Canada’s Olympic showjumping team has lost a member with the disqualification of Victor, ridden by Tiffany Foster.
Victor, who reportedly has a small nick on his coronary band, was disqualified from further competition at the Greenwich Park venue of London 2012 under the FEI’s hypersensitivity protocol “due to an area of clear and obvious hypersensitivity on the front of the left forelimb”.
Foster said the nick was “like a paper cut”.
Less than one hour before the start of team competition, scheduled to commence at 11am, FEI veterinarians entered the stall of Victor. Following a routine examination of the horse in its stall, Terrance Millar, Chef d’Equipe of the Canadian Olympic Team for Show Jumping, was informed that Foster was disqualified under the FEI’s hypersensitivity protocol.
Millar lodged a protest which was heard by the FEI Appeal Committee before the end of the competition. However, the protest was denied based on Annex XI of the FEI Veterinary Regulations, which state: “there is no appeal against the decision of the Ground Jury to disqualify a horse for abnormal sensitivity from an event.”
The Veterinary Commission stated that the horse had an area of inflammation and sensitivity on the left forelimb just above the hoof. There was no accusation of malpractice, but the horse was deemed unfit to compete by the Ground Jury and was disqualified from the Second Qualifier of the Jumping competition at the Olympic Games on Tuesday morning.
The FEI General Regulations also clearly state that there is no appeal against an elimination of a horse for veterinary reasons.
“We are extremely disappointed with this decision as Tiffany Foster should have been allowed to compete,” Terrance Millar said.
“The horse has a scratch on its coronary band that occurred overnight.
“This is an unfortunate application of a rule in the absence of context, which has shattered a young woman’s Olympic dream,” he said.
The rider was in tears during the press briefing over the incident, and was comforted by team captain and defending individual Olympic champion Eric Lamaze.
“I just want to say that I would never do anything to jeopardize the welfare of my horse and what happened today was obviously very disappointing and devastating to me,” Foster said.
“I feel really bad for my team and really disappointed that this is the way my first Olympic Games are going to end.
“I never imagined when I came to the Olympics that I would be unable to compete because of something like this,” Foster said.
It was a sad end to the long road Foster had taken to the Olympics. She broke her back just before the Beijing Olympics in 2008 after falling from a young horse while training, and was unable to ride for six months.
“I’ve come back from bigger setbacks in my career, and I know I can overcome this,” said Foster, who had just started walking again when she attended the 2008 Olympic Games to cheer the Canadian team to its silver medal, and Lamaze to the individual gold,” Foster said.
“Victor is only 10 years old, and he has a long and bright career in front of him. I have no doubt that we will prove this in the future on the international stage.”
The Canadian team was devastated by the disqualification, with team stalwart Ian Millar saying: “Our team, all the riders, are devastated by this situation. We feel it’s just not right and it’s an incorrect application of the rules but there’s going to be a process and we’ll see what happens.”
An angry Lamaze said it was time to take “a hard look at the FEI’s rules on hypersensitivity”.
Lamaze, the defending Olympic show jumping champion, is also Foster’s personal coach. His training business, Torrey Pines Stable of Schomberg, Ontario, owns Foster’s mount in partnership with Artisan Farms.
“I am ashamed of our sport today,” said Lamaze. “This is a complete miscarriage of justice. Yes, the horse has a little, superficial cut on its coronary band that could have happened in any number of ways. The horse was ridden in the morning, and was jumped as part of his exercise routine, with no indication whatsoever that he was uncomfortable.
“The horse was not bothered by it, and we had no doubts that competing would not have caused any further harm. Victor would not have gained any advantage and was one hundred percent fit to compete. He would not have been hurt in any way.
“When the horse was examined, they touched the right leg with no reaction, and they touched the left leg with no reaction. Only when they touched the actual cut did the horse show signs of sensitivity. If someone were trying to gain an advantage, you would have to assume that both legs would be sensitive. There is a big difference between two legs being sensitive and a horse reacting to being touched over and over and over again directly on a small, superficial cut. There could not have been any advantage gained from that simple cut, and in no way was the welfare of the horse ever in danger.
“The next move should have been to see the horse jog and seen that he was fit to compete, as we knew he was,” Lamaze said.
“If they had any doubts at all, they could have observed the horse in the warm-up at any time or examined the horse again after he jumped. The decision was made way too quickly. To declare a horse unfit to compete without even taking it out of its stall is outrageous. Coming to the Olympics is everyone’s dream. Tiffany should never have been put in this position.”
“This horse was exercised in the morning, jumped in the morning, was fit to compete – fit to compete. How can five people poking at a horse’s coronary band declare him unfit to compete? How can they ruin someone’s Olympic dream?” he said.
Victor and Tiffany Foster will take no further part in the equestrian events at London 2012.
“I sure hope Canada can win a medal,” said Lamaze. “We lost a great teammate. Tiffany can hold her head high; she has done nothing wrong. She was dealt a raw deal.”
On Saturday, Foster, 28, rode Victor, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by the Ziegler family’s Artisan Farms and Eric Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stable, in her Olympic debut. Foster’s family is in London from British Columbia, as are the horse’s owners.
The pair two rails down for eight faults, making them tied for 60th position in the individual standings. Foster’s rails came at the back rail of the ‘a’ element of the double combination at fence three, and the back element of the ‘a’ element of the double combination at fence 12.
Despite the disadvantage of having no drop score following Foster’s disqualification, the Canadian Olympic team qualified for Monday’s team final and is currently ranked sixth.