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4 months ago social media exploded after the performance of Oliver Townend at Badminton horse trials and his use of the whip on both of his horses. He was given a verbal warning and allowed to continue with the competition. At the time, many in the horse industry thought this should have been taken further and the British Horse Society said they would be taking this issue up with the FEI.
No formal punishment
While I disagreed with Oliver Townend’s riding on this occasion, my biggest issue with what happened is how little he was punished formally for his actions. Yes there was a public backlash and a couple of his sponsors dropped hm. It could even be reasonable to believe that this behaviour was the reason he wasn’t selected for the GB World Equestrian Games team, despite being the current World Number 1.
BUT despite these other ‘punishments’ from those within the industry, I was shocked by the lack of formal punishment. There was no disqualification, no ban, no fine. Nothing from the Stewards or FEI to punish and discourage this behaviour. This led me to research the whip rules in eventing and compare them to whip rules and punishments in horse racing.
I was incredibly disappointed to read this morning that Oliver Townend has been given another verbal warning for overuse of the whip at Blair Castle International Horse Trials. This comes less than 4 months on from his very public warning at Badminton.
The lack of formal punishment and consequences at Badminton was disappointing, but for the same rider to receive a second verbal warning for the same offence within 4 months of each other and there be no consequences is shocking! This most recent incident happened the week before Burghley Horse Trials where he had three horses competing and had commentators commending him for his riding and horsemanship. In my eyes, that is just encouraging those outside our sport to believe we don’t care about our horses and that we just use them for sport.
FEI action needed
I am not writing this post to comment on whether or not he is a good rider with horse welfare in mind. I just cannot believe that the FEI can allow this behaviour to continue with no official consequences. It shouldn’t be up to the public, sponsors and team selectors to make a rider think about their actions.The FEI should be implementing something to discourage and punish this behaviour in the first place.