Canadians ‘disappointed’ at Olympic horse decision

Equine Canada president Mike Gallagher
Equine Canada president Mike Gallagher

Following the disqualification of the showjumping horse Victor from the Olympic Games in London earlier this week, Equine Canada’s president Michael Gallagher says the federation supports the FEI’s hypersensitivity testing protocol, but is “disappointed with the outcome”.

“We fully support the FEI in its hypersensitivity testing protocol. This is an important testing procedure for the fairness of our sport and for the welfare of the horse which must always be paramount.

“Victor, our team horse, did have a small but sensitive area on the coronary band as a result of a minor lesion. This resulted in the disqualification of the horse in accordance with the FEI’s hypersensitivity protocol,” Gallagher said.

“The Canadian Team is disappointed with the outcome, and the impact both on our team and the Olympic dreams of our athlete Tiffany Foster.

Tiffany Foster and Victor on the first day of competition.
Tiffany Foster and Victor on the first day of competition at London 2012. © Cealy Tetley

“Equine Canada appreciates that the FEI has shared with us the findings of the veterinary examinations.

“We also thank the FEI and its president, HRH Princess Haya Al Hussein,  for making it clear that the disqualification in no way implies any wrong doing on the part of the Canadian Team, nor athlete Tiffany Foster.”

Less than one hour before the start of team competition, scheduled to commence at 11am, FEI veterinarians entered Victor’s stall. 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.

In a later statement from Equine Canada, Canadian Olympic Team Veterinarian for Jumping Dr. Sylvie Surprenant said Victor sustained a superficial cut on the front of the left front coronary band.  “In our opinion the horse was fit to compete as he showed no signs of lameness. However the FEI hypersensitivity protocol is such that if the horse is sensitive to the touch, regardless of the cause, the horse is disqualified. While the FEI rules for the hypersensitivity protocol were followed, we believe that there should be a review of this protocol.”

Gallagher then said further discussion of the hypersensitivity protocol was needed “to ensure a balance is reached between the philosophical intent and the real-world application”. Equine Canada lookedforward to playing a role in those discussions along with other nations.

“Equine Canada wants to make it clear that there is absolutely no accusation of any wrongdoing on the part of our athlete Tiffany Foster or any member of the Canadian Team,” Gallagher said.

“Equine Canada fully stands behind and supports our athlete Tiffany Foster, as well as our entire team. Everyone at Equine Canada and the Canadian Olympic Team are disheartened and extremely disappointed over the premature ending of Tiffany Foster’s Olympic dream, and remain fiercely proud of both her incredible sportsmanship and athletic achievements.”

FEI hypersensitivity protocol:

“The FEI has undertaken a review of the Protocol for Thermography and Clinical Examination (Hypersensitivity of legs) which appears at Annex XI of the Veterinary Regulations (the “Annex XI Protocol”). As a result of that review, and in an effort to further strengthen the Annex XI Protocol, the FEI issued the following mandatory guidelines to the Annex XI Protocol to be applied by the Veterinary Commissions appointed for FEI Events. Please be advised that the guidelines below apply only to the Annex XI Protocol and do not apply to any other rule or protocol whatsoever, including, but not limited to, Annex X of the Veterinary Regulations entitled “Bandage Control During FEI Events”.”

(i) all Horses that are tested pursuant to the Annex XI Protocol will continue to undergo a thermography examination as one part of the evaluation process for hypersensitivity,

(ii) no Horse may be retroactively eliminated from a Competition pursuant to the Annex XI Protocol,

(iii) the Person Responsible or his or her designee will be presented with a written form if his or her horse is disqualified for hypersensitivity that expressly describes the examination process and the rights of the Person Responsible under the circumstances; and

(iv) if any Horse is disqualified pursuant to the Protocol more than twelve (12) hours prior to a Competition, the Person Responsible or his or her designee will be advised that a written request to the Ground Jury may be submitted within 30 minutes of being notified that the Horse is disqualified, for the Horse to be re-examined pursuant to the Protocol. Such request must be granted and the Horse will be re-examined prior to the next Competition at a time determined by the Ground Jury on the day of the Competition. If upon re-examination it is not clear and obvious that the Horse is unfit to compete due to signs of hypersensitivity, the Horse shall be allowed to compete in that next Competition. However, the Horse remains eligible for examination under the Annex XI Protocol throughout the entire Event. This specific written request opportunity may only be exercised one (1) time during any Event for the same horse.

Hypersensitivity in equestrian competitions

Limb Sensitivity refers to the sensation perceived by horses in their legs. When the sensation is increased beyond normal limits it is called hypersensitivity, when the sensation is below normal limits it is called hyposensitivity. Hypersensitivity can be produced by a range of normal occurrences, such as insect stings, accidental self-inflicted injuries, skin infections etc. Hyposensitivity could result from traumatic or surgical cutting of the nerves to that area of the limb (i.e. neurectomy.)

Hypersensitisation is the term used to define the artificial production of hypersensitivity. It is contrary to horse welfare and fair play as it could encourage horses to jump more carefully and higher.

Limb Sensitivity Examinations

During FEI Events, hypersensitivity examinations or assessments of the horse are based primarily on a clinical examination using palpation (manual pressure) and observation, but also on Thermography (use of an infra-red camera to detect abnormal heat patterns on the skin).

If the examining veterinarians observe excessively sensitive limbs (hypersensitive), they will make a recommendation to the Ground Jury which then decides whether the horse should be disqualified. There is no appeal against the decision of the Ground Jury to disqualify a horse. Video is taken to record the examination and findings.

However, if a horse is disqualified more than 12 hours prior to a competition for which it is qualified to compete, the Person Responsible may request that the horse be re-examined. Such a request must be made within 30 minutes of the notification by the Ground Jury of the horse’s disqualification.

Horses with hypersensitive limbs are disqualified on the basis of horse welfare and fair play; however hypersensitive limbs are not necessarily a result of a manipulation to the legs, rather they can often be a sign of infection or other injury.

Horses disqualified for hypersensitivity will be tested under the Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations. For further details of the Protocol for Thermography and Clinical Examination – see Annex XI FEI 2012 Veterinary Regulations.

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One thought on “Canadians ‘disappointed’ at Olympic horse decision

  • August 9, 2012 at 4:36 am

    Its very disappointing that the horse was disqualified, but the welfare of the horse has to come first.


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