A Brazilian dressage rider who competed at the 2008 Olympics has been suspended and fined for horse abuse over his ill-treatment of a pony after it bit his daughter.
The FEI Tribunal said it was satisfied that the behaviour of Leandro Aparecido Da Silva toward the small pony named Pirulito amounted to horse abuse and maltreatment.
“These are among the most severe offences that can be committed in the context of equestrian sport,” the tribunal, comprising Jose Rodriguez Alvarez, Harveen Thauli and Diane Pitts, said in its just-released decision.
The case centred on a video, posted to Instagram, in which Da Silva can be seen riding the pony, jabbing its mouth and pulling on the reins.
The footage was widely shared on social media and the athlete publicly acknowledged it was him riding the pony.
The tribunal suspended Da Silva for three years and imposed a fine of 5000 Swiss francs, with costs of 2000 francs.
The FEI opened disciplinary proceedings against Da Silva after the Brazilian Equestrian Sport Tribunal issued a decision in September 2020 that it had no jurisdiction in the case as it was an out-of-competition incident.
The FEI said the video, posted online on July 14 last year, showed Da Silva aggressively riding the pony.
He was clearly too big and heavy to be riding such a pony, the FEI said, with his legs practically reaching to the ground.
Da Silva can be seen strongly pulling on the reins to the extent that Pirulito’s head is restrained in an upright position.
In addition, Da Silva can be seen jabbing at Pirulito’s mouth with both hands using the reins.
The FEI said Pirulito was trying to avoid the discomfort and pain by thrusting his head up and opening his mouth.
Pirulito is afterward pulled into a small circle where Da Silva can be seen to continue to violently jerk the rein of the pony with his right hand, causing the animal to spin in a circle trying to escape the pain.
Da Silva is seen leaning backward with his torso using his full body weight on the reins in a bid to slow down or stop Pirulito.
At the same time, Pirulito is being followed and rounded up by a dog, adding to the mental discomfort.
The social media attention garnered by the video resulted in an online petition seeking justice for Pirulito. It had been signed by more than 15,565 people at the time the FEI filed its claim brief.
The FEI argued that the conduct of Da Silva amounted to horse abuse and a breach of the FEI Code of Conduct for the Welfare of the Horse.
The FEI argued that the purpose of the riding was to punish and/or cause fear to the allegedly misbehaving animal, which it said clearly amounted to an abusive training method.
Da Silva, in submissions to the tribunal, said he has been a professional rider for more than 20 years and is part of the Brazilian Dressage Team. He had won various titles, and competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
He said he had never committed any disciplinary offence and had an unblemished professional reputation.
Da Silva told the tribunal that his family owns the stud farm where Pirulito was born and bred.
Da Silva and his wife decided to raise Pirulito so that their youngest daughters, who were aged seven and two at the time, could practice horse riding with their older brothers.
Pirulito, he said, had started to show signs of disobedience. On the day of the video, the pony had bitten his youngest daughter, causing a serious flesh wound.
For this reason, Da Silva had decided to correct Pirulito — meaning “to put him under his control”, and to prevent such incidents from happening again.
Da Silva said he at no time used a whip, boots or spurs, and Pirulito was not wearing a bit, only a bridle — that is, a lighter mouthpiece for a horse. He never hit the pony.
Pirulito, despite his size, was a six-year-old adult, and was healthy and strong. The correction lasted only a few minutes, Da Silva said.
Since then, Pirulito has continued to be trained and today is calm and docile, and no longer a danger for the children around him.
Da Silva said the video on social media had been completely misinterpreted and caused much damage to him. He has been under constant threats and attacks since.
He said the veterinary reports submitted to the tribunal show there was no abuse or mistreatment, and that Pirulito was in perfect health, with no mouth lesions.
The tribunal, in its ruling, said the facts were mostly undisputed.
The three-member panel said it was comfortably satisfied that the FEI had met its burden of proof, and that Da Silva had committed horse abuse.
The members said they were of the opinion that Da Silva’s abuse of Pirulito fell within the “top-end” category.
Da Silva is an experienced professional rider who has been participating in high-profile competitions, the tribunal noted.
“He should be a role model, however, his actions show quite the opposite.”