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Gregory Wathelet: "It is clear that something has to change with this regulation"

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Gregory Wathelet. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
Gregory Wathelet. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

In two interviews made by, 2015 European Vice Champion Gregory Wathelet and 2010 World Champion Philippe Le Jeune speak out about their thoughts on Bertram Allen’s disqualification at Olympia this week, as well as the current state of affairs in the sport when it comes to the welfare of the horse.

With the permission and help of, World of Showjumping has translated the interviews into English.

Gregory Wathelet: 

"It is always difficult to talk about a case when you have not been there, but it is clear that something has to change with this regulation. We can not continue to disqualify riders like that! If we take the case of Marcus Ehning, who was advised to not start in the second round of the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix in in Valkenswaard, other riders were shocked because there was absolutely nobody as respectful to his horses as Marcus.

I think there are worse things than a small spur scratch, it is not that the horses are in blood. For example, we must banish people from our sport that are crashing into fences in the warm-up ring, that pull the horses in the mouth, that use sharp bits and torture their horses. Certainly there must be a limit because the horses are animals and they can not speak. It is up to us, humans, to set limits – but in this case it is exaggerated. With a horse that is a little sensitive, it can happen to everyone, and besides more and more riders leave the small square unshaven to try to avoid spur marks.

What happens the day the same situation occurs in a final of a World or European Championship or Europe? Where are we going? Should a footballer who takes a hit, stop playing the game?

Some judges are horse people, and are understanding. This happened to me this year in La Baule with a grey horse where there was a small mark. The judge told me to be careful the next day, and to put protection on the horse. The next day there was nothing, and everything went very well.

On a grey horse, it is enough that two drops of blood come out because of action from the leg. That is the same size as the face of a one Euro coin. This is what happened to me in Helsinki. Following this, I have used the protective strap on my horse – but I do not think this is a solution for the horse as it reacts less to the leg and the rider is obliged to use more spurs. 

It's really delicate and complicated. I unfortunately do not have the ideal solution, but it is certain that this is going too far. Already there is a media chase to make things happen, but there have already been many cases like this – for example that of Hans-Dieter Dreher who was double clear in the LGCT in London which he could have won.

I think the FEI in recent years has taken some very good decisions, like the thermography scans. They are difficult because there are always different situations, but it is still necessary in order to prove certain things. I'm 100% for these checks, even if it's boring for us as riders.

There are people who cheat and who cheated – and because of these people, we pay the bill now. We had moments with boots so tight that horses did not even know how to walk behind. This is not acceptable, and at some point there must be limits. Today we see a real improvement in this regard.

There are still cheaters who are trying to find their way around the rules, but they are people who are cheaters by blood. The situation has improved, and finally it is not really the top level riders that I am talking about. Because at this level, one can not really cheat again and again. It takes a really good horse to be the best. I think there's more trouble at the lower level. Many regional riders think that at the highest level horses are all prepared, all the riders cheat – but this is not the case and you have to fight against that idea!

I do not know how we should draw the line, but we must do something because like this it is not possible. There have already been discussions between riders about it. I think we should also be able to allow judges to judge a situation, and not just enforce regulations down to the very letters in it.

When looking at the video of Marcus Ehning’s round in Valkenswaard, it's beautiful – his leg does not move. Then he finds himself at the risk of being disqualified, while one sees riders with their legs that move in all directions?

This is a situation that in some way is similar to that experienced by Steve Guerdat. Because it can happen to any of us."

Philippe Le Jeune: 

"This is an absurd situation. It is time for the FEI and National Federations to take action at this level. There are riders much harder, who are not sanctioned and just left by the FEI – such as unprepared riders who are not at the level of the five-star Grand Prix they are competing in and that crash their horses in the fences. On such heights, even a crack of a horse can not save itself when the riders make mistakes. The FEI really do not care about the horse in this regard, and in my view this is to abuse animals. I do not understand where the problem is here. We must set limits; it is no doubt but here it has gone too far.

I must admit that these spur scratches represent a fairly new problem that can also explain a new fashion trend appearing 3-4 years ago. Horses are now being clipped every four weeks throughout the year. Some leave the hair in the area of the spur as a protective patch; I do not find this very flattering. The clipping irritates the skin, especially as the horses nowadays are showered all year instead of being groomed properly. This is faster, but I do not think this is a positive development. Personally, I refuse to clip my horses in summer because the coat is their protection against the sun, insects and many other things. I sometimes hear grooms complaining that a horse has a bad back, and that they can not lay a hand on it – but it's not the back that something is wrong with. It's just that with perspiration, the skin gets irritated and even more in summer with the sun when the skin is simply burned. I do not know if people think that the clipping every four weeks will make the horses become stars, or humans. I find that a horse should remain a horse.

Going back to the problem itself, the spurs, I think that in Bertram Allen’s case what could have been an alternative at the end of the day is what happened in the case of Marcus Ehning in Valkenswaard where he was proposed to not ride the second round. This may be an option, because such drastic sanctions as those currently being used does not really reflect the realities of our discipline nor the costs and the shortfall of such sanctions.

Personally, I would rather be a horse in Bertram Allen or Marcus Ehning’s care than a horse with an amateur who pushes me into the fences."

Text © Stud for Life // Picture © Jenny Abrahamsson

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