Canadian horse disqualified from Olympic showjumping

Canadian Olympic Team member for Show Jumping Tiffany Foster was disqualified from further competition on Monday, August 5,  at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Canadian Olympic Team member for Show Jumping Tiffany Foster was disqualified from further competition on Monday, August 5,
at the 2012 London Olympic Games. © Cealy Tetley,

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.

Tiffany Foster and Victor on the first day of competition.
Tiffany Foster and Victor on the first day of competition. © Cealy Tetley,

“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.

Canadian Olympic Team member for Show Jumping Tiffany Foster was disqualified from further competition on Monday, August 5,  at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Canadian Olympic Showjumping Team member Tiffany Foster at the press conference announcing her disqualification. © Cealy Tetley,

“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.

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7 thoughts on “Canadian horse disqualified from Olympic showjumping

  • August 6, 2012 at 9:49 am

    For once the FEI officials are doing their job. Rules are there for a reason, and no matter what the circumstances, they should be enforced. There should be no exceptions. Maybe the Dressage stewards should take note…

    • August 6, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      Ashleigh, do you not think it sets a dangerous precedent? The nature of the rule is sound, but the lack of context, as indicated, is worrisome. If FEI continues to punish practically unavoidable/unpredictable scratches inherent to the nature of a live animal, what are we left with? A disqualification lottery every event?

  • August 6, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    I find it horribly unfair that they declared the horse unfit to compete after poking/ directly touching the cut. They ought to have observed the horse working. I find the description of the way the horse was inspected to be similar to the idea of having a cut on your leg from shaving. When you’re walking or going about your everyday life it’s not a hassle, but if someone sits there and prods at it then of course you’re going to object.
    The rule itself is entirely appropriate but it must, must be used in context. I believe that there is a similar debate at the moment regarding blood around the horses mouth… If a horse bites his tongue he will say “Oh, ouch…. Ooooh look, there’s a jump there!”, but if he has an injury he will clearly show discomfort. The same applies to this poor woman’s horse, surely.

  • August 7, 2012 at 1:25 am

    I can understand the rule, but feel maybe the officials are taking it too literary. How is any team or rider going to keep his/her horse from getting any kind of insignificant injury when they jump rails and fences.
    Perhaps they should bring in this rule at athletics as well, and several runners with spike marks on their legs would also be disqualified from running………don’t we want to protect our runners?

  • August 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    This is truly going BEYOND the limit of enforcing a rule. The honest way to have properly assessed the horses soundness and condition was not to have been poking and continually prodding on an area prieviously NOT showing signs of sensativity, UNTIL AFTER CONTINUED aggrivation and touching had finally caused obvious distress. No different than one with a paper cut to one’s finger…sore, yes but if one is left to go about daily activities as such, seldom if at all felt and not bothered to distraction by it…This committee, on the other hand, had to assess, OVER and OVER and OVER, HOW many times???? Until they FINALLY got the reaction they wanted in the first place…tenderness to the touch, so they could claim lameness and inability to continue on in the jumping. What a gross miscarrage of justice and something that honestly needs to be looked into by OTHER judges, not part of this group!!! This is truly a shame and hopefully, will be corrected and the horse re-instated in the lineup for jumping.

  • August 8, 2012 at 3:31 am

    I thoroughly empathise with the Canadian rider – last year our pony was pulled in 5th in a major ridden class, and after his individual was sure to move up the line, until a slighly swollen hock which was causing absolutely no lameness was noticed by the judge. He lost his placing entirely for a tiny and temporary non-genetic fault, and lesser ponies were placed above him. I was utterly gutted, and have not had a fraction of the disappointment that Tiffany has suffered. Big hug !

  • August 8, 2012 at 6:22 am

    This is a very dogmatic approach enforcement of the rules, if it actually went down as reported (unfortunately the only way to know what really happened was to be there). If you are to assume that anything that makes a horse “hypersensitive” is a reason to DQ them, then the horse who is naturally “hypersensitive” (compared to a baseline normal average) would also have to be DQ following that logic. The testing is necessary and good, but because of the extreme subjectivity of the assessment and the inability to know what is a normal response for an individual horse for comparison care must be taken not to be too dogmatic. Again, following the reported information, it is reasonable that the horse should have been carefully monitored for a more absolute reason to DQ the horse. If soundness and well-being of the horse is not in question, the rule should focus on “unnatural” hypersensitivity, i.e. abusive cheating.


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