you are as ignorant as some of you pretend to be.
The poor quality of the riding in modern pentathlon showjumping has gone under the radar for long enough. I understand you have been fooled into thinking a bit of force is both acceptable, and perhaps required, but more than anything I understand that you have missed a cruicial lesson when it comes to horsemanship. I am no olympic athlete, nor do I desire to be one, but you have a pair of ears and you are capable of listening. Use them to listen to your horses.
I am an animal lover. You probably guessed that. I heard you say you’re an animal lover too; after witnessing you abuse a terrified horse in an attempt to score some points for your competition. Would an animal lover hit a horse, as hard as you did? If your answer is yes, you are lying to yourself. I refuse to believe you are that ignorant. What mental gymastics are you performing, to manage to jump to the conclusion that hitting your horse – with or without a tool – shows you care about them?
Did your trainer tell you the horse has thick skin? Because the horse has thinner skin and more nerve endings than humans do (link).
If a dog trainer hit a dog like that on live TV, they’d be under investigation. They’d have their animals taken away from them and rehomed. They would be out of a job. Shamed for eternity. If a woman repeatedly hit her husband, and claimed she loved him, we would (or should…) use all sorts of colourful language about the hypocracy. So allow me to utilize the rainbow for this blog.
Did you see the other athlete who’s horse “unexpectedly” crashed through a fence, fell, and didn’t get up? Who says she listened to her trainer, who told her to get back up on the horse and continue?
Where were her balls? Where was her spine, which she could have used to stand up straight, and refuse to continue? As she watched this poor horse – who tried its best for her- and hurt itself for her attempted success, just lay there, stunned? She should be shocked her trainer’s instinct was to push her to continue. She should be petrified she let herself be pushed. She should be ashamed that she struck a canter and tried to finish. She, above anyone else, should use her position as a pentathlon athlete and fight for change.
Where the fuck are your morals? Because they are not in that riding arena, that’s for sure.
What we are seeing in that riding arena, is proof that there is a significant and dangerous lack of horsemanship in this sport. At best, this is neglicence. A lot of this is abuse. I understand the rules allow the rider to get back up after a fall. I’m not having an issue with the rules. I’m having an issue with riders, and trainers, and organizers, and judges, who do not care for the well-being of the horse after a potentially lethal fall.
I understand there is a lot at stake in a pentathlon. You’re supposed to excel in five different events. Trust me, I understand that it’s a lot. I am impressed with the determination it takes. I am in awe of how hard you train.
I also understand that it’s a lot at stake for the equestrians who ride horses, for a living, and compete in the regular equestrian events under the FEI rules. Who are famous for their skills in one event, not five. There’s a lot of stake for them too. They have to prove their skill, so they can continue to work. You have riders such as the Norwegian showjumper who had the tact, and the brains, to stop mid-competition. He didn’t fight through four other events in an attempt to win gold, no, that is true. But he’s based his entire life around this one thing. He knew, the minute his horse felt slightly off, that he wouldn’t have a chance for a medal. So he stopped. He called it a day.
Even professional equestrians have days where their horses aren’t feeling it. Those days could be in an olympic finale. Those days will cost you the fighting chance for a medal. That happens, not just to the pentathlon athletes. I’ve seen news articles talk shit about the pentathlon horses, who were stupid and cost the athletes a medal. I have not seen news articles talk shit about the other horses in the olympics, who just happened to be horses, which cost their riders a medal.
I will not avoid mentioning the human factor here too; professional equestrians make mistakes and confuse their horses all the time, causing whatever medals to be lost. Riding is hard. Confusing a horse is easy. My personal opinion is that most equestrians aren’t humble enough to begin with. But the vast majority of them own up to it in one way or the other. Well, shitfuck, made a mistake here… and there the focus was lost as they approach a huge ass oxer. Seeing the poor quality riding shown in the modern pentathlon… there is no wonder these horses have a hard time. There’s an angry sack of potatoes, with pointy heels and a stick to beat them with, stuck on their back, trying to chase them over a jump. I’d be terrified too.
A horse is not a tool. It’s not a motorcycle. It’s not a bicycle. It’s not a thing.
Dear pentathlon athletes; you know this. You cannot be that stupid. I refuse to believe it. But somewhere along the road, you have been taught that force, and pain, and fear, are perfectly acceptable methods to use on your way to the medal. Somewhere along that road, you lost your morals. You started believing these horses owe you something. If you claim to be an animal lover, now is the time to show it. If you claim to be a pentathlon athlete, you better fucking show that too. You’re supposed to be an athlete in five different events. I saw very few athletes tackle that 1,20m course. But do you know what I saw? I saw a lot of desperate and abusive assholes give it a try.
I have seen better riding at random childrens events. Yet, here we are, in the olympics – broadcasted to millions of people… Seeing you abuse animals, with your name plastered on the screen below. Some of you will have to live the rest of your lives with some very questionable google search results linked to your name. It’s time to change your routines. It’s time to change your trainers. And it’s time to change the rules. We live in 2021. You are adults, and supposed to be professionals. Act like it.
On the top of my head, I have some suggestions that could improve the modern pentathlon. Personally, I think it’s cool that horse riding is a part of it, but I think we have established by now that most of us equestrians are embarrased on your behalf. Here are some of my thoughts:
– Athletes must bring their own horses. Training and bringing your own horse will give you a better understanding of each other, and the situation. This way, if you give them a horrible experience, you will also be left with the issues for the next competition. You still have a ruined horse on your consciousness, you just actually deal with the consequence too, like other equestrians competing. If you think owning a horse is too expensive, and you can’t get the sponsorships to fund it, well, maybe pentathlon isn’t for you after all.
– Rules need to be overhauled. Take a look at the FEI rulebook, or ask them to take your showjumping under their wing. If your horse crash to the ground, he needs a vet, not more jumps.
– Remove tools used to correct the horses. Pentathlon athletes have proven that they as a group are not competent enough to ride with spurs, whips and harsh bits. This way, a frustrated athlete blinded by competativeness will do less physical damage to the animal.
– Lower the height. 1,20m is tall enough to have serious consequences for an inexperienced rider and a horse out of balance. A lower height of i.e. 80cm would still provide a challenge, but be far safer for the horses and riders.
– Demand updated competition results. Pentathlon athletes should compete frequently in the height class they participate in. A minimum number of 10 qualifying events the last 12 months.
– Do a dressage test, instead of showjumping. Dressage is more technical, shows more precise skill, and can’t be rushed through. Yes, it might be “less exciting” for an uneducated audience, but you will do far less potential harm to the animals. If you need a more interesting type of riding, include obstacles, such as a Working Equitation course.
– Change the point system. Reward good horsemanship. If some of these athlethes could have scored points for showing great tact and animal welfare, when their horses had a hard time, I suspect the competition would have played out very differently.
But whatever you do, do better, because as an equestrian I am not standing for this garbage.
(PS; I saw some great riding too. You know perfectly well what I’m talking about.)
(PPS; This is a rant, and English is my second language. If you have issues with my grammar, move on)