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Update (December 7, 2022): Progress! The International Federation for Equestrian Sports has enacted a new rule that will allow officials to eliminate a rider and horse during a show-jumping round if it would be “contrary to the principles of horse welfare” to allow the combination to continue. This is a great step forward in protecting horses like Kilkenny, who was forced to complete a course while bleeding from the nose. Now we need to get horses out of the Olympics altogether.
Update (May 4, 2022): Victory! After hearing from PETA and following a complaint from PETA Germany, UIPM—the international governing body of the modern pentathlon—announced that horseback riding will be replaced with obstacle course racing. Now take action below to call on the International Olympic Committee to remove all equestrian events immediately.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were unprecedented in many ways, but one thing we all could have predicted was that the suffering of the horses used for the equestrian events would continue. Show jumping, dressage, cross country, and other equine “sports” can be extremely cruel. Just take a look at these incidents—and PETA’s viral video, viewed nearly 1 million times—from this year’s Olympic Games:
German pentathlon competitor Annika Schleu was riding a horse named Saint Boy when she was filmed whipping and spurring him during the jumping portion of the competition after he refused to enter the course. As the rider’s frustration increased, Schleu’s coach, Kim Raisner, was shown hitting the clearly startled Saint Boy. After the incident, Raisner was rightfully expelled from the Olympics.
This wasn’t an anomaly. Earlier this year, show jumper Kevin Lemke aggressively and repeatedly hit Good Luck in California. PETA reported the incident, and Lemke was suspended. But fines and suspensions clearly aren’t enough to deter other trainers or riders from similar reckless behavior.
Jet Set, ridden by Swiss competitor Robin Godel, appeared to be injured in the middle of a cross-country course during an Olympic competition. Veterinarians diagnosed the injury as an irreparable ligament rupture in one of his legs, and he was euthanized.
During another show-jumping event, blood poured from Kilkenny’s nose, and although it was clearly visible to those watching, Irish rider Cian O’Connor forced the horse to finish the course. Nothing was done by officials to stop the competition to check on him.
It’s evident that these aren’t isolated incidents and that there appears to be a pattern of abuse throughout the “sport.” The footage of the event rider beating a terrified horse clearly illustrates that horses are not willing participants—and that many of the riders and trainers who force them to behave in ways that aren’t natural to them care little for the physical and psychological welfare of the animals they use.
One thing is clear: Horses don’t care about gold medals. And unlike humans, they don’t choose to participate in dangerous events—they’re forced to. Please call on the International Olympic Committee to remove all equestrian events immediately and leave the Olympics to the willing participants.